Months after throwing the first and only no-hitter in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays, Matt Garza got traded.
At the time, it was somewhat puzzling to Rays fans. Garza had been the hero of the 2008 ALCS against Boston, and had thereafter emerged as one of the team's best pitchers. In return, the Cubs shipped a package of prospects to Tampa Bay. It was all too familiar.
Since the beginning of the (Devil) Rays, the "established major-leaguer for prospects" trade was fairly commonplace. Given the market size, attendance and horrible television deal, the team simply did not have the revenue stream to support keeping the team's best major-leaguers past a few seasons.
However, only recently did the trades start working out in Tampa Bay's favor.
It started with the Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir trade and continued with the Delmon Young for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett trade. By the time Rays fans realized that the second Garza trade, the one involving the Cubs, had worked out well, they learned never to distrust their front office.
Sunday night, the Rays and Andrew Friedman pulled off another such trade. This one, however, was not like the others. This was a true blockbuster, one that should have Rays fans (and, to a lesser extent, Royals fans) dancing in their respective streets.
In losing Shields and fellow right-hander Wade Davis, the price could be considered steep for Tampa Bay. The reality, however, is that Shields is one of the team's more expensive pitchers (though quite affordable by Kansas City standards), two years from free agency and turning 31 in a few days.
Davis saw success as a starter and reliever for the Rays, and the Royals will surely find a place for him. The Rays unloaded both at close to their peak values.
In fact, many could argue that Kansas City won this trade by getting two proven commodities. Shields will almost certainly anchor the Royals' rotation, and Davis can either fill a rotation spot or be a big bullpen arm.
There has been talk about a new stadium for the Rays, but after this trade, I would contend that instead money should be diverted to build a statue of Andrew Friedman in downtown St. Petersburg. Make no mistake about it—the Rays KILLED this trade.
Wil Myers does not deserve more than a few sentences because most everyone who knows baseball knows him. The thought of Evan Longoria and Myers in the three-four combo for the Rays for at least the next six years is tantalizing to say the least. If you hit .304/378/.554 with 24 home runs in 99 games in Triple-A, you must be decent at baseball.
Myers alone would have made for a decent trade, but the Rays got three more high-level prospects.
They got Jake Odorizzi, who was a centerpiece of the Zack Greinke deal in late 2010 and compares favorably to the recently filthy rich Greinke. They got Mike Montgomery, who was at one point considered one of the top LHP prospects in baseball but has struggled mightily of late. And they got 20-year-old third baseman Patrick Leonard, who is raw but has plenty of power-hitting potential.
If we have learned one thing about Tampa Bay over the years, it is that they know how to develop pitching. If there is any team that can turn Montgomery back around, it is the Rays. That said, only two of the four prospects can be labeled "sure things." But even if Montgomery and Leonard both evaporate into thin air tomorrow, the Rays should be proud of what they got.
Now, the future begins. The Rays will face several pressing questions in the next few months. Who will fill out the pitching rotation? Does Wil Myers start the season in Durham or the majors? Are the Rays done spending this offseason?
The answers to those questions will help determine just how good the Rays are in 2013. What we know is that the Rays could use the money they saved by trading Shields to acquire another hitter in free agency. Perhaps they grab Travis Hafner or (don't kill me!) pony up and outbid the Yankees for Kevin Youkilis.
As for the rotation, it will be elite as ever. Behind David Price will be Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and a combination of Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Odorizzi. Who those two pitchers are will be a mystery and will likely change several times, but there is no "bad" outcome when you have four viable options to fill two rotation spots.
Finally, the Myers conundrum. The Rays could go the Desmond Jennings route with him, delaying his debut until after the All-Star Break in order to save some service time. They could just as easily bring him up a few weeks into April like Evan Longoria.
Either way, it is a foregone conclusion that Myers will be in the majors with at least two months of the season to spare.
And that's it. In a nutshell, the Rays gave up an aging ace and solid reliever/starter for a future MVP candidate, No. 2 starter, a potentially awesome lefty and a power-hitting kid. In the blink of an eye, the Rays got that much better, and the cost may not ever show. The Rays and their fans will miss Shields and Davis, but Myers and company will make their memories fade quickly.
It was business as usual in Tampa Bay Sunday night: established MLB talent for prospects, round 500. Once again, the Rays made out like bandits. It is just another day in the life of one of baseball's smartest organizations.
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