When the Cardinals picked up Jaime Garcia’s $12.5 million option for 2017 last month, there were some complaints, but generally an understanding that organization was likely aiming to flip him for some prospects. This afternoon the Cardinals completed a deal sending him to the Atlanta Braves for infielder Luke Dykstra and right handed pitchers John Gant and Chris Ellis.
Garcia’s past seven years with the Cardinals has featured lots of promise and lots of disappointment. Promise in the 2.70 ERA he posted over 28 innings in 2010. Promise in the games like the one hitter he twirled in April. His career would be derailed in 2012 when he suffered a shoulder injury in his throwing arm. After a few false starts and a couple of surgeries, he would return in 2015 to capitalize on that promise, playing a crucial role in the Cardinals’ rotation after Adam Wainwright’s Achilles injury, going 10–6 with a 2.43 ERA over 20 starts. His 161 ERA+ that year ranking fifth best in baseball among starting pitchers who started at least 20 games, right behind the $217 million man, David Price.
Last year was not as successful as everyone hoped it would be. He seemed to hit a wall as a strong start into May would quickly derail through the summer. He would end up with a 4.67 ERA on the year and a 10–13 record. From June 1st on Garcia would go 6–9 with a 5.30 ERA and lose his spot in the rotation to Alex Reyes.
On one hand it was a victory for him to get through the entire season without an injury for the first time since 2011. It was perhaps even not unexpected for him to struggle in the second half, considering it was the most innings he’d thrown since 2011 as well. But it was still a disappointment for a team that languished down the stretch to miss the playoffs by a single game and needed better results out of him.
The Braves are getting a good pitcher, albeit one that still has to prove that he can stay on the field. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason why he can’t nail down a low to mid-3s ERA in Atlanta and make them consider a qualifying offer. The Braves have quickly and radically remade their rotation this winter, having signed R. A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon and now acquiring Garcia. Word is that they are still trying to bring in Chris Sale too.
The Cardinals’ return for Garcia, while not any headlining prospects, is still a solid haul.
Second baseman Luke Dykstra is likely the high upside or “lottery ticket” prospect, as I like to call them. He was probably viewed as expendable by the Braves as their top two prospects are shortstops — in Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies — and it would make sense that the eventual loser of that battle will end up at second base. Dykstra was a 7th round pick by the Braves in the 2014 draft and is ranked by MLB.com as their #29 prospect.
Dykstra, 21, hit .304/.332/.363 over 81 games for Single-A Rome last year. While he doesn’t walk much, he doesn’t strike out much either. He is a solid hitter that makes a lot of contact with low strikeout and walk rates. He has decent speed and good instincts all around, but how high he can rise will likely depend on how his plate discipline develops as he progresses to the higher levels of the minors.
The Cardinals are stacked up the middle right now, adding Edmundo Sosa and Eliezar Alvarez to their 40 man roster this winter to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft, so it’s unclear where Dykstra will fit into the system at this point.
Right hander John Gant was a 21st round pick from the 2011 draft by the New York Mets and was acquired near the deadline in 2015 for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe. He is ranked by MLB.com as the Braves’ #21 prospect.
Gant, 24, posted a 4.86 ERA over 50 innings for the Braves last season, making 7 starts and 13 relief appearances. He also posted a 3.97 ERA in 59 innings in the minors, most of which were at Triple-A Gwinnett. In the past he’s been projected as a fourth or fifth starter. He has a very good changeup and a curve that has improved over the last couple years. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90s.
It would be reasonable to expect Gant to start the season in Memphis as a starting pitcher and be in line to be one of the first ones up in case of injury. He could probably fit in the rotation or the bullpen if needed. Gant will be on the 40 man roster, which is still full for the Cardinals.
The last piece is right hander Chris Ellis. Ellis is ranked #17 in the Braves’ system and was a third round pick by the Angels in 2014 before coming to Atlanta in the Andrelton Simmons trade.
Ellis, 24, was 8–2 with a 2.75 ERA over 13 starts for Double-A Mississippi last year, but failed to find his footing in Triple-A after a mid-season callup. In Gwinnett he was 4–7 with a 6.52 ERA.
The Cardinals will be his third organization in three years, so he could likely stand some consistency at this point. He is tall, 6-foot-5, with a two plus pitches, a fastball and slider. His fastball is only in the mid-90s, but has good life to it and his slider is swing-and-miss-type stuff. Control issues have plagued him so far in his pro career, most recently walking nearly 7 batters per nine while struggling with Gwinnett last year. Generally though, he has pitched well when he is throwing strikes.
I would expect Ellis to start the season in the rotation at Memphis. As a former third round pick, he will likely get every opportunity to succeed and figure out what kind of pitcher he’ll be.
All in all, I think this is a good trade for the Cardinals and the Braves too. The Cardinals get three talented young players in exchange for a pitcher that most fans wanted to say good bye. Is it a bad return? I don’t think so. Nobody was going to give up the moon to get Garcia and Mozeliak did not want to wait too long and get caught holding the bag.