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Brewers, Garza discussions continue

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By Tom Haudricourt
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
January 24, 2014

MILWAUKEE--A deal is not a deal until it is done.

The Milwaukee Brewers made that clear Thursday night when they took the unusual step of issuing a statement to contradict various reports that the team had a four-year, $52 million deal in place with free-agent pitcher Matt Garza pending a physical exam.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and The MLB Network first reported that deal and later said a source indicated Garza did take a physical Thursday. But the Brewers later issued this statement:

“Despite media reports, negotiations between the Brewers and Matt Garza are ongoing but there is no deal yet.”

Normally, a physical exam is not conducted until an agreement is in place. Accordingly, the Brewers' statement led to speculation that a red flag came up on Garza, who has a checkered medical past.

But a source familiar with the situation indicated the sides simply had not hashed out the final details of an agreement. It was unclear whether the sides would be able to complete a deal or if the possibility existed that talks might break off.

If an agreement is reached worth $52 million, it would be the largest free-agent deal in club history, surpassing the $42 million given right-hander Jeff Suppan in December 2006.

Garza, a 30-year-old right-hander, was considered the best pitcher remaining on the free-agent market after the New York Yankees signed Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million deal Wednesday. Several teams were rumored to be interested, but the Brewers had not been mentioned among that group.

To the contrary, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin consistently said he had no intention of spending big money on a free-agent pitcher this winter. Yet, he was engaged in talks with Garza's agent, Nez Balelo, who also represents the Brewers' Ryan Braun.

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 minor-league prospects. Before that swap, Garza was 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his last six starts.

One benefit to signing Garza as opposed to other pitchers on the market such as Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, is 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.

Garza does present a medical risk. He has been on the disabled list four times since 2009, including last season when he missed the first seven weeks with a strained latissimus dorsi muscle behind his left shoulder. The other DL stints were because of elbow issues, including a prolonged absence at the end of 2012 that limited him to 1032/3 innings with the Cubs.

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. He has averaged 2.3 walks per nine innings and 7.9 strikeouts.

Garza posted a 2-1 record and 3.48 ERA in five postseason starts for Tampa Bay. He was the ALCS MVP in 2008 and pitched more than 200 innings in both 2009 and 2010 for the Rays. In that last season with Tampa Bay, he threw a no-hitter against Detroit.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder is a power pitcher who relies greatly on his fastball and slider. He throws his two-seamer in the low 90s and a four-seamer in the 92-95 mph range. Garza throws his slider at 85 mph and also mixes in a curveball and occasional changeup.

Known for being extremely competitive and sometimes emotional on the mound, Garza has been effective against both right-handed hitters (.255 batting average) and left-handers (.245).

One flaw in Garza's game has been difficulty in making throws to first base after fielding come-backers and bunts, a mental block the Brewers took advantage of when he pitched for the Cubs.

Garza would make the Brewers' starting rotation much stronger as they attempt to rebound from a 74-88 record in 2013 that landed them in fourth place in the NL Central, 23 games behind first-place St. Louis. The top three starters at present are Lohse, Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta, with Marco Estrada penciled into the fourth spot.

Melvin recently said right-hander Tyler Thornburg, who had an impressive seven-start debut in 2013, would get first shot at the final spot in the rotation. That likely would change with the addition of Garza.



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