The price Cubs paid for Garza: Looking at Rays-Royals deal in new light

The price Cubs paid for Garza: Looking at Rays-Royals deal in new light
December 11, 2012, 12:12 am
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If Dayton Moore sat down next to you on a flight from OHare Airport, would you even recognize the Kansas City Royals general manager?

Forget the minor-league system, could you spot anyone from Kansas Citys major-league roster if they were walking down Michigan Avenue?

That didnt stop all the instant experts from breaking down the big trade late Sunday night into Monday morning. All across Twitter, the Royals got slammed for trying to win now by sending four good prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays, instead of clinging to some hazy vision of the future.

The Royals went all-in dealing for James Shields and Wade Davis (and a player to be named later) to strengthen their rotation. They drew only around 1.7 million fans last season (so much for the bounce from Kauffman Stadium hosting the All-Star Game). Theyre an afterthought for national television (nine consecutive losing seasons). They havent made the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series.

The Rays might be the best-run operation in baseball, if not all North American professional sports. But its also fair to wonder: What did they ever get for Matt Garza? Some 23 months after that blockbuster deal, there are no breakout stars to haunt Cubs fans.

Andrew Friedman played baseball at Tulane University and worked on Wall Street before emerging as perhaps the sharpest executive in baseball. Across the last five seasons, the Rays have won 97, 84, 96, 91 and 90 games, while competing in the brutal American League East, with payrolls a fraction of what the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox spend every year.

Joe Maddon balances out his hipster glasses and changing hairstyles with his roots as a baseball lifer who grew up in the blue-collar town of Hazleton, Pa. He could be the perfect modern manager.

The Rays certainly should get the benefit of the doubt here, but there are no sure things. Maddon certainly wasnt gloating on his Twitter account: HATE..HATE to lose James and Wade. But this who we are. This is how we have to operate. Excited about the guys we are getting.

Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that were just rooting for laundry in the age of free agency. But the explosion of information across the Internet, combined with a Moneyball worldview, has created a generation that roots for spreadsheets and years of club control.

In constantly searching for value, actual major-league experience and success has been severely discounted. This mentality has helped team president Theo Epstein sell his rebuilding project on the North Side.

The Rays had to trade Garza, because they knew his price would soar across three arbitration-eligible seasons. Every day for about a month except Christmas and New Years Friedman spoke with Jim Hendry until the eight-player trade was finally announced on January 8, 2011.

To get Garza, the Cubs general manager at the time surrendered pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, catcher Robinson Chirinos and outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld.

The critics focus way too much on Hendrys misses in free agency, overlooking his solid track record as a trader. Remember that this is what it took to get Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez: Hee-Seop Choi, Mike Nannini, Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill and Matt Bruback.

Hendry also sold high on Mark DeRosa, netting Archer in a 2008 New Years Eve trade with the Cleveland Indians. Now as a special assignment scout for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, Hendrys job responsibilities include evaluating the teams own system and helping figure out which prospects are keepers at the trade deadline.

Archer is only 24 years old, so he has upside, but its getting harder to see him as a huge game-changer. He made his big-league debut last season after going 8-9 with a 3.38 ERA in 27 career starts on the Triple-A level.

Lee is supposed to be a defensive wizard, but lets see how his bat will play at the next level. He hit .261 with four homers and 37 RBI in 116 games last season with Tampa Bays Double-A affiliate. Remember the Cubs already had Starlin Castro, who would soon become an All-Star shortstop and eventually sign a big contract extension, with Epstein now controlling him through 2020.

The Cubs were also waiting for Junior Lake to harness his freakish athleticism, and five months later they drafted Javier Baez ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Baez has been described as a shortstop with Gary Sheffield bat speed, and the skills to play almost anywhere on the field. The lesson: You can always go find more prospects.

Chirinos will be 29 years old next summer and so far has only 55 at-bats on his major-league resume. Even though Geovany Soto never built off his 2008 Rookie of the Year campaign and turned out to be a placeholder at catcher, the new regime at Clark and Addison thinks Welington Castillo can be a core player.

Guyer turns 27 next month and will have something to prove after shoulder surgery wiped out almost all of his 2012 season. Fuld has all the intangibles that come from his Stanford University education and courageous fight against diabetes, but realistically hes an extra outfielder.

Theres no doubt that Moore made similar calculations while looking up and down Kansas Citys organization, playing out all the what-if scenarios.

What do the Royals know about outfielder Wil Myers, the consensus minor league player of the year by Baseball America and USA TODAY? Will Jake Odorizzi become good enough to make Tampa Bays playoff rotation, or just another guy?

Mike Montgomery took a step backward last season, going 5-12 with a 6.07 ERA combined at the Double- and Triple-A levels. Third baseman Patrick Leonard made his professional debut in 2012.

The Rays havent really missed Garza, who has the stuff to put up bigger numbers than the 15-17 record and 3.52 ERA weve seen in 49 entertaining starts with the Cubs. Hes been a quote machine, an intense competitor, a good teammate and a more serious student of the game than youd imagine at first glance. He certainly hasnt been the Carlos Zambrano Light some once feared.

As Epstein said, theres a method to Garzas madness.

It wasnt a perfect deal for the Cubs, but it also wasnt absurd to think that a big-market team could contend at some point during a three-year window, which closed hard and fast amid ownership changes, a front-office shakeup and severe rollbacks of the major-league payroll.

Garza is the ultimate win-now player. His recovery from the stress reaction in his right elbow is said to be going well, putting him on track to be ready by spring training, and his final season before hitting free agency.

Once he proves hes healthy again, fans and the media will think of Shields and the question will automatically become: What can the Cubs get for Garza?

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