Trade Retrospective: Cubs trade Matt Garza to the Rangers

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The Cubs got a great return for a pitcher in his contract year, but unfortunately the results did not pan out for either side.

For the fourth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here. This series was first started in 2016 by Spencer Bingol, who has been part of the Red Sox Baseball Operations department for the past two years. Congratulations to Spencer on the team’s recent World Series championship!

Not far from the 2013 trade deadline, the tanking Cubs decided to trade Matt Garza to the Rangers for a package of prospects. The Rangers sent Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, and a player to be named later who turned out to be Neil Ramírez to Chicago.

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In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

The Rangers were in the thick of another division race. They were a few games behind the Oakland Athletics, the same team that snatched the division from them in painful fashion at the end of the previous season. Their starting rotation was strong up top thanks to Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Martín Pérez did not look too shabby with a 3.40 ERA, but he had a 4.28 RA9, and his strikeout rates were among the worst in baseball. Alexi Ogando was not bad either with a 3.27 RA9, but he also suffered from poor strikeout rates, and he had control issues. His .256 BABIP and high strand rates were not going to last much longer, either.

The rotation needed help, and Matt Garza looked like a great candidate for the job. At the time of the trade, he had a 3.30 RA9 and better-than-average strikeout and walk rates. From the Cubs’ perspective, he was a mid-rotation starter in a contract year on a terrible team. Trading him was a no-brainer.

Mike Olt was the headliner of the trade, a third baseman who had ranked 30th in BP’s top 101 prospects. He had an excellent season in Double-A the year before, but had some problems in 2013 at Triple-A, though they appeared to be the result of vision problems. After he came of the DL, he hit .247/.353/.506. He profiled as a high-power, low-OBP slugger with a plus glove at third base. There were concerns as to whether or not he would hit enough to access that power as there was a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. Still, BP graded his overall future potential as a 6 (2-8 scale).

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(At the time I kept having to stop myself from referring to him as Mel Ott. If only he were Mel Ott!)

C.J. Edwards was a steal for the Rangers as a 48th round pick, so getting anything out of him is a win. With his velocity and potential for three pitches, he had a chance to be a decent starter. The problem was that he was a small guy for a pitcher. At six-foot-two and 155 pounds, he made Chris Sale look big. He was a low-floor, high-ceiling guy that was perfect for a rebuilding team to take a chance on.

Justin Grimm was a fifth starter who looked destined for the bullpen. He had debuted the year before and was suffering through a terrible beginning to his major league career, putting up a 7.08 RA9 over 103 IP. Being worth -2 WAR over the innings equivalent of half a season is really something. He had the potential to be a mid-rotation starter, but he had so little deception that even right-handed hitters had an easy time seeing the ball out of his hands. I am guessing that the Cubs were hoping to fix him so that he could at least become a viable bullpen arm.

The player to be named later turned out to be Neil Ramírez, though there is not much to say about him. He was the 44th overall pick in 2007, but his development had suffered due shoulder issues, and his control was always a major problem. Similar to Grimm, a move to the bullpen looked to be in his best interests.

This was a great return for the Cubs. They got two players with high upsides in Olt and Edwards, and two bullpen pieces in Grimm and Ramírez. Olt was blocked by the legendary Adrián Beltré, and nobody else included in the trade was going to help the Rangers in the near term. There was a question mark regarding acquiring Olt when the Cubs had just drafted Kris Bryant, but this was a good problem to have. Olt was seen as a much better defender at third base than Bryant, so if they both reached their offensive ceiling, perhaps Bryant could move to the outfield.

This was definitely a better trade for the Cubs, but that does not mean it did not make sense for the win-now Rangers. Unfortunately, the trade did not really work out for either side.

