MILWAUKEE -- He was close on Thursday, but Matt Garza was not a Brewer just yet.
On Thursday evening the team took the rare step of releasing a statement to respond to reports, including from Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network and FOXSports.com, that the sides were in agreement on a four-year, $52 million contract, pending a physical. Rosenthal later reported that Garza had indeed undergone his physical.
But instead of officially announcing what would be the richest free-agent contract in Brewers history, the team issued a statement at 6:11 p.m. CT that read: "Despite media reports, negotiations between the Brewers and Matt Garza are ongoing, but there is no deal yet."
The nature of the holdup is unclear. Assistant general manager Gord Ash declined to comment, as did a representative of Garza.
One source said that the sides simply need more time to hash out the final terms of the agreement. So for at least one more day, the Brewers are the only team in baseball that has not signed a single Major League free agent.
If the contract is eventually finalized, Garza would bolster a rotation that was among the best in baseball during the second half of 2013. Garza, 30, began the last three seasons with the Cubs before a July trade to the Rangers and has a 3.84 ERA over parts of eight years in the Majors.
He would join a rotation previously expected to include Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada and Tyler Thornburg, but Gallardo is entering the final guaranteed season of his contract and could become trade bait with Garza in the fold. Thornburg is still relatively unproven and could wind up in a relief role.
That depth could come in handy, because Garza has dealt with some health concerns. He spent time on the disabled list in each of the past three seasons, including six weeks in 2013 with a strained rib cage. In 2011 and 2012, he missed starts with elbow issues.
Garza would be only the sixth pitcher in Brewers history to sign a contract of at least four years. The others are Jim Slaton (five years, $1.235 million in November 1978), Teddy Higuera (four years, $14 million in December 1990), Ben Sheets (four years, $38.5 million in April 2005), Jeff Suppan (four years, $42 million in December 2006) and Gallardo (five years, $30.1 million in April 2010).
Garza's agent is CAA Sports' Nez Balelo, who also represents Ryan Braun.
Garza was a first-round pick (by the Twins) in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft and was promoted to the big leagues the following season, after Minnesota traded Lohse to the Reds. Garza was traded in December 2007 to the Rays, with whom he enjoyed his greatest successes, going 34-31 with a 3.84 ERA in the tough American League East and logging his only two seasons of at least 200 innings. In 2008 he was the AL Championship Series MVP, and in 2010 he threw a no-hitter against the Tigers.
But in January 2011, with free agency looming, he was traded to the Cubs. In parts of three seasons in the National League, he went 21-18 with a 3.45 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than three-to-one. In eight career starts against the Brewers, he is 4-1 with a 3.06 ERA. In four starts (23 2/3 innings) at Miller Park, he is 1-1 with a 3.42 ERA and 27 strikeouts.
News of the tentative agreement on Thursday morning struck Brewers fans by surprise -- and players, too.
"I'm just like anyone else. It's pretty surprising," said Lohse. "This seemingly came out of the blue, but in a good way."
Lohse and catcher Jonathan Lucroy both talked last week with manager Ron Roenicke, who was making final preparations for Spring Training. Roenicke did not mention to either player the possibility of signing a free agent of Garza's caliber.
"Those kind of moves really excite you," Lucroy said. "It caught me off guard. I thought we were done after getting [Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay, who signed Minor League deals with Milwaukee in the past week]. I think it shows the desire of ownership to win. I'm looking very much forward to seeing what [Garza] can do."
If the sides can finalize Garza's contract before Sunday, the team could introduce him to fans at Brewers On Deck, the annual fanfest. This year's event is free; the Brewers released an autograph and event schedule on Thursday.