Rich Garces, better known as “El Guapo,” was a relief pitcher for several seasons in Major League Baseball. setup men don’t get much love at all in the sports card hobby. His breakout year was in 1999, which also happened to be my first full year following Major League Baseball. As a young devoted fan of my hometown Red Sox, Garces’ remarkable performances stand out in my memory.
Rich Garces and His Early Career
Garces actually had two cups of coffee with the Minnesota Twins in 1990 and 1993. He certainly didn’t embarrass himself, but the Twins never really gave him a chance. But because of his decent cuppa in 1990, Donruss, Fleer Ultra, Upper Deck, Bowman, Stadium Club, and Topps all gave him a rookie card. Topps even named him a Future Star. Despite Topps having a terrible track record with those Future Star predictions, they were actually somewhat correct in this case.
The Twins released Garces in October 1994 and he caught on with the Chicago Cubs in 1995. Remarkably, he pitched fairly well in 7 games, before being put on waivers and claimed by the Marlins. He didn’t pitch so well for them. So, he would be released by the Florida team and find his way to the Red Sox.
Rich Garces and the Red Sox (1996 to 1998)
In 1996, Garces got his first real taste of the major leagues after impressing at AAA. It wasn’t pretty, but he managed to post 0.4 WAR. He certainly didn’t embarrass himself. The performance was good enough for the Pacific Card Company to name him one of their Gems of the Diamond for the 1997 Pacific Prisms set. Unfortunately in 1997, Garces pitched very little at the major league level and was roughly replacement level when he did. But, his spectacular results at AAA prompted the Red Sox to give him another chance.
Garces was actually not too bad in 1998 with the Red Sox. While he posted unimpressive numbers in AAA, he got his chance in MLB. He was pitching in one of the biggest years of offense that baseball has ever seen. Garces actually posted a career high 0.7 WAR with a solid 3.33 ERA in 30 games. Of course, like had happened so much already to Garces, he found himself released at the end of the season. Of course, the Sox would change their minds and resign him.
Rich Garces as a Premiere Setup Man
Garces actually spent a good chunk of the 1999 season at Triple-A being dominant. It would take the Sox a bit to realize that keeping him down was probably stupid. When he finally came up to stay, the portly Garces was already a fan favorite. He would respond with his best performance yet for a playoff bound Red Sox team.
Particularly astonishing about Garces was his ability to stifle left-handed batters even as a right-handed pitcher. Despite not having much of a fastball, Garces made a living as a relief pitcher with a sharp curve ball and splitter. That splitter would be his bread and butter pitch at his peak.
Despite his 1.55 ERA in 1999, it would not be his career year. Despite an ERA of 3.25 in 2000, Garces was actually much better, posting a 2.0 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to Baseball Reference in 64 games that season. Whether you believe in WAR or not, his 2.0 mark along with his 1.7 WAR in 1999 is actually a fair representation of his actual value to those Red Sox teams.
The Twilight of Rich Garces’ Career
For the rest of his career, Garces was a decent, if unspectacular middle reliever. Even in 2001 for the Red Sox, he wasn’t quite the same, although he was worth 1.1 WAR in 62 games. After a dreadful showing in 2002, Garces was done in Major League Baseball. He did attempt a couple of comebacks before retiring as a player to become an independent league pitching coach.
Thanks for the memories, El Guapo!