It is too bad that Twitter did not exist in 2007. If it had, we could just recycle all the upset fan comments about the contract of an injured St. Louis Cardinals left-handed pitcher from that era, Mark Mulder, and just change the subject’s name to today’s subject of angst, Jaime Garcia.
Coming off the 2006 World Championship, the Cardinals’ signing of the oft-injured Mulder to a two-year contract was a surprise to many. Mulder had first joined the Cards in a controversial trade with the Oakland A’s in December 2004 that cost St. Louis three players, including Dan Haren.
Though a 20-game winner and two-time all-star with Oakland, Mulder managed just one full season with St. Louis, logging 18 wins in 2005. He missed about half the 2006 campaign as shoulder problems mounted and when he did pitch, the results were bad. Mulder went 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA. After rotator cuff surgery, he did not appear in the post-season and became a free agent immediately after.
Doubling down on his original decision to acquire Mulder, then-general manager Walt Jocketty brought the rehabbing hurler back for 2007 and 2008 at a cost of $13 million. The deal, announced in January 2007, completely backfired. A second, clean-up shoulder surgery was required in 2007, but Mulder was almost immediately injured again in 2008.
The Cardinals received just 12 2/3 innings of 12.08 ERA pitching in return for their increased investment over those two seasons. Mulder’s 2007-2008 bWAR was a negative 0.8. He then retired, admitting his shoulder could no longer enable him to pitch.
Whether the Jaime Garcia story ends that way remains to be seen.
Instead of being a top pitching prospect dealt away like Haren, Garcia remained in the organization. The left-hander missed 2009 due to Tommy John surgery but was ready to assume a full-time rotation spot early in 2010.
Garcia, who turns 28 this week, had made a total of 60 starts over his first two full seasons among St. Louis’ starting five, winning 26 games and logging a 3.17 ERA. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year vote in 2010 and was said by some to have the nastiest stuff on the staff.
With Garcia’s first arbitration year looming that fall and the lefty leading the staff in wins at the 2011 break, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak offered him a four-year contract extension with club options for two more seasons. The pitcher was guaranteed $27 million.
In return, the Cardinals have received considerably more from Garcia than from Mulder, but also committed over twice as much money. In the 2 ½ seasons to date on his extension, Garcia has shouldered just over one season of aggregate workload, making 36 starts and throwing 220 2/3 innings. He went 15-10 with a 3.87 ERA and a total of 1.2 bWAR.
It could be that Garcia will be able to return from his proposed thoracic outlet syndrome-relieving surgery before his contract ends following the 2015 season. Even if not, it seems likely that the club will pay the final $1 million of the $27 million commitment to relieve the obligation to keep Garcia around for 2016 and 2017.
In hindsight, clearly the Cardinals would have been better served to go the annual arbitration route with Garcia. While his shoulder problems perhaps could not have been anticipated, the risks of offering a long-term deal to any pitcher is increased.
In this case, the extension would not have been required to keep Garcia under contract from 2012-2014. With the injury problems, the club would have needed to spend less than $27 million in the three arbitration years.
Perhaps the Cardinals have learned a lesson. Their next test case is Lance Lynn, almost exactly at the same point in his career today as was Garcia when the extension was signed and with comparable mound success to date.
With a good pitching pipeline and the Garcia negative experience still very fresh, committing more money now to keep Lynn longer four or five years down the line seems only slightly less risky than when it was unsuccessfully attempted with Garcia.