Author: Matthew Pouliot

Matt Garza

Cubs make out well in trading Matt Garza to Rangers


The new rules that took effect last year made trading quality free-agents-to-be to be trickier than ever. That’s because the deal itself makes a supplemental first-round pick just disappear into the ether. The acquiring team is forced to offer extra compensation for something it’s not going to get back in return, while the seller knows it will get something in return if things fall through.

The Cubs, though, had too much to gain to let Matt Garza walk away for only a draft pick this winter. Since there’s been little hint of Cliff Lee or Chris Sale being available, Garza was clearly the top pitcher up for grabs in trade talks at the moment. The Rangers had to stay ahead of the A’s, Dodgers and others in trade talks.

In the end, the Rangers pulled off the deal without having to part with Jurickson Profar. Surrendered instead were three prospects ranked second (Mike Olt), fifth (Justin Grimm) and 14th (C.J. Edwards) in their system by Baseball America at the beginning of the season, plus two players to be named.

Olt, 24, was always the obvious piece to be included in a Rangers-Cubs trade. Texas, of course, has Adrian Beltre at third base, while the Cubs never have anyone there. Luis Valbuena is their current stopgap. Olt could have been a long-term answer at first or in an outfield spot for Texas, but he projects best at the hot corner. A disappointment earlier this year after battling vision problems, he was hitting .213/.317/.422 with 11 homers in 230 at-bats for Triple-A Round Rock. Throw out his April and that improves to .253/.352/.524 in 170 at-bats. Last year, he came in at .288/.398/.579 with 28 homers in Double-A. If he remains hot in Triple-A, the Cubs will likely give him a shot to replace Valbuena next month.

Grimm, a 24-year-old right-hander, had spent most of the season in the Texas rotation, going 7-7 with a 6.37 ERA. That he’s allowed 15 homers in 89 innings has taken quite a toll, but his 68/31 K/BB ratio is pretty good and the jump to the NL should help. He has the solid three-pitch arsenal to be a No. 3 starter going forward. He should step right into the Cubs’ rotation in Garza’s place.

Edwards, a 48th-round find for the Rangers in 2011, had seen his stock jump this year after an 8-2 start with low Single-A Hickory. The 21-year-old has a 1.83 ERA and a 122/34 K/BB ratio in 93 1/3 innings. In a Cubs system much stronger offensively than from the mound, he may well rate as the team’s top pitching prospect.

Even without factoring in the PTBNs, that’s an ample return for a guy who was going to make about 12 more starts as a Cub. They don’t get a sure star in the bunch, but Olt and Grimm are both nice assets and Edwards brings a lot of upside to the table. The Rangers can get away with it since they have a star locked up at Olt’s position, but it still hurts a bit to bleed that much talent for a guy who could depart this winter.

Ryan Braun is baseball’s biggest fraud

Ryan Braun

Ryan Braun played the victim when he initially tested positive for steroids after the 2011 season. In one regard, he was: that news never should have leaked out before the appeals process played out. In every other regard, he was obviously guilty as charged.

Just look at some of Braun’s quotes after he was “vindicated”  last February or, as is now even more painfully obvious, let off on a technicality because of chain of command issues with his urine sample:

  • “If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally I’d have been the first one to admit it. I truly believe this substance never entered my body.”
  • It hasn’t been easy. Lots of times I wanted to come out and tell the entire story, attack everybody like I’ve been attacked. My name was dragged through the mud. But at the end of the day I recognized what was best for the game of baseball.”
  • “Today is for anyone who has been wrongly accused and everyone who stood up for what’s right. It’s about future players and the game of baseball.”
  • “I will continue to take the high road. We won because the truth was on my side. I was a victim of a process that completely broke down and failed as it was applied to me in this case. Today’s about making sure this never happens to anyone else who plays this game.”
  • “We spoke to biochemists and scientists, and asked them how difficult it would be for someone to taint the sample. They said, if they were motivated, it would be extremely easy.”
  • “Ultimately, as I sit here today, the system worked because I was innocent and I was able to prove my innocence.”

That next to last one is especially disgusting, since Braun was all but accusing that man who collected his sample of intentionally tampering with it. At the end of his press conference, Braun said he was considering his legal options. You will notice, however, that no lawsuit followed.

Now we know for sure that Braun was guilty all along, though that seemed like a given after the Biogenesis news came out. The 2011 NL MVP accepted a rest-of-season suspension Monday that amounts to 65 games off. The Brewers will have to bring him back next year and hope for the best; they owe him a whopping $127 million through 2020. If it turns out that he’s not the player he was before he was caught cheating, it’d be a huge blow to the small-market franchise.

Guys like Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte have largely been let off the hook for their PED usage, but the guess here is that Braun’s transgressions will stay with him for the rest of his career, partly because of those quotes right there. The apologies will come, but their sincerity should be questioned.

Locking up Dustin Pedroia is more about sentiment than sense

Dustin Pedroia

There’s something to be said for rewarding a star player who has been underpaid most of his career. Dustin Pedroia is one of the two faces of the Red Sox, he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate every year and it’s possible he’ll go into the Hall of Fame someday. If he were a free agent this winter, a long-term, $20 million-per-year extension would make plenty of sense for the Red Sox. He’s worthy of that kind of money.

But, of course, Pedroia isn’t a free agent this winter. The Red Sox have him signed at the bargain rate of $10 million next year, with an $11 million club option for 2015. Those salaries can increase a bit if Pedroia finishes in the top three in the AL MVP balloting this year, but he’s a steal either way.

So, why sign Pedroia now? The plus for the Red Sox would seem to be to beat the big Robinson Cano deal that’s coming this winter. Cano is likely to get one of the biggest free agent contracts ever; $150 million for six years would be the low end for him. Something like $190 million for seven years might be more realistic. Pedroia might not want to settle for $20 million per year once Cano is making $25 million-$27 million.

But that’s basically the only reason to do it now. Pedroia is nine months younger than Cano, but he won’t be a free agent until he’s 32. Of Pedroia’s 10 most similar players through age 28, according to Baseball Reference, only one remained a star after age 32. That’s Charlie Gehringer, one of two Hall of Famers in his top 10. The other HOFer, Tony Lazzeri, had his last year as a regular at 33. Jose Vidro, Pedroia’s most similar player, had a lousy year at 33 and then vanished. Ray Durham and Michael Young, Nos. 3 and 4 on the list, lasted as regulars, but not as very good ones.

Probably in part because of the takeout slides and all of the diving around, second basemen tend to have shelf lives. Pedroia has been durable, missing a big chunk of a season just once in his career to date, but he does get banged up. It’s probably going to get worse in his 30s, given how hard he plays the game. If his body starts breaking down, he’ll turn worthless in a hurry.

There’s also one more big reason for the Red Sox not to do a deal: any contract extension immediately gets factored in for luxury tax purposes. With an average annual value under $7 million, Pedroia’s modest deal has been a big help to a franchise that’s been trying to edge up against, but not exceed, the tax threshold. Any new contract will result in a big jump in that figure next year. If you remember, it was luxury tax purposes that caused the Red Sox to delay wrapping up Adrian Gonzalez’s big deal two years ago; they needed his cheap luxury-tax figure to carry over for one more year before they gave him his $22 million-per-year contract.

Pedroia is a wonderful player, and it’d be great to see him keep this up for another seven or eight years. Banking on it, though, would be a mistake. Ideally, the Red Sox could give Pedroia something like a two-year extension through 2017, with nice boosts to his 2014-15 salaries as part of the bargain. Since that probably isn’t happening, they should just let things play out for the next two years.