Oct 10, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia (54) delivers a pitch during the first inning in game two of the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
The St. Louis Cardinals have a very good left handed pitcher. His name is Jamie Garcia, and he has a problem: his body breaks really easily. Whether it’s thoracic outlet syndrome, or a stomach flu, Garcia just can’t seem to stay healthy. Before the Cardinals were aware of this problem, they offered him a contract, which was a pretty good deal for both sides based on his performance up to that point. Since then, the lefty has started just 69 games over about four and a half seasons.
Now, St. Louis has an opportunity to get out of the contract. There’s a team option for 2016, and the Cardinals can choose to either execute the option for $11.5 million, or release Garcia from his contract for $500,000. So should they take the risk and keep him on the payroll, or release him under the assumption that he’s too fragile and won’t provide enough value in 2016 to be worth the cost?
In order to figure this out, let’s figure out how much value Jaime is worth when he does pitch. Since he first became a full time starter in 2010, Garcia has provided 12.8 fWAR on the mound, and has started just 116 games. If we assume that a full season is about 32 games started, then Garcia’s been worth about 3.5 fWAR over a full season’s worth of starts. That’s very good, and would put him in the top 25 pitchers in 2015 had he pitched all year. But, of course, he didn’t. He never does, and counting on him to put up 3.5 wins over 32 starts in 2016 would be foolish, at best.
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So let’s try to figure out how many starts we can expect from Jaime Garcia’s fragile frame. If we break down 116 starts over 6 years since 2010, it looks like an average of right around 20 starts a season. That’s not too bad, and that 3.5 fWAR over a full season turns into about 2.1 fWAR over 20 games. Not as great, but still not too bad, especially assuming that the pitcher pitching for the other 12 games is providing positive value as well.
We know a few other things too, though, and should include those. First, Jaime Garcia isn’t hurt right now. He’s not coming off shoulder or elbow or any other kind of surgery, and he should be healthy for Spring Training and the beginning of the season. That’s a pretty big “should”, and heaven knows that Garcia finds lots of ways to defy all odds and wind up on the DL, but this is about as good as his health ever is, so the Cardinals are starting with the potential of a full season from him.
Second, Garcia was better this past season than our statistics say he should have been, as he racked up 2.8 fWAR over 20 starts in 2015. So it’s possible that Jaime Garcia will pitch more effectively for the St. Louis Cardinals than we expect him to, and outperform our projection for him. Finally, we have Steamer projections, which have Garcia down for 23 starts and 2.5 fWAR in 2016.
If we take all of this together, a projection of around two and a half wins above replacement seems pretty reasonable for Jaime Garcia in 2016, and the primary variable is playing time. So should the Cardinals pay $11.5 million for him?
If it were up to me, I’d say yes. His performance in 2015 combined with St. Louis’ overall pitching depth inclines me to believe that he’s likely to be worth the money, and if he isn’t, we won’t suffer horribly. On the market, wins tend to sell for somewhere around $7 million right now, so if we got a full season of Garcia and 4 or 5 fWAR, the St. Louis Cardinals could come out way ahead. If he does get hurt and only pitches enough to get a win or two, it’s still not an awful deal.
In short, given Jaime Garcia’s potential to outperform the option, I’d stick with what we have. Finding a replacement at that price in free agency wouldn’t be an easy prospect, and Garcia is likely better than anyone the Cardinals could get. Of course, this doesn’t rule out an attempt to renegotiate the option to an even better price, but regardless, I hope to see Jaime Garcia back with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016.