Why Extending Garcia Is A Good Idea

Around midday Friday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story that a contract extension for St. Louis Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia may be in the works. The deal was not announced as being final by the end of the day Friday, but if the Cards do in fact sign Garcia to an extension they could be doing themselves a huge favor.

Garcia may only be in his second full season in the Majors, but his numbers both last year and this year are really solid. Garcia is nearly unhittable at Busch Stadium, and though his road splits are a bit alarming he still enjoys an 8-3 record with a 3.23 ERA and 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Not bad for a pitcher who also happened to turn 25 yesterday.

Age may be the biggest reason to extend Garcia, and health can probably be thrown in as well. Garcia is still young and learning, but he has already shown the poise and confidence needed to be a successful big league starter. And he already had Tommy John surgery, so Garcia may get stronger still over the next couple of seasons. He certainly is not likely to have elbow trouble anytime soon.

And the Cards have some big decisions coming up soon anyway. Yes, Garcia is just now arbitration-eligible after this season and, consequently should remain relatively cheap for a few years. But if he keeps pitching like he has, retaining Garcia beyond his sixth season may prove too rich for the Cards’ blood, especially since they may be paying Albert Pujols a lot of money by then. Additionally, the rotation figures to change dramatically over the next couple of seasons. Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook almost certainly will not be re-signed after their current contracts wear out. Chris Carpenter may be retained for a couple more years, but he is on the downside as well. Adam Wainwright—who the Cardinals should also extend beyond the two option years they currently need to act on—is the ace of this team. Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez are proving to be quite strong prospects who will likely show up in St. Louis by September 2012. Garcia would be an integral part of a rotation featuring those guys and, by that time, may be the second in command veteran.

Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks. What kind of money and how many years? The number thrown around was $27-ish million over four years, plus possibly a couple of vesting options. Assuming any and all options would kick in, that would make Garcia a Cardinal until he is roughly 30 years old. And a pitcher of his caliber making $10 million or less in his 20s is pretty rare, especially as a free agent. This contract would eliminate at least one of those free agent years.

Neither side would deny the contract talk; they basically stuck to radio silence on the possible deal. But it would be no surprise to see this contract being announced in the next couple of days. And that’s good news for the Cardinals. They need rotation stability for the future. They need that anchor once Carpenter leaves (or retires). Garcia can be that player. Maybe he is not the bulldog Carpenter is, but Garcia certainly has the skill and drive to take that position. It is time to lock him in.

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