Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez?
The debate within Toronto Blue Jays nation started almost as soon as FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal dropped the little nugget that the team could be a “leading candidate” for either free agent starter, though it almost seems like a trick question. After all, if the team is looking to make a high-priced splash to acquire much-needed pitching help whose name is not Masahiro Tanaka, why overlook the best option available?
Yes, until he’s signed to what is expected to be the most lucrative contract given to all free agent pitchers this offseason, the answer to the Santana-Jimenez debate is still Matt Garza.
And really, considering how much all three will make in respective long-term deals as the top options remaining, there’s little reason to believe that the Blue Jays wouldn’t be a “leading candidate” for the former Chicago Cubs ace as far as money and desire goes — at least no less than they would be for Santana or Jimenez.
It’s not what the right-hander did with the Cubs that should be of most interest, though; while his numbers with the Lovable Losers from 2011 to 2013 until he was traded were impressive enough (team-leading 7.0 fWAR, 3.45/1.21 ERA/WHIP over 373.2 innings), it’s his years with the AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays that may be more relevant.
Pitching in baseball’s most difficult division is a special kind of trial-by-fire that few find sustained success coming out of, and Garza happens to be one of them. The same cannot be said for Santana or Jimenez (though the latter did pitch at Coors); in fact, it also can’t be said about Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson or R.A. Dickey, who were all coming off of disappointing seasons with uncompetitive teams in the NL when they arrived north of the border.
Well, as loosely connected as it may seem, I think the results speak for themselves, AL Beast narrative or not.
Garza comes with his fair share of risks, of course. He’s not a true no. 1 pitcher, and he has had his troubles with injuries over the last couple of years. In fact, he might have been traded in 2012 if not for an elbow saga that seeming morphed into a biggest issue from day to day leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline. Considering the Blue Jays’ recent history with pitcher health, that alone should be enough to give them pause.
Then again, it’s not like Santana and Jimenez have squeaky-clean track records either, yes? The former was coming off his first below replacement level season when a new approach led to a career-best 1.41 GB/FB ratio in 2013, but a 12.4 percent HR/FB rate says he still can’t quite chase his home run demons. Meanwhile, the latter was a hot mess in 2012 with velocity concerns … in fact, Ubaldo’s velo continued to plummet even in his bounce-back season last year.
It’s not that Garza does not have some of these flaws, but he brings with him a significantly higher floor, years of experience in the division and the good ol’ intangible in the form of a fiery competitive spirit — one that has gotten him into his share of trouble with some of his former teams. Depending on what you believe about Toronto’s perceived clubhouse attitude, that last bit might be more important than it seems.
He might not be able to lead the Blue Jays to the promised land, but considering the alternatives that have been raised and debated, the 30-year-old remains the best option with the fewest risks. Not to say that Santana and Ubaldo aren’t talented, but you don’t have to look too far at their career-worst seasons in 2012 to see the difference between that and the worst-case scenario with Garza, you know?