Not every former major league staple is content to stick around the U.S. in Quad-A limbo while waiting for opportunity to knock. Via The China Post, Freddy Garcia has signed a deal with the EDA Rhinos of the Chinese Professional Baseball League, the four-team circuit based in Taiwan. He'll report on April 25.
A two-time All-Star for the Mariners in 2001-02 and a starter for the White Sox when they won the World Series in 2005, the 37-year-old Garcia owns a 156-108 lifetime record with a 4.15 ERA (107 ERA+) in the majors. With his average fastball speed having long ago dipped below 90 mph, and his staying power far more about perspiration than inspiration, he's been on his own Kouzmanoff-like journey since undergoing rotator cuff and labrum surgery as a member of the Phillies in 2007. Since then, he's pitched for the Tigers, White Sox (again), Yankees, Orioles and Braves, making as many as 28 starts in a season but never totaling enough innings (162) to qualify for an ERA title — not that he's been a threat to win one. Most notably, he put up a 4.29 ERA (100 ERA+), making 42 starts and pitching 254 innings for the playoff-bound Yankees in 2011-12, even making a start in the 2011 Division Series against the Tigers.
Garcia split last season with the Orioles and Braves, starting the year with the former's Triple-A Norfolk affiliate, getting called up in early May and then getting rocked for a 5.77 ERA and striking out just 4.4 per nine over 10 starts and one relief appearance before being sent back down. That looked as though it might be the end of the line for the workmanlike "Sweaty Freddy," but when injuries to Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy thinned out the Braves' pitching depth, they bought him from the Orioles. He made a solid enough showing in three relief appearances that the team moved him to the rotation in mid-September, and he delivered three straight quality starts while allowing four runs in 20 1/3 innings, a performance that earned him a spot on the NL East-winning club's Division Series roster.
With the Braves on the verge of elimination at the hands of the Dodgers, manager Fredi Gonzalez raised some eyebrows when he opted to call upon Garcia instead of bringing Kris Medlen back on three days' rest. Matched up against Clayton Kershaw, Garcia showed maximum moxie. He delivered six innings of two-run ball while striking out six, and the Braves took the lead when the man pinch-hitting for him, Jose Constanza, hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the seventh. Alas, Juan Uribe's eighth-inning homer off David Carpenter consigned that surprisingly strong performance to the dustbin of history as the Braves were eliminated.
Garcia went to camp with Atlanta this spring, and it appeared he had a path to at least a temporary rotation spot when both Medlen and Beachy wound up needing their second Tommy John surgeries and Mike Minor was sent to the disabled list with a sore shoulder. Instead, the Braves chose Aaron Harang and signed Ervin Santana to a one-year deal, releasing Garcia in late March just in time to avoid picking up his guaranteed $1.25 million salary. For what it's worth, Harang has since delivered three six-inning starts while allowing a total of two runs and striking out 17.
While Garcia received multiple offers for a minor league deal, including one from the Rangers, he couldn't find a major league deal to his liking. Instead, he'll head overseas to join a 25-year-old league that has been beset by game-fixing scandals, and a team that employed Manny Ramirez for 49 games last year. He'll reportedly earn a similar salary (around $50,000 a month) in hopes that he becomes a gate attraction. With Ramirez on the team, the Rhinos won the first-half flag and more than quadrupled their average attendance all the way to 9,134 per game, according to the Post, but the slugger left the team in midseason to sign a minor league deal with the Rangers, though he never made it back to the majors. Garcia will hope for a more positive outcome than that. One thing we know for sure: He's willing to sweat it out in the interim.