Now that I am just getting a chance to comb through Twitter to see the reaction….wow! I see elated Cubs fans, pissed off Cubs fans, happy Rays fans, and disgusted Rays fans. There are nearly as many adjectives to describe the reactions as there are players in the deal.
The simple fact of the matter is this is a deal that had to be made. The Rays had six major league starting pitchers on their roster and Garza was about to enter the expensive years of his arbitration status. Consider the fact the entire Rays rotation could potentially make as much combined as the Cubs will have to pay Garza once he gets through his arbitration hearing this year.
This situation is much like Scott Kazmir‘s trade, only better. The Rays were lucky enough that the Angels panicked late in 2009 and gave up three prospects for an expensive pitcher in a statistical free-fall. The Rays benefited from that deal because it gave them an everyday major leaguer in Sean Rodriguez, a top prospect in Alex Torres, and a potential bat in Matt Sweeney. Compare that to the Phillies trading Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle (RIP) to the Yankees in July of 2006 for four minor leaguers that saw but a handful of games in the major leagues for the Phillies, as a group.
This deal has the potential to offer the Rays five players that will be on the 25 man roster sometime by the end of the 2013 season. Sam Fuld should make the roster out of camp, Robinson Chirinos has an outside shot of doing so but should definitely see time in 2011, and Chris Archer could also see time in a Rays uniform this season. Guyer is next to come up with Lee the furthest away but the move overall does one main thing – it fills in some lean parts of the upper levels of the minor league system.
John Sickels named his Top 20 Rays prospects last month and the glaring problem on that list was an overabundance of pitching and how little hitting the Rays had at the higher levels. Desmond Jennings and Leslie Anderson were the only two hitters on the list that stood a chance of being in a Rays uniform in the 2011, or even 2012 season for that matter. Now, the club has three more bats to add to that mix and one of the readers over at Sickels’ blog did a tremendous job of showing how this deal improves the farm system. He shows that 2/3rds of the Rays’ prospects value is tied up in pitching, and that is after the deal today.
Consider the fact that teams rarely, if ever, do prospect for prospect trades so the surplus of pitching on the farm would not help the Rays acquire positional prospects. This is why you saw them draft three positional prospects with their first three picks of the 2010 draft and why all three of them instantly became top five positional prospects in the organization. The lagging development of Tim Beckham and the Rays inability to sign their two top draft picks from 2009, both positional players, created a bit of a gap on the organizational depth charts. This trade, according to the chart above, moved the Rays from the fifth best farm system to the second best system behind a very loaded Kansas City organization.
Despite the gap in farm talent, the Rays still remain well ahead of what the Royals are doing because of the talent at the major league level. The Rays replace Garza with Hellickson where they should not see the kind of dramatic drop-off that some fan reactions today are portraying. The Rays save approximately $5.5m in this deal today which should help their efforts in finding a free agent bat on the open market (hello, Manny) and potentially allow them to bring back Grant Balfour or maybe even Rafael Soriano much like they did last off-season when the market played out as it did.
Yes, Garza threw a no-hitter last year and was 15-10, but I maintain he was a better pitcher in 2008 and 2009 and the numbers back me up. Fangraphs shows his Wins Above Replacement value by year and the fact his HR/9 has declined four straight seasons and his FIP has gotten worse for the past three seasons are statistical reasons why I felt this was the right time for the Rays to make this deal. Had they waited until July or even this time next year, they would have gotten significantly less back in return for a pitcher that would be entering his most expensive arbitration years and could have demanded $18-$19m across 2012 and 2013. Again, teams do not often do what the Angels did in August of 2009; that trade was the exception, not the norm. Look back at that graph above and see where the Astros are at. They are where they are at mainly because ownership insisted on retaining fan favorites until it was too late. They traded Lance Berkman for next to nothing in 2010 when they could have netted a stronger return in 2008 or 2009 when they were once again in pretender mode. They could have traded Roy Oswalt at his peak value for peak prospects and instead sent him to Philadelphia last season for a less than impressive return.
All trades need a two-year shelf life to be fully graded. When the Rays dealt Delmon Young and Brendan Harris to get Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, fans were initially unhappy but that deal quickly turned into a large win for the Rays. Young has played better for the Twins somewhat narrowing the gap in that trade, but the Rays still got the better end of that deal. Garza goes to a more hitter-friendly ballpark and loses the top-notch defense behind him that he has so enjoyed so it remains to be seen what the Cubs are getting. I will always be grateful for his efforts in the 2008 post-season, watching his no-hitter, his one-hitters, and his OCD-like behaviors on the mound and in the dugout. Not to mention, we will no longer have to hear the radio and television guys complain about how long Garza takes in between each pitch.
I like the trade as it stands today for how it helps the overall structure of the organization, for the financial flexibility it gives them to jump into the buyer’s market that now exist in free agency, and because it opens up a rotation spot for one of baseball’s best pitching prospects. I know I come across as an Andrew Friedman apologist, but dammit, the man has earned my idol-worshiping. Yes, the Percival and Burrell contracts were mistakes and passing on Posey will never sit well with me, but his success rate with moves involving this franchise proves his worth and I believe in time, the depressed and downtrodden fans today will come to appreciate the impact of this trade today on how this club performs over the next few years.
If I have said it once this off-season, I have said it a thousand times: this is not a rebuilding team, it is a reloading team!