Garza's injury brings harsh reality to light

CHICAGO -- Cubs starter Matt Garza may have received a wake-up call that all athletes should heed – particularly when deciding how many millions of dollars to take or turn down during contract negotiations and free agency.

The talented pitcher is fresh off an MRI that showed only some minor fluid retention in his right arm. Garza was forced to leave his most-recent start on July 22 with cramping after just three innings in the books. At this point, he may go on the DL for short retroactive period of time. Garza also has one more year of arbitration ahead of him, meaning he won't hit the free-agent market until the conclusion of the 2013 season.

The Cubs are on the record in saying they wanted to build around pitchers like Garza as they look to lay the young foundation of the future. Although no one has talked about it, the assumption is that the parameters of a long-term contract have been broached by Garza's agent with the club. Most industry sources I have talked to believe a five-year deal worth between $60-70 million is the fair-market value for Garza. The five-year, $65 million deal the White Sox agreed upon with starter John Danks last winter sets a decent precedent for Garza.

Others have said that Garza’s reps may ask (or have already asked) for between $18-20 million a year. Regardless of the numbers, players should at some point realize their own mortality when it comes to possible career-ending injuries.

“The first big contract, the team should win to a degree, and the player should be sure to get lifetime security for himself and his family,” said one long time major league executive. “Really, there have been some sad stories of players turning down big money and never getting the chance to make it again due to injury or poor play.”

It is not my position to tell a young, talented pitcher like Garza what deal is right for him. With a young family and a new baby on the way, I just hope that a minor injury gives him pause when considering his options.

Truth be told, Garza has already made more than $20 million, and he might have much of that in the bank. Still, playing in a city like Chicago is the icing on the cake for those fortunate enough to play professional sports here.

The Cubs, on the other hand, can only hope to trade Garza for some young talent that can approach the pitcher’s potential at age 28. There is no absolute when it comes to rolling the dice on prospects. Of the five players traded for Garza in 2011, none are looking like anything close to All-Star major leaguers down the road. Right-hander Chris Archer, the key pitcher in the deal going back Tampa Bay, is now being projected as a reliever.

Talking to Garza on Friday, I asked him if a long-term deal could work for him in Chicago.

“There are always possibilities because I am an optimist,” Garza said. “Maybe (the arm injury) is a sign from up above saying it is not time for me to go anywhere (else) yet. Maybe there is work to still be done, and I am the guy for the job.”

In baseball circles there is an old expression about making trades: Sometimes the best deal for a club is the one it never makes. In the case of the Cubs and Matt Garza, that indeed may be the right call.