With less than a week to go before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the Cleveland Indians have made a last-minute addition to the invitation list: the Tribe agreed to sign free agent starting pitcher Jon Garland to a minor-league deal Monday morning.
The deal is still pending a physical and there’s no word yet on the official specifications of the contract (i.e., how much Garland will earn if he makes the team), but for a minor-league deal in February it seems highly unlikely that Garland would earn more than a six-digit salary.
Garland, 32, went 1-5 with a 4.33 ERA (5.01 SIERA) in nine starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers last year before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery (try saying that five times fast) in July. After the procedure Garland said he expected to be fully ready for spring training, though if it turns out he’s not healthy both the forthcoming physical and the non-guaranteed nature of the contract would give the Indians some wiggle room.
The 1997 first-round draft pick is 132-119 with a 4.32 ERA (104 ERA+), a 1.38 WHIP, and 23.3 fWAR over the course of his 12-year career. Last season excepted, Garland has demonstrated admirable consistency and durability throughout his career, averaging 205 innings and 2.5 fWAR a season since he became a full-time starter in 2002.
Assuming he’s healthy and able to return to his usual form (or at least something close to it), Garland is probably the presumptive favorite to win the final spot in the Indians’ rotation, as recently vacated by the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona. Even including 2011 Garland has a 3.81 ERA in his last three seasons; none of his competitors for the No. 5 spot are likely to perform that well over Garland’s usual 200 innings.
If Garland ends up struggling to regain his form or he isn’t ready for Opening Day, he’ll join Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, Zach McAllister, David Huff, and Scott Barnes in the fight for the final rotation slot. But Garland’s strengths are his consistency and his durability, so in that case it’s unlikely that he’d be able to earn a regular job with several other higher-ceiling options available.
As Steve Kinsella noted yesterday, it’s possible that the Indians’ eagerness to add pitching depth has something to do with concern over Josh Tomlin’s elbow, which he injured at the end of the 2011 season. There haven’t been any news about setbacks for Tomlin nor rumors that his health is in question, but it is a possibility that would help to explain why Cleveland wanted him despite lacking an obvious need for another starter.
However he’s used, assuming Garland will earn under $1 million if he makes the team (it’s hard to imagine a minor-league deal including a seven-digit salary), he’ll be a solid bargain for the Indians. And if he throws his usual 200 innings of above-average run prevention, this signing will be a steal. Great move by Chris Antonetti & Co. to work out a minor-league deal for a player who we can actually get excited about.