By RICK SOLEM
It’s the week before the week before the Super Bowl.
So, let’s talk Brewers baseball?
Thursday, it was reported the Milwaukee Brewers signed 30-year-old right-hander, Matt Garza, to a four-year, $52 million contract.
Not so fast.
The contract is being held up for, big surprise, medical concerns ... or not, according to Brewers beat writer, Adam McCalvy.
Garza would be the first major league free-agent signing by the Brewers – the only team this offseason yet to sign a free agent to an MLB contract. Now, they’re still the outlier.
But that’s not to say the Brewers haven’t been active. They’ve re-signed guys and signed others to minor league deals, but it looked as though they made a somewhat big splash with Garza.
Garza, who was traded from the Cubs to the Texans mid-season last year, is a risky endeavor for the team, considering he pitched just 155⅓ innings in 2013 and 103⅔ in 2012.
He was on the DL last year for shoulder injury and in 2012 because of an elbow – kind of important body parts for pitchers.
The news of his signing – if it happens now or not - is surprising, considering the teams affiliated with getting him were the free-spending Yankees, Angels and Diamondbacks. The Brewers really don’t fit the mold of a team dishing out dollars.
And, the irony is, those teams weren’t willing to spend that money for that many years. Red flag?
“There may be concerns about him physically,” an AL executive told the Boston Globe. “I think most teams are thinking four or five years is just too risky, even if he’s a no-compensation guy.”
Apparently, not too risky, too long or too expensive for the Brewers, which is a bit scary, considering the Yankees just dished out $155 million over seven years to 25-year-old Japan pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, which doesn’t include the $20 million fee New York had to pay his old team just for his rights.
In other words, they don’t care about money. Why not just sign Garza up, too?
And, unlike Tanaka, Garza is proven in the league. And he doesn’t come at the cost of a first-round pick, like the Brewers gave the St. Louis Cardinals for Kyle Lohse before last season.
Garza was stellar with the Cubs before being traded with a 3.17 ERA, 62 strikeouts and 20 walks in 71 innings. In the American League with Texas, however, his ERA skyrocketed to 4.38, while his walk and strikeout ratios remained the same. So, perhaps it was just the changing of leagues/teams.
If signed, Garza could headline a solid rotation with Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada.
THE OTHER DEALS
Estrada is one of two players to recently re-sign with the club, avoiding arbitration. The 30-year-old righty signed for one year, $3,325 million. He was 7-4 with a 3.87 ERA last year.
The other re-signee was corner infielder Juan Francisco, for one year, $1.35 million – also avoiding arbitration.
Francisco, who was traded from Atlanta last year, hit .227 with 18 home runs, 48 RBI. But he did strike out 138 times in 385 plate appearances – or a strikeout every 2.8 appearances. In other words: Not good.
It’s an interesting stat, because one of the players Milwaukee signed to a minor league deal in the past week was strikeout king Mark Reynolds – Milwaukee also signed Lyle Overbay to the minors.
Reynolds, a 30-year-old corner infielder, had 154 strikeouts in 538 appearances last year with the Yankees and Indians. That’s a strike out every 3.5 plate appearances.
Reynolds, who had 21 home runs and 67 RBI last year, holds the single-season record for strikeouts with 223 Ks in 2009 – a strikeout rate of 3.0.
If Francisco played an entire season last year, he would have shattered that record. And his strikeout rate with just the Brewers last year was an alarming 2.5.
So, the Brewers could have a record holder if Francisco or Reynolds plays an entire season with the club.
It wouldn’t be the first time Milwaukee had a strikeout record-holder. In 2001, Jose Hernandez set the record with 185. That number, however, now sits at tied for 26th most in a season, and just a strikeout above Rickie Weeks’ 184-strikeout effort in 2010.
If Reynolds and Francisco both end up on each corner of the infield for a majority of the season – which is possible because brittle old Aramiz Ramirez is easily injured or could be traded traded, since the 35-year-old is in the last year of his 3-year, $36 million contract - Garza and the rest of the Brewers’ staff are going to be sad they aren’t pitching against Milwaukee, instead of for them.
They may be thinking that anyway.