Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Transaction Recap: Twins, Devil Rays

Twins Receive: RF Delmon Young, SS Brendan Harris, CF Jason Pridie (Rating: 5/10)

Devil Rays Receive: SP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett, RP Eduardo Morlan (8)

It certainly seems like the Rays' new management team "gets it." For two years, they've ditched some dead weight (Mark Hendrickson, Toby Hall, Joey Gathright, Jorge Cantu, Seth McClung, Ty Wigginton, Greg Norton), receiving useful players (Justin Ruggiano, J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour) in return. In 2007, they spent pennies on the dollar to ink Carlos Pena, Akinori Iwamura, and Al Reyes; key pieces of a competitive 2008 squad. Now, Tampa has pulled off a nice trade that gives them an outside chance of contending for a playoff spot.

For the past several years, the team has been stockpiling hitting prospects, plus a few live arms. In 2007, Tampa put together an above-average offense, a pitching staff that led the AL in strikeouts...and a defense that might as well have waved a red cape at the ball in lieu of a glove.

This trade greatly improves the Rays' defense at two positions without really hurting the 2008 offense. Delmon still has tremendous potential, but his power hasn't developed yet and his plate discipline is unacceptable, leaving him a well below average bat for a corner outfield spot--despite what the Rookie of the Year voters think.

As for his defense, you can look all day and not find a metric that thinks he'll be a plus fielder in 2008. Add it up, and despite his ceiling, Young doesn't project as a star, or even a league-average player, next year.

In exchange for Young, the Rays added two players who should be above-average contributors right away. Matt Garza is a big-time young pitcher who's a good number 3 starter now and could easily become a good number 2. Scouts and statheads alike are impressed with his upside, and he immediately provides a big upgrade for the Tampa rotation, especially since he might boot Edwin Jackson out entirely.

The trade is being billed as Young-for-Garza, but the Rays made a big upgrade at shortstop as well. Bartlett's .700 career OPS is no great shakes, but he brings a great glove with him. According to the Fielding Bible ratings, he's saved more runs from 2005-07 than any shortstop but Adam Everett, even though Bartlett has played only 313 games in that span.

CHONE projects Bartlett at +13 fielding runs next year, and Harris at -8. (The Harris number might be conservative, since he was far worse than that in 2007.) Give Harris a 5-run edge with the bat, and that's a net gain of 16 runs. Bartlett has accrued more service time than Harris, but that doesn't matter a whole lot, because he's not the kind of player you build around long-term and he won't cost a lot in arbitration.

As for the throw-ins, Morlan is a AA reliever with a very live arm, and could be the Rays' closer of the future. Before you start thinking that's a good thing, remember that the last man to hold that tag was Chad Orvella. Pridie had a great year with the bat in AAA, but his stat line looks very much like a batting average-driven fluke. If he's really over the injuries that plagued him in 2005, there could be some value here, but he's not the heir apparent to Torii Hunter just yet.

Despite their league-worst 66-96 record this year, Tampa is ready to contend. Though the AL East remains a tough division, the Red Sox and Yankees both look closer to 90-win squads than 100. If the Rays put together 85-win talent--and it looks like they're close--they have a very real shot of sneaking into the playoffs through a combination of player development and good fortune. As we know, once you get there, anything can happen.

Even though this was a great deal for the Rays, it wasn't a terrible move for Minnesota, assuming this is part of a cohesive plan to rebuild. The trade makes them significantly worse for 2008, but it does give them a potential superstar and a possible long-term center fielder. However, if the team isn't trying to contend right now, they MUST trade Johan Santana and Joe Nathan for packages of young studs. The Twins have control through 2010 of Young, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Francisco Liriano. Between those four and the players received in a potential Santana or Nathan deal, they should have the core to make a run or two in the next three years. But making this deal and then holding onto those two doesn't make a lot of sense.

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