Delmon Young (Associated Press)
On the same day that the Tampa Bay Rays unveiled their innovative plans for a new waterfront stadium in downtown St. Petersburg, the perennial-losing franchise grabbed newspaper headlines for another reason. Making its first splash in the Free Agent trade waters on Wednesday, Tampa Bay dealt right fielder Delmon Young, the runner-up in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007, utility infielder Brendan Harris and minor league outfielder Jason Pridie to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for highly-touted pitching prospect Matt Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett and minor league pitcher Eduardo Morlan.
In an unusual flip-flop of such immensely talented, young players, the Rays acquired a legitimate potential number three pitcher in Garza, the USA Today Minor League Player of the Year in 2006, while addressing their immediate needs to upgrade defensively at shortstop.
After surprising many folks by making the Rays' 25-man roster out of camp, Harris' early success with the Rays was one of the few bright spots for Tampa Bay over the first two months of the season. Taking over for a struggling Ben Zobrist, he provided the Rays with several clutch hits during his time as the primary shortstop. Although he was a consistent offensive player for much of '07, Harris' lack of range hurt his status with the Rays, even prompting him to move to second base after the Rays acquired Josh Wilson from the Washington Nationals. The William and Mary product hit .286 with 12 homers, 59 RBIs and 72 runs scored while finishing last season with a .343 on-base percentage and .434 slugging percentage (a .777 OPS for the mathematically-challenged readers out there.) Next season, he was expected to fulfill the Rays' primary utility infielder role, which will now come down to a March competition between Wilson and Zobrist.
But Garza, of course, was the driving force, in the Rays' eyes, behind this deal. After being selected by the Twins in the first round out of
Similar to a number of other flame-throwing young starting pitchers, Homer Bailey most notably, he constantly turns to his plus-fastball, failing to mix in enough off-speed pitches to get by against strong offensive players. Working through this problem, which frustrated the Twins' baseball operations department mightily, he enjoyed frequent stretches of success in 2007, beginning the season in Triple-A before joining the Twins after the All-Star Break. In 16 starts before his second go-around in
Yet, by adding Garza, one of the game's consensual top prospects, the Rays solidify their starting rotation headed into 2008. The Rays' pitching staff, a source of many jokes over the franchise's ten-year history, is now starting to shape up rather nicely. The Rays now have the potential, similar to the talented Oakland Athletics group at the turn of the century, to own the rights to three potential young aces – Scott Kazmir, James Shields and, yes, now Garza. With a strong core of young pitchers competing for the available spots in the back of the rotation – the talented Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann, David Price, Andy Sonnanstine and Mitch Talbot – Tampa Bay should field its greatest staff in history come March.
"He's (Garza) a guy we project to get a lot better quickly," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman told reporters. "We feel like we strengthened two areas of need, shortstop and starting pitching."
The sleeper in this deal for the Rays is Morlan, recently considered the Twins' closer of the future. Still at least a year away from the majors, the 2004 third-round selection collected 18 saves in 41 games for High Single-A Fort Myers. The 21-year-old right-hander compiled a .315 ERA while striking out 92 (opposed to only 17 walks) in 65.2 innings. Harnessing a fastball in 90-93 MPH range, he should become a valuable member to
Pridie, a definite throw-in in this deal, revived his status with the Rays after an encouraging performance with the Durham Bulls at the end of the summer. Following a call-up from Double-A Montgomery, the 24-year-old outfielder tore it up in the International League. Feasting on Triple-A pitching, the lefty-throwing, right-handed swinging Pridie was extremely consistent, batting .318 (78-for-245) while chipping in four triples, 10 home runs, 39 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 63 games for
Giving up Young, of course, was an action that has surprised a lot of people. The number one overall pick in the 2003 draft and widely considered, including by Scout.com, as the top minor league prospect in all of baseball for years, the troubled outfielder has certainly made waves for all of the wrong reasons in his career. Go to You Tube and view the infamous bat-throwing incident as evidence.
In his first full season, though, he was voted the American League's second-best rookie after hitting .288 and leading all
And after an encouraging season, Young looked like he had grown up tremendously. But in the aftermath of Young cursing out manager Joe Maddon on the last day of the season, which dramatically affected his slim chance of being elected AL Rookie of the Year, the usual questions about Young again resurfaced throughout baseball circles.
Young, 22, has the pure baseball ability to be a superstar, an annual All-Star for years to come. But, even excluding his personal development, his plate discipline (only 27 walks in ‘07), which would make Oakland General Manager Billy Beane cringe, is a glaring weakness in Young's game, too. He possesses a rocket throwing arm (16 outfield assists), the ability to hit for average and power (though his 13 home runs were surprisingly low), but he needs to get on base more, utilize his speed as effectively as possible, and play more consistent defense.
Regardless of his immaturity, from a plate-discipline point of view in addition to his behavior, he is the one player who will become the ultimate dictator of the outcome of this deal. If Young, the younger brother of Nationals' first baseman Dmitri, lives up to his astounding potential, through improving upon his attitude and gaining a better idea of what it takes to be a professional hitter (a possibility as he will be in the company of several Minnesota veterans), the Twins may have just landed the key building block to their future success. He might prove to be a steal of a deal.
This decision could backfire, undoubtedly, for the Rays. For an organization that once traded Bobby Abreu to the Philadelphia Phillies for a weak-hitting shortstop named Kevin Stocker, a deal which probably still haunts former Rays' GM Chuck Lamar to this day, the chance for a repeat blunder must strike fear into the eyes of the common
For Ken Rosthenthal's take on Foxsports.com, click here.