The Cubs and Rays have finalized a deal that sends Matt Garza to Chicago and a haul of prospects to Tampa. Back around the winter meetings, the pair of young pitchers were both being discussed in trades and ended up compared to each other, both in terms of talent and in potential returns.
Greinke had two years on his contract left and Garza had three years with the Rays, causing some to speculate that Garza may be an equal target to the 2009 Cy Young Award winner, or perhaps even a better acquisition. Now that both pitchers have been traded, we can compare the players involved and come to a determination.
Greinke was traded with Yuniesky Betancourt and cash to the Brewers for Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi. Garza was traded with Fernando Perez and minor leaguer Zach Rosscup for Hak-Ju Lee, Chris Archer, Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos and Sam Fuld. The Brewers surrendered their top prospect going into 2010 (Escobar), two top ten prospects (Cain and Odorizzi) and Jeffress, who had dropped to 22nd in their Baseball America rankings going into 2010 but had rebounded and was considered one of their top pitching prospects. The Cubs gave up some of their top prospects – Archer was ranked as the top prospect for the Cubs with Lee and Guyer also in the top ten.
On the face of it, the Cubs look like they’ve given up a big chunk of their farm system for the opportunity to finish fourth in 2011 with Garza. They got him without trading either of Starlin Castro or Josh Vitters, however and have him under team control with reasonable salary numbers for the next three seasons.
The Brewers, in contrast, have gutted their system for a run at the playoffs in 2011. After trading Brett Lawrie earlier in the offseason, they gave up two of their best young pitching prospects and two strong up the middle players. Their minor league system will take some years to recover from the all-in move.
Relatively, the Royals and Rays may have received very similar hauls, prospect-wise. The context of the trades is entirely different and frames how we should view the moves. The Royals ended up stuck in a corner. Greinke changed agents, asked for a trade and was destined to go. He wasn’t going to sign another extension to keep him in Kansas City past 2012 and the Royals had to get something for him. He also had a wide no-trade clause that allowed him to reportedly block a deal to Washington before he agreed to a move to Milwaukee. That limited the scope of negotiations and capped his value.
The Rays didn’t have to trade Garza, but they see the writing on the wall. With David Price and Jeremy Hellickson, two of the best young pitchers today, they didn’t need to keep Garza around either, especially after the loss of Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and the trade of Jason Bartlett. It might be a rought 2011 for Tampa, but they’ve set themselves up nicely for the future. By acquiring this group from the Cubs, they build for long-term upside with an already young team in action. They also have multiple supplemental picks coming up in 2011 after many of their players left as Type A free agents. Rafael Soriano is still on the market and will net them another pick.
The Rays simultaneously built for the future, unloaded a big contract, maintained the current makeup of the major league team and now have some money they can now go after a free agent bat like Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez and could also go after some relievers like Brian Fuentes. They have an outside shot to contend with the talent they have, even if they have to overcome the Red Sox juggernaut to do it.
The Greinke trade fills some holes the Royals haven’t been able to plug via the draft to this point. Shortstop has been a black hole for years, but Escobar has the potential to be a decent enough hitter with exceptional defense and speed on the basepaths. Lorenzo Cain could be the opening day center fielder and has upside to develop power as he develops in the big leagues. He’ll also provide strong defense up the middle with great range. Jeffress could be the closer if Joakim Soria gets traded or hurt and Jake Odorizzi is a projected #2 or #3 starter once he hits the big leagues. The Royals didn’t do that badly either, especially with the limitations they had to deal with.
As a Royals fan, it pains me to say that I like where the Rays are after trading their mid-to-late-twenties pitcher relative to our return for Greinke. The Rays were in a position of greater flexibility, too. Garza didn’t get in the way of a deal and the Rays were able to get a solid package in return.
In two or three years, when Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain are stealing bases off Robinson Chirinos, while Eric Hosmer and the other Royals prospects are driving in runs off Chris Archer in the ALCS, we’ll see who got the better end of these deals. For now, it looks like the Rays won.