St. Louis Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia is a rare talent. It’s not often you can find a southpaw that can blow it by a big league hitter in the mid 90’s, but that’s exactly what Garcia is capable of when he takes the mound. The problem is, Jaime has had trouble even toeing the rubber in his short career thus far.
2013 will be a put-up-or-shut-up year for Garcia, the Cardinals’ expected number 2 starter and the lone lefty in the rotation. After putting together an extremely promising 13-8/.270 rookie season as a 24-year-old in 2010, he came back with a solid 13-7/3.56 line in 2011, before regressing a bit in 2012 with an injury plagued 7-7/3.92 season. His final start came in the division series against the Washington Nationals in which manager Mike Matheny showed just where his confidence in Garcia lies when he yanked him after just 2 innings before shutting him down and replacing him on the roster with rookie Shelby Miller. After the game, Cardinals brass seemed awfully perturbed by Garcia, implying that he was covering up an injury. I generally wouldn’t knock a guy who goes out and takes the field and tries to battle through an injury, but when your team is down 1-0 in a best-of-five series against the best team in the league it generally isn’t a good idea to take the mound when you know you wont have your best stuff.
Garcia needs to use this season to prove to the Cardinals and the rest of the National League that he still has the potential to be one of the game’s very best. When he is on, there are few left-handers in baseball that can deliver like he can. He can throw three different fastballs: a four seam, a two seam, and a sinker. His 4-seamer tops out around 95 and sits consistently in the low 90’s while his two seamer comes in slightly slower than that with good movement. His bread-and-butter pitch is his nasty 88-91mph sinker and he also throws a change up and slider/slurve that are used to keep hitters from sitting on his heater. One issue is that if he isn’t hitting his spots and changing speeds, he doesn’t have a complete enough repertoire to get by with so-so location. He seems to often be either dominating, getting ground balls by the bushel-full, or getting lit up like a pinball machine. His biggest problem has been staying healthy. Garcia has already sat out one full season after Tommy John surgery and missed about 12 starts in the middle of the summer last year with shoulder problems. Garcia says he feels great this spring and his manager and GM have reiterated that sentiment.
After inking Garcia to a 4-year/$28mm dollar deal in July of 2011, the Cardinals have been banking on Jaime taking the next step and becoming a pitcher of the same ilk as, say, Cole Hamels. Unfortunately mental lapses, inconsistency, and injury have kept him from reaching his true ceiling. Garcia’s extension will keep him under team control through 2017, so the Cardinals have time to work things out with Jaime. However, if Garcia comes out of the gate slow, the Redbirds might decide his value is on the decline and could start dangling his name as trade bait. Quality Left-handed starting pitching is a rarity these days and Garcia is the type of guy that could bring back a blue-chip prospect if another team sees him as a change-of-scenery guy.
Only time will tell if Jaime Garcia ends up being Clayton Kershaw or more like Mike Gonzalez. This year he will need to step up and justify the rest of his contract or he may see his innings start to slip away to the new breed of young arms the Cardinals have waiting in the wings.