From 2001 to 2006, Freddy Garcia posted six consecutive seasons with 200 or more innings pitched, and while he wasn’t an ace, he was an above average durable starting pitcher. That skillset helped him earn about $45 million during his three arbitration seasons and the three years of free agency that the White Sox bought after acquiring him from Seattle. He was a valued asset for his durability and consistency.
Then, in 2007, his shoulder started hurting. He tried to pitch through it, but his performance suffered, and finally he underwent season ending shoulder surgery in August. As damaged goods, he was only able to land a minor league contract with the Tigers for 2008, and that began a pattern that continues to this day.
Garcia didn’t pitch much in 2008, so he entered the following off-season with health risks still looming. The Mets were the team to take a shot on him with a minor league deal this time round, but he didn’t make the club out of spring training and was lousy in a few Triple-A tune-ups, so they let him go at the end of April. He remained unemployed for six weeks, when the White Sox brought him back to Chicago with a minor league deal that also contained a $1 million team option for 2010. He gave them nine solid starts down the stretch, so they exercised the option and brought him back for the following season at a team friendly price.
After another decent but unspectacular year in 2010, Garcia once again had to sign a minor league contract for 2011, taking a non-guaranteed deal from the Yankees. He ended up giving them 147 innings with an ERA- of 86, the best results he’d gotten since his shoulder surgery. The Yankees rewarded him with a Major League contract for 2012, giving him a $4 million base salary. He predictably regressed after posting an ERA that was well below his FIP/xFIP in the prior year, and went back into the free agent bin this winter looking for another minor league deal with a chance to make a big league team out of spring training.
This time around, it’s going to be the Padres betting a non-guaranteed, low dollar contract on Freddy Garcia, as they’ll pay him a base salary of $1.3 million if he makes the team. And, given what we know about Garcia as a pitcher, there’s every reason to believe he’s going to just continue to be the perfectly acceptable rotation bargain that he’s been for the last four years.
Since returning from his shoulder injury in 2009, here’s Garcia’s total line:
And here are the averages for a starting pitcher over the last four years.
In terms of rate stats, Garcia has been a pretty close match to the league averages. He walks a few less, strikes out a few less, and gives up a few more home runs, but he’s also pitched in some hitter friendly ballparks, so overall, his per inning performance has been pretty solid. He hasn’t exactly been Mr. Durability anymore, but he’s still averaged 117 innings per season, even while being unemployed for the first half of the 2009 season. You can’t count on him to make 30 starts, but you can pencil him in for 20 to 25 starts and a chance to be competitive when he takes the mound.
And yet, he just keeps getting ignored. If we assume that he’s hit most of his performance bonuses, teams have paid Garcia roughly $11 million over the last four years, and he’s produced +6 WAR during that time frame. That’s less than $2 million per win. The going price during that stretch has been more than double that rate, and that’s the guaranteed money rate. Garcia has had to earn his cash by staying on the field and pitching better than expected.
You can’t build a winning team around 25 Freddy Garcias, nor should anyone try. But, for a fifth starter, Garcia’s actually pretty decent, and a lot of teams are going to go into spring training with a worse pitcher penciled into their starting rotation. Garcia will probably outpitch most of them. Garcia will probably land on the DL at some point. And then Garcia will be a free agent next winter, and likely sign another minor league contract with an invite to spring training.
That’s the deal for a guy in his mid-30s who doesn’t fit the coveted “innings eater” mold that teams like from their back-end starters, even though he out-pitches most of them every year. There’s not a ton of upside with Freddy Garcia, but these kinds of somewhat-broken-but-still-effective starters remain one of the game’s best values. Rather than splurging on 200 bad innings, the Padres found a way to add 100 decent innings to their rotation. For $1 million and change, more teams should be looking for guys like Garcia to round out their rotation. It’s better to have decent for a while than bad for the whole year, even if Major League teams don’t seem like the uncertainty these types of pitchers provide.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.