Report: Tampa Bay Rays Set to Trade Matt Garza to Chicago Cubs

For the second straight offseason, the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays trade talks filled the rumor pages. Last winter’s Pat Burrell for Milton Bradley swap never happened, but this winter’s Matt Garza talks have ended with an agreement. The reported deal is Garza, Fernando Perez, and a minor league pitcher to the Cubs for pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld, and catcher Robinson Chirinos.

This trade isn’t much of a surprise. We’ve written about the possibility of Garza being traded since the week after he threw his no hitter. In another post, creating a template for what a Garza-Cubs trade would look like, three of the five players involved were named – with Brett Jackson taking the place of the two outfielders. Plus the countless posts on James Shields-Garza and the most recent endowment effect post. Hopefully this trade didn’t leap from the ocean and bite anyone.

Before getting to the players involved, I have to wonder aloud about the source of the Garza news since these rumors became public knowledge. It seemed like every other day there was an article stating that the Rays were holding onto their starter until July because the packages did not overwhelm them. Yet, by holding onto Garza, the team ran the risk of an injury that may have sunk his value entirely. I do not know that the Rays planted those reports in order to up the packages offered, but it would not surprise me to find that to be the case. As Moneyball showed, controlling what the media knows and reports is an important. If the reports about keeping Garza pushed the Cubs into something they were previously unwilling to do, then the play was well worth the effort.

Now, onto the prospects.

Sam Fuld is the most major league ready of the bunch. That’s because Fuld is already in the big leagues. In a little over 150 big league plate appearances, Fuld hit .252/.368/.344, which is a fair translation of his career Triple-A statistics (.273/.368/.400). He’s not going to hit for much power, but he’s almost a perfect fit for the Rays’ lineup. He walks, puts the bat on the ball, plays good defense across the outfield, and can run the bases.

Since he turned 30 in late November, his upside is all but tapped out. Still, he’s likely to start the season on the bench, although depending on what the Rays do with Desmond Jennings, Fuld could find himself as the Opening Day left fielder. A Stanford alumnus, Fuld interned at STATS Inc., making him a bit of a stats geek.

Chris Archer is a right-handed starting pitcher who stands six-three and has a frame that suggests he could fill out a little more. Baseball America tabbed him as the Cubs’ best prospect earlier this offseason, while Kevin Goldstein slotted him in as their third best prospect.

The Cubs originally acquired Archer in the Mark DeRosa trade a few years back and he’s been labeled as a power arm for good reason. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid-90s with movement. He complements the pitch with a hard slider (Baseball America has his slider topping out in the NINETIES). The problem with Archer is that he tends to have issues throwing strikes. Since 2008, he’s failed to go a season without walking at least four batters per nine innings. Still, the man gets strikeouts with his stuff, as he’s struck out a batter per inning throughout his minor league career, and even reached 8.6 per nine during a 70 inning stint in Double-A last season.

Of course, that sounds a lot like Garza, but the key difference is that Archer doubles as a sarcastic secret agent (h/t to Josh Frank for the graphic):

Since this is Archer’s third organization before reaching the bigs and he does have all that going for him, there’s bound to be some curiosity about why teams are willing to part with him in trades. I don’t have much to add to that conversation, except that most seem to agree that Archer has the most star potential of the package. Prospect analysts seem torn as to whether Archer ultimately ends up as a shutdown reliever or as a third starter in the majors. He figures to start the season in either Triple- or Double-A, with a reasonable chance to see some big league duty as soon as this September.

Hak-Ju Lee turns 21 in November. BA had him as the Cubs’ fourth prospect, while Goldstein placed him as the fifth best. Lee hit .282/.354/.351 in Low-A last season. He’s a good defender and base runner, but there’s some questions about how much – if any – power he’ll develop. He’s likely to open 2011 in High-A or Double-A, whichever level Tim Beckham doesn’t open at.

I think there’s a natural reaction to question what this means for Beckham, but I don’t know if that comparison is based in reality. For example, the Scott Kazmir deal netted a near-ready starting pitcher and an infielder. At the time, one could have questioned what this meant for Reid Brignac and Jeremy Hellickson, but obviously it meant very little. Beckham and Lee are still young and worth keeping at shortstop. Like starting pitchers, you don’t move a shortstop off the position until you absolutely have. Even if the Rays don’t need a shortstop in the short-run, other teams will. And they will pay handsomely for one.

Jim Callis suggested that he would take Archer and Lee over the Mets’ combination of Jenry Meija and Wilmer Flores on Twitter. That’s pretty high praise, folks.

Moving on to Brandon Guyer and summoning my inner Jon Gruden. This is a guy that you could see break into the outfield during this season as well. Especially if B.J. Upton gets traded. He turns 25 in a few weeks and hits from the right side. The 2010 season was something of a breakout year for Guyer, who hit .344/.398/.588 in Double-A. I believe it was also Callis who suggested that stat guys would like him more than scouts, but both BA and Goldstein have Guyer within the Cubs top 12.

