ARMAGEDDON — Within an eleven-hour period, approximately eight of which you slept through, the bad guys won the World Series and the Cardinals responded by handing their bumbling cultist manager a three-year extension. A half hour later, amid a storm of (justified) pessimism, Jaime García’s $12 million option for 2017 was exercised. Whatever else the club does this offseason, it’s good that they at least got this right.
Yes, García had a horrible season, finishing in the bottom ten in ERA+. The Cardinals may not need him anymore, but retaining him was a no-brainer, if only for what other teams would give to have him.
There are 150 starting pitcher jobs in MLB. Twenty-five of those are occupied by guys who are going to be good; the other 125 are guesswork. And Jaime García is as good a guess as any. As bad as 2016 went, only Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, and Zack Greinke had more innings and a better ERA+ than García in 2015. The potential is there, and that’s more than can be said for dozens of starters currently employed by borderline contenders.
Jeff Samardzija is my favorite example of this. In 2015, he was 30 years old and led the league in earned runs, hits, and homers allowed. He then got a $90 million contract. Why? Because despite a career 96 ERA+, he had a great 2014. It was enough.
Once the Royals’ prospect core had finally congealed in 2013-15, they needed to construct a starting rotation fast, and they did it by trading their three best prospects for two seasons of James Shields and giving Jason Vargas (career 91 ERA+) $32 million, Jeremy Guthrie (103) $25 million, Edinson Vólquez (88) $20 million, 36-year-old Chris Young (107) $12 million, and Ian Kennedy (98) $70 million.
You can play this game all day. Homer Bailey and his career 95 ERA+ got one of the biggest contracts in the game from a small-market team. Mike Leake (101) got $63 million guaranteed plus a no-trade clause with the expectation that he’d just show up every day and be average. Matt Garza (108) got $50 million from Milwaukee to do the same. Minnesota gave Ricky Nolasco (94) $49 million and Phil Hughes (95) $42 million. The Dodgers took $48 million gambles on 32-year-old Scott Kazmir (106) and oft-injured Brandon McCarthy (102). Not to mention the trades for “hope this works” pitchers like Shelby Miller, James Shields, Jon Niese, Nate Eovaldi, Andrew Cashner, Trevor Bauer, Yovani Gallardo, and, yes, Jeff Samardzija.
Even after this season, Jaime García has a better track record than all of those guys. If you’re into ERA predictors, pick your favorite: xFIP, SIERA, DRA and cFIP all say he was at least okay this season. Heading into an offseason in which 44-year-old Bartolo Colón may well be the best free-agent starting pitcher available, that’s all most teams will need to hear.