The bulky, right-handed hitter will likely serve as part of a platoon at first base with the left-handed hitting Casey Kotchman.
Blessed with a career .887 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) against left-handed pitching, Garko is exactly the southpaw killer the team has spent the offseason looking for.
Having struck out — or, in some cases, declined to step up to the plate — on bigger names like Vladimir Guerrero, Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, et al, the M’s courted an affordable right-handed power bat that could play the corner outfield or infield positions.
All jokes about Nerdball aside (sabermetrics, to the uninitiated), the team did a great job in landing Garko.
While most prognosticators figured the former Cleveland Indian and San Francisco Giant would land with a team for around $1 million annually, Seattle managed to reel in the ex-catcher for about half that price. The club will pay Garko $550,000 in 2010, with incentives that could push the deal slightly over $1 million (incentives, I might add, that likely won’t be reached, barring an exclusive starting role).
The 29-year-old Garko spent the first three-and-a-half seasons of his major league career with the Indians.
Primarily deployed as a first baseman, the 6’2″, 225-pounder hit a career-high 21 home runs in 2007. He followed that up with an impressive 2008 campaign resulting in 14 homers and 90 RBI.
The former Stanford product began the ’09 season with Cleveland before a deadline deal sent him to San Francisco in exchange for a minor league prospect.
While in the Bay Area, Garko regressed dramatically. In 40 games, he posted a .235 batting average, hit just two longballs, and drove in only 12 runs. His decline led to an otherwise stagnant market for his services this offseason.
Even if Garko fails to make an impression with the M’s, the team will have invested very little in their newest free agent signing. At $550,000, Garko barely makes more than the big league minimum, meaning a release (however unfortunate) would not be out of the question if things were to backfire.
Credit Jackie Z. and the boys for plucking another steal off the market. Now let’s just hope it works out.