The Results

Unfortunately, Garza did not help at all. He was basically replacement level for the Rangers, with a 5.02 RA9 over his 13 starts with them. The Rangers did finish with an impressive 91 wins, but just barely missed the playoffs. They finished tied with the Rays, so they had to face off with them for the last Wild Card slot. They lost, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Garza went on to sign a four-year, $50 million deal with the Brewers before the 2014 season. Believe it or not, that was the biggest free agent signing in Brewers history. It was also a disaster. He was fine in his first year with a 4.24 RA9, but his strikeout rate fell to 18.5 percent, and his following season was so bad that the Brewers actually benched him. He had a whopping 6.17 RA9, and his strikeout rate fell below 16 percent, so you can see why the Brewers felt like they had a sunk cost on their hands.

The Brewers did not cut Garza altogether, though. He finished out the last two years of his contract, but he was not much better than he was in 2015, with a 5.78 RA9 over 216 13 IP. His total WAR in Milwaukee ended up as almost a full win below replacement. The Brewers unsurprisingly did not pick up his team option for 2018.

Olt sadly did not pan out for the Cubs, either. He made the 2014 Opening Day roster with the Cubs as a platoon partner with Luis Valbuena (RIP) at third base. He claimed that his prior vision problems were gone, but you would not know it by watching him. He became an extreme version of what scouts thought he would be. He hit for a lot of power, with 12 HR in his 258 PA that year.

However, that is all he did. He struck out in nearly 39 percent of his plate appearances, and finished the season with a line of .160/.248/.356. That is a 69 wRC+. He did have a .203 BABIP, and while I am sure part of that was bad luck, it seemed that a lot of that was on him. His hit tool was so bad that he had trouble making contact, he had trouble keeping the ball off the ground when he did make contact, and he had trouble making quality contact overall.

You are likely well aware of what happened in 2015. Kris Bryant got the call-up, which essentially ended Olt’s career with the Cubs. He only played in six games for them that year and then spent most of the time in the minors or on the DL. He got DFAed on August 31st of that year, so the White Sox decided to pick him up to finish out the year. He did not hit any better for them than he did for the Cubs.

Olt has not appeared in a major league game since. He has bounced around a bit since then, most recently signing a minor league contract with the Twins.

You probably know C.J. Edwards a lot better by the name he goes by now: Carl Edwards Jr. He never worked out as a starter, but he has been quite effective as a reliever, especially over the last couple of seasons. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, he has had a 2.97 RA9 while striking out a third of batters faced. He could truly be an elite reliever if it were not for his horrific control issues. He has walked over 14 percent of hitters over the last two seasons!

Justin Grimm moved to the bullpen full time with the Cubs, and he was not bad at all there. He stayed with the Cubs through the 2017 season and provided quality middle relief with a 4.24 RA9 during his time with the team. He struggled in 2017 with a 5.53 RA9, though, so he was cut before the 2018 season. He played for the Royals and Mariners that season, but struggled with injuries. He is currently on a minor league deal with the Indians.

Neil Ramírez was shockingly good when he debuted for the Cubs in 2014. He had a 2.27 RA9 out of the pen while striking out 30 percent of batters faced. Unfortunately, he failed to sustain those results, and pitched his last game for the Cubs in early 2016. He has been a part of quite a few organizations since then, but he has pitched fewer than 100 innings total in the majors since departing from the Cubs. Currently he is still a part of Cleveland’s organization.

We really don’t need a table to tell us that this trade did not work out for the Rangers, but there it is. It is pretty strange that Garza became so much worse after he arrived in Arlington. Oddly enough, almost the same exact thing happened with Ryan Dempster the year before.

Ironically, Olt ended up being the worst of the bunch. The Cubs were obviously hoping for a lot more out of this trade, but honestly, this is not too terrible. Seeing as how they were trading away a player who was going to leave via free agency, any kind of return should be seen as a positive. The Cubs still have Edwards under contract through 2022, so if they can get his walk rates under control, they might have something special there.

This trade made all the sense in the world for both sides, but sometimes baseball results do not work out so well. The Rangers did return to the playoffs in 2015 and 2016 by winning their division. Obviously things ended up working out overall for the Cubs, too.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.

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