The knock on Guyer is about his athleticism and power. Not that he doesn’t have good athleticism for a corner outfielder, he does, but that he doesn’t have enough to play center field. That within itself isn’t too big of blemish on his profile, but his power also doesn’t profile like a corner outfielder. Essentially, he’s a corner outfielder stuck in a center fielder’s body. BRyan Smith (Cubs fan, smart person, and prospects analyst) suggested that Guyer is the typical tweener who profiles as a fourth outfielder type. If you squint, you can see a Matt Joyce-Brandon Guyer or Fuld/Guyer platoon in the not too distant future.

Finally, there’s Robinson Chirinos. He might be the most interesting player in this deal because he’s also the most unusual. A converted infielder, Chirinos has spent the past three seasons as a catcher while particularly impressing with his bat:

2008 (A+, AA, Rk): .275/.394/.441
2009 (A+, AA): .294/.396/.519
2010 (AA, AAA): .326/.416/.583

Prospect analysts seem skittish on where exactly Chirinos fits on the Cubs list (Goldstein put him 12th and BA at 16th) because he also turns 27 in June. That kind of age usually disqualifies one from being a prospect. Yet, here he is. Given the advanced age and seemingly advanced bat, I think he sees time in the big leagues this season. Maybe not as a fulltime catcher, but in a Tyler Houston or Michael Barrett mold. Someone who can catch some days, play first base (remember, the Rays even played Sean Rodriguez there last season), maybe see action at third base too.

Of those five players, four of those may contribute this season, with one potentially opening the season as a starter. As for the rest, I think you can make the case that Lee becomes shortstop prospect 1A or 1B depending on your preference, Guyer becomes the best non-Jennings outfield prospect in the system, Archer is likely one of the five best arms in the system, and Chirinos is the best catching prospect.

There’s not necessarily a star in this return. Archer and Lee are the closest things, and both have their concerns. There’s no sure things here. There’s a bunch of guys who may contribute sooner than later and help a team win. In that way, this is very similar to the Zack Greinke trade.

This move also impacts the Rays’ win curve position, budget, and rotation.

Tackling the last bit first, the odds on favorite to take Garza’s spot is Jeremy Hellickson. The less popular choice is starting Andy Sonnanstine and holding Hellickson’s service time down. I think it’s safe to say Hellickson appears ready and I think the team feels that way too, given how willing they were to throw him into the playoff race with a few spot starts. This trade means the rotation should look something like this: David Price, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson.

Let’s jump backwards to budget before addressing the win curve. Garza made a little under $3.5 million last season. He was probably going to see that number increase, perhaps by as much as double. Instead, that money can now be shifted towards adding a designated hitter and a reliever or two. Which brings us to the win curve. If you’re a pessimistic person about Hellickson’s chances, and think he’s full two wins worse than Garza, then adding a DH like Manny Ramirez or Jim Thome or Vladimir Guerrero will essentially cancel out. Adding a reliever thereafter means the Rays are about a 90-win team then. For those who think Hellickson comes a lot closer to Garza’s performance than that, the team could be a 91- or 92-win team with those additions (if you agree with the rest of those win curve projections). I presented the graph below in that December post showing how the Rays’ win curve would shift if they trade Garza and lose those two projected wins:

How that affects the Rays’ playoff chances really depends on what the New York Yankees do to address the back-end of their rotation. If Andy Pettitte retires, the team is left with CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett as entrenched starters. From there, the best bets are Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova. Don’t sleep on the trio of pitchers with names that begin with B. One of Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, or Manny Banuelos could wind up in the team’s rotation by the end of the season. Or the team could go out and sign a free agent starter if need be. It’s the Yankees, so don’t expect too many starts from replacement level hurlers.

The bottom line here is that this is how the Rays are forced to do business. In an ideal world, they could’ve re-signed Garza days after he won the 2008 American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player award. That’s not reality though. This isn’t quite the Edwin Jackson or Scott Kazmir trades either. Jackson underperformed with the Rays, while the Rays felt Kazmir’s contract was too risky to hold onto. Instead, it’s the most complicated trade in franchise history. One necessitated by the economics of the game, but one softened by the Rays’ extraneous starting pitching surplus.

Nothing about this trade is an implication that Garza underperformed during his time in St. Petersburg, or that he lacks talent. He did about as well as the Rays could’ve imagined when they acquired him for Delmon Young. But like the other big piece in that Young trade, Garza’s time with the Rays is nearing its end and another level of the trade string will begin. Well wishes to Garza and Perez as they enter a new phase of their careers, hopefully with success.
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This trade isn’t the doings of a nefarious plot to strip the team of its assets or to harm the fan base. It’s business as usual.

And hey, if we get 30-35 reasons to celebrate Helloween next year, that’s good too.

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