The Cardinals are still debating whether to pick up the $12MM club option over southpaw Jaime Garcia, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. St. Louis would need to pay a $500K buyout if it declines.
Garcia, 30, just made thirty starts for only the second time in his career, representing a highly promising return to health for a pitcher who has battled shoulder problems. But his results fell well shy of his established benchmark. Between his first full season in the majors through last season (i.e., 2010-2015), Garcia compiled a 3.25 ERA over 708 1/3 innings.
In his 171 2/3 frames in 2016, Garcia ended up allowing 4.67 earned runs per nine. His peripherals weren’t that far off of his career norms — 7.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 were both on the high side of his typical range, while his strong 56.7% groundball rate was nearly an exact match for his lifetime average.
Really, Garcia suffered most from an elevated home run susceptibility. He was touched for dingers on over one of five flyballs put in play against him, with opposing hitters launching 1.36 per nine. Whether he can pare back the long balls may be the biggest question remaining. Ultimately, ERA estimators suggest that his down year occurred at least in part due to some poor fortune (4.49 FIP; 3.77 xFIP; 3.93 SIERA.)
In terms of the underlying physical tools, there are indications that Garcia has continued to adapt with a shoulder that will probably never be fully normal. His release point continues to drift (see here and here), with his breaking balls showing marked changes in behavior as well as some inconsistencies. With those changes, Garcia’s typically double-digit swinging strike rate has resided just below that level (9.2%) for each of the last two years. On the other hand, his average fastball velocity is better than ever.
Garcia acknowledged that some of his struggles may be related to his efforts to stay ahead of the shoulder problems that have plagued him for so long. “I got caught up so much in being healthy and working hard to stay healthy that sometimes mechanics took a hit,” he said. But he says he’s glad to have ended the year on an uptick, proclaiming: “I found it now. … I know the kind of pitcher I am.”
All told, it seems hard to imagine that the Cards will punt Garcia onto an open market that is starved for arms. There’s certainly an argument to be made that it would be unwise to sacrifice the depth after a season in which Lance Lynn, Marco Gonzales, and Michael Wacha were among the club’s hurlers who dealt with varying degrees of injury problems.
If anything, a trade would seem the more likely scenario. According to Goold, St. Louis “floated” Garcia’s name over the summer to assess his value. Whether or not there was ever serious consideration of moving him in 2016, that could become an option this offseason. As Goold explains it, promising the $12MM payday to Garcia “would give Mozeliak control of an asset for 2017 and pitching depth that he could use in deals even into spring training.”