Well, at least Danys Baez didn't go to the Mets.
The Devil Rays were shopping the undervalued reliever since the season ended and it looked for a while like the Mets would pick up his services. In the end, the Dodgers sent two young pitchers - Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany - to Tampa Bay for Baez and Lance Carter. The Dodgers made the move to give them some insurance in the bullpen. Yes, they still have Eric Gagne, but his health has been shaky. The Dodgers know that if you're going to be successful, the back end of your bullpen has to be strong. The Phillies know that too, they just haven't done - or been able to do, depending on who you listen to - anything about improving things and providing an insurance policy to go with Tom Gordon.
Baez is possibly one of the most underrated players in baseball. Baez has saved 96 games over the last three seasons and has an ERA of 3.42 over that span. Plus, he's relatively cheap, set to make just $4 million in 2006 before he is eligible for free agency following the season. Carter struggled last season, but prior to having Baez swipe his job as the D'Rays closer, he was pretty impressive. Even in 2004 when he served as Baez' setup man, he wasn't all that bad, going 3-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 56 games. He has a career mark of 13-11 with a 3.94 ERA with Tampa Bay. The best part about Carter is that he works cheap. Initially, the Devil Rays non-tendered Carter last month, but then re-signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent at the bargain basement price of $550,000 for the 2006 season. As part of the deal, the Dodgers will also get either cash or a minor league player in return.
There's no denying that the Dodgers gave up talent. Jackson and Tiffany were two of the better pitching prospects in the organization. Jackson had spent limited time with the Dodgers over each of the last three seasons and compiled a disappointing 6-4, 5.50 record with Los Angeles. Right now, Tiffany is certainly the more promising of the two pitchers. The left-handed Tiffany turns 21 later this month and won 11 games at Class-A Vero Beach. The funny thing about Jackson and Tiffany is that neither showed up on this year's list of the Dodgers' Top 10 Prospects as compiled by Baseball America. Part of the reason for that is that the Dodgers' system is pretty well stacked and has more talent than the Phillies' organization.
It's difficult to compare who Jackson and Tiffany would equal in the Phillies' organization, but a comparison to Gavin Floyd and Scott Mitchinson might be appropriate, although the edge in talent would likely go to the Phillies combo. Floyd has been disappointing at times, but is still thought of as a strong prospect. Mitchinson is in the lower levels, but seems to have the world at his feet as far as his potential goes.
Dealing two young pitchers for Baez and Carter would have brought with it a bit of a risk to say the least, since both players are eligible for free agency following the season. It would have, however, shored up the Phillies bullpen in one bold move. It would have also given the Phillies the needed insurance for 38 year old Tom Gordon as a closer and two quality arms to put in the back part of the bullpen. The key to making the deal worthwhile would have been signing at least Baez to a long-term deal, which might not have been easy considering that he is likely looking for a position as a closer and wouldn't have been too happy about spending time essentially backing up Gordon. Carter would have been more likely to accept that role, but his numbers haven't been what Baez' have been over the past few seasons. With the bullpen strengthened, the Phillies could have made Ryan Madson a definite in the starting rotation, which would have also improved the rotation as a sidelight to the deal with Tampa Bay.
Dealing young players, especially pitchers, is never easy and is always risky. If the Phillies didn't have the heart to send two young pitchers to Tampa, they could have looked at a deal to bring either Baez or Carter to Philadelphia. There are always other angles to go at with deals and there are no guarantees that Floyd and Mitchinson would have been the bait. Sometimes, a team values another player more highly than other teams do and there is no saying who the Devil Rays would have been asking for as part of a deal with the Phillies, although it's easy to assume they would have been looking for young pitching. They were asking for Aaron Heilman from the Mets and have been in constant search of pitching during the off-season. The Phillies are in near desperate times as they search for veteran pitchers for the bullpen and starting rotation and need to make a bold move to strengthen at least one of those areas before the season opens.