MILWAUKEE -- It's official: Matt Garza and the Brewers have a deal.
Principal owner Mark Attanasio made that announcement Sunday in the middle of Brewers On Deck, saying the sides had tied up the loose ends that were delaying finalization of the right-hander's four-year contract. It guarantees $50 million, according to a source, with another $4 million available in incentives, plus a vesting option for a fifth year at $13 million, based on Garza's workload over the first four seasons of the deal.
When news of the agreement first broke on Thursday, it was cause for surprise because the Brewers were not considered one of the teams in the market for a top free-agent starting pitcher. But general manager Doug Melvin had quietly been talking to Garza's representatives for weeks.
"We stayed in contact with the Brewers for quite some time, and it was just the right fit," Garza said. "It wasn't a surprise. I was expecting an open market, and that's what I got. I'm really happy I'm a Milwaukee Brewer."
Garza's contract is the richest for a free agent in Brewers history, passing Jeff Suppan's four-year, $42 million pact in December 2006. It is also the richest free-agent pitching contract in baseball so far this offseason, since Masahiro Tanaka technically signed with the Yankees via the posting system and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw was still under club control.
Garza, 30, began the last three seasons with the Cubs before last July's trade to Texas. He is 67-67 with a 3.84 ERA in 194 Major League games (191 starts) over eight years with the Twins, Rays, Cubs and Rangers. He went 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA in 24 starts between the Cubs (11 starts) and Rangers (13 starts) last year.
Garza joins a Brewers rotation that posted a 3.36 ERA after last year's All-Star break, fourth best in baseball. Kyle Lohse, Garza, Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta are projected, in some order, to fill Milwaukee's rotation for the start of 2014, with prospects like Tyler Thornburg, Johnny Hellweg and Jimmy Nelson in reserve. The Brewers also acquired left-hander Will Smith from the Royals this winter and have not ruled out making him a starter.
"We've said now for a couple of years that we're focusing on pitching and pitching depth," Attanasio said. "That's easier said than done, obviously, but if you look at the moves that Doug has made … including getting [reliever] Michael Blazek, or the Rule 5 player that we picked up from the Pirates, there has been a continued quiet emphasis on building pitching depth.
"You can never have enough pitching depth, and I would argue we have as much pitching depth as we've had [in] my 10 seasons of ownership."
When healthy, Garza is one of baseball's elite right-handers, with an average fastball velocity of better than 93 mph and a power slider. But he has had some injury issues, including a rib-cage strain that cost Garza the first two months of last season, and right elbow and shoulder concerns in the two seasons prior to that. Attanasio declined to say whether the contract includes language that protects the Brewers in case of injury, citing club policy of keeping such matters confidential.
Does Attanasio consider the contract a risk?
"There was an article recently that profiled on different bases the top 25 pitchers in baseball. You look at all these different metrics, and [Garza] routinely grades out as [one of those pitchers]," Attanasio said. "So I'd rather talk about his upside, what he brings in terms of performance to the staff, and also what he brings in leadership. This guy really cares about winning, and I think he's going to bring that attitude, which we're looking for."
The sides disputed the notion that Garza's deal was "delayed," though he took a physical exam on Thursday amid reports that the parties were close. It simply took time, Melvin told the crowd at the team's annual fanfest, to finalize a number of specific financial details.
"These things take a lot more time today than they used to," Melvin said. "You used to make deals, shake hands with somebody and go have a beer."
Was Garza ever worried the deal might not get done?
"I didn't worry about it at all," Garza said. "I had a plethora of activities to take up my time while this whole thing was getting finalized. I had no concern whatsoever."
Garza was already back home in California, so he spoke to reporters while attending his son's basketball game. He will wear No. 22 with the Brewers, which previously belonged to outfielder Logan Schafer. Between events on Sunday, Schafer switched to No. 1.
"I think the Garza thing is extremely exciting. … I think he could be a difference maker," said another Brewers outfielder, Ryan Braun. "Facing him over the last few years, I think he's one of the best pitchers in baseball -- one of the toughest at-bats, great stuff, a fiery competitor -- which is something I think could benefit the whole pitching staff and our whole team."
Said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke: "We need to keep him healthy and get those innings from him. He's good. He's got good stuff. He's a great competitor. He prepares well. He's going to help any staff he's on."
Roenicke and Melvin both resisted making predictions about where exactly Garza will fit in the rotation, and that was just fine with Garza.
"I don't put myself in any numerical position," he said. "I just take the ball every fifth day, run out there and do what I do."