Milwaukee Brewers finish Matt Garza deal

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Tom Haudricourt and Todd Rosiak, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, January 26, 2014

It was only fitting that on the one winter day when the largest group of Milwaukee Brewers fans was gathered in one place, principal owner Mark Attanasio made the announcement for which many had waited.

After three tedious days of getting the final details worked out, Attanasio announced Sunday at the “On Deck” event that the team had signed right-hander Matt Garza, considered the top remaining starting pitcher on the free-agent market.

The deal guarantees Garza $50 million over four years with a vesting option for 2018 for another $13 million. With $1 million in performance bonuses in each of the first four years, the deal could be worth $67 million over five years.

“You can never have enough pitching depth, and I would argue we have as much pitching depth as we’ve had in my 10 seasons of ownership,” Attanasio said of adding Garza to the team’s starting rotation.

The deal was prematurely reported as being done Thursday pending a physical examination of Garza, but all of the details had not been completed. The sides had to agree on how much money would be deferred and when those payments would be made as well as how the vesting option would work (appearances over the first four years).

The contract language was finalized Sunday morning, allowing Attanasio to break the news to the audience gathered at the Brewers’ annual fan festival at the Wisconsin Center. Attanasio later revealed the talks had been going on for some time with agent Nez Balelo, who also represents Ryan Braun.

“It has been weeks,” said Attanasio. “One of the things I would say about our staff here, is I like the fact they do their jobs (quietly). You see other teams where every time they have a meeting with a free agent, somehow it’s announced here or there.

“I’m very pleased our guys were able to keep this quiet and our organization was able to keep this quiet up through Thursday. That’s a testament to the organization and how we operate.”

The deal is the largest free-agent signing in Brewers history, surpassing the four-year, $42 million deal with Jeff Suppan in December 2006, and it does come with medical risks. Garza, 30, has been on the disabled list in each of the last three seasons, the first two times with elbow issues and last year with a strained muscle in his left side.

Garza underwent a physical examination in Milwaukee but neither side would say if any concerns arose. Obviously, nothing serious turned up or the Brewers would have backed out.

Attanasio declined to reveal what kind of protection—if any—the Brewers were able to put in place over the course of the contract. He did, however, say his signing continues the club’s recent trend of trying to deepen its talent pool when it comes to pitching.

“We’ve said now for a couple of years that we’re focusing on pitching and pitching depth,” he said. “That’s easier said than done, obviously, but if you look at the moves that (general manager) Doug (Melvin) has made, including getting Michael Blazek (in a trade last season for John Axford), or the Rule 5 player that we picked up from the Pirates (Wei-Chung Wang), there has been a continued quiet emphasis on building pitching depth.”

Garza, who had returned to California to attend to family obligations, participated in a conference call with reporters and said he was pleased how the negotiations worked out.

“We’ve been in contact with the Brewers for quite some time,” he said. “It was just kind of the right fit. It wasn’t a surprise. I was expecting an open market and that’s what I got. I’m really happy that I’m a Milwaukee Brewer.”

As for the three-day delay in completing the deal, Garza said, “I didn’t worry about it at all. I had a plethora of activities to take up my time while this whole thing was getting finalized. I had no concern whatsoever.”

Garza went 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA in 24 games last season with the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. The Cubs traded Garza to Texas on July 22 for four players, including some of the Rangers’ top prospects.

A first-round draft pick by Minnesota in 2005, Garza has a 67-67 record and 3.84 ERA in eight seasons (194 games/191 starts) with the Twins, Rays, Cubs and Rangers.

One benefit to signing Garza, as opposed to other pitchers on the market such as Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, was that no draft pick compensation is attached. Because Garza was acquired in the middle of the season, the Rangers were not allowed to make him a qualifying offer of $14.1 million that would have forced a signing team to forfeit their first-round draft pick this year.

The Brewers surrendered their 2013 first-round pick when they signed free-agent right-hander Kyle Lohse near the end of spring training last year.

“I told Mark it was important to keep our draft picks and he understood,” said Melvin. “That’s important for teams like ours. We need to keep our draft picks and use them to build our system.”

Garza, 30, said he looked forward to returning to the NL Central, “a fun division to be in,” and expected big things with the Brewers in 2014.

“I know what they can bring,” he said. “I know what kind of threat a healthy Braun and a healthy (Aramis) Ramirez is. It’s going to be an exciting year for us. We’ve got a great rotation, we’ll have a solid bullpen and we’ll put up runs.

“I see myself taking the ball every fifth day and doing my job. I don’t put myself in any numerical position. I just take the ball every fifth day, run out there and do what I do.”

Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke declined to speculate on how the rotation would line up, but Garza joins a group including Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada, with young pitchers on the periphery such as Tyler Thornburg, Johnny Hellweg, Jimmy Nelson and Hiram Burgos.

“It’s too early to say,” said Roenicke. “It all depends on health and how everybody comes in. Whenever I try to (announce the rotation) early, it seems like something changes. But he’s good.

“It gives us more depth. During the season, you use more than five starters so they’re going to get their chance.”

Added Lohse: “The way the season goes, at some point you are going to need that (young) guy. Not too often do five guys make all the starts. It just helps you out adding talent like that.”

While his talent on the mound is obvious, Garza’s fiery demeanor should also be of benefit to the Brewers.

“Facing him over the last few years, I think he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball,” Braun said when asked about Garza before Attanasio broke the news. “One of the toughest at-bats. Great stuff. A fiery competitor, which is something I think could benefit the whole pitching staff and our whole team.”

Jonathan Lucroy, Garza’s new battery mate, agreed with Braun.

“He’s a very aggressive, intense guy and he likes to get after it,” he said. “He likes to compete. He likes to win.”

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