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How the Matt Garza Trade Affects the Blue Jays


Officially announced on Saturday, the Tampa Bay Rays shipped out Matt Garza and his squirrel tail goatee, along with Fernando Perez and Zach Rosscup to the Chicago Cubs for Sam Fuld and minor-leaguers Christopher Archer, Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos, and Hak-Ju-Lee.

The Blue Jays weren’t involved, and sure, eight player trades are more of a rarity nowadays, but why should Jays fans care about this deal?

Reason #1

The first reason is the most obvious one: Matt Garza is no longer in the American League. Jays fans should be rejoicing and partying in the streets over this one, because Garza was one of the Jays’ biggest headaches on the Rays’ roster.

Outside of James Shields, no starting pitcher on the Rays’ staff had faced the Jays more. In Garza’s 13 starts against Toronto, the Jays mustered just a .294 on base percentage and .320 slugging percentage against him, good for a .615 OPS. The Jays posted their lowest OPS against Garza in his career over any of Garza’s teammates that included James Shields (.783 OPS), David Price (.663 OPS),  Wade Davis (.667 OPS), and Jeff Niemann (.688 OPS). Garza had faced the Jays more than any other team aside from the Boston Red Sox, and to make matters worse, excluding his one appearance against the Phillies and Padres, the Jays had the lowest OPS against Garza out of all the teams he had faced in his career.

Garza posted the highest career K/9 (7.0) against the Jays out of all of his teammates as well. Aside from AL Cy Young candidate David Price, Garza had the lowest career ERA against the Blue Jays out of all of his teammates. His ERA (2.14) against the Jays was very close to Price’s (1.93), even though he had pitched in twice the amount of outings as Price. Garza also loved being nasty at Rogers Centre, posting a 1.93 ERA in 7 starts there, which was the lowest ERA in any ball park he had pitched in.

Reason #2

The second reason Jays fans should care about this deal is because of who will be replacing Garza in the Rays’ starting rotation next season. While it’s definitely a great thing that Garza has been shipped out of the AL East, the Jays shouldn’t be looking forward to facing his probable replacement, Jeremy Hellickson.

Already a candidate prior to the trade to receive some innings in 2011, Hellickson will now likely slide perfectly into the Rays’ 2011 starting rotation. Hellickson made his Major League debut on August 2nd, the first of four starts he made for the Rays before shifting to the bullpen. In those four starts, he went at least 6 innings, gave up 3 earned runs or less (2.05 ERA), and struck out at least 5. In addition to the big league numbers he put up this year, Hellickson went 12-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 21 starts for Triple-A Durham, and earned Minor League Player of the Year honors from Baseball America.

Hellickson doesn’t throw as fast as Garza, his 91-92 mph fastball touches 94, but he has much better off-speed stuff. Prior to 2010, Hellickson had an above-average changeup and big-breaking curveball.

This season, he worked on adding a slider which never panned out, but the side effects were golden: better camouflaging his curveball to make it harder for opposing hitters to recognize it coming out of his hand, and learning how to throw a cutter instead. Once the cutter was perfected, Hellickson continued to add to his pitching arsenal by adding a two-seam fastball with movement to complement his four seam, straight fastball.

Now the guy has five above-average pitches to throw at will, and he could possibly be even better than Garza in 2011. Great news for Jays fans.

Reason #3

The third reason Jays fans should pay attention to this trade is because of the money a cash-strapped Rays team will save without having to pay the arbitration-eligible Matt Garza. Garza made $3.35M this past season, and will likely see his salary escalate to around $6M for 2011, with or without arbitration.

Dave Cameron from Fangraphs pointed this out in an article a few days ago by saying:

"However, this deal doesn’t end for the Rays today. By moving Garza, they also have another $6 million or so in cash to spend that they would not have had previously, and they still have a pretty glaring need for a designated hitter. As we laid out last week, there is an abundance of bat-only types on the market, and with $6 million to spend on the position, the Rays should have their pick of the litter."

Just who exactly is left on the market that could be had for roughly $6M? Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, Russell Branyan, Nick Johnson, Troy Glaus, Jorge Cantu, Johnny Damon, and Jim Thome, though Thome is currently being coveted by the Texas Rangers. Any of those names would be a worthy opponent to face 18 times a year.

Reason #4

The fourth and final reason Jays fans should pay attention to this deal is because of the prospect robbery Tampa Bay committed on the Chicago Cubs. I would agree with ESPN’s Keith Law that the package the Rays received is farther away from the Majors than the Royals got for Greinke, but that it is better overall. In one move, the Rays re-stocked their farm system with position player prospects and evened out their gap between pitching and position player prospects.

Two players the Rays got back in the trade seem more likely to make an impact at the MLB level in 2012 at the earliest. Brandon Guyer emerged as a force in 2010, going .344/.398/.588 with 13 HR and 58 RBI at the plate. He also went 30-for-33 in stolen base attempts and had 12 outfield assists while playing all three outfield positions this past season. His strong showing got him named the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year, and if he continues to reach his potential, there’s no reason to be so happy that Carl Crawford is no longer with the Rays, as Guyer could fill in very soon. He was ranked as the Cubs’ #10 prospect by Baseball America recently.

The Rays made sure to get a good pitcher as the only one in the deal, as Chris Archer was named the Cubs’ Pitcher of the Year after going 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA in 142.1 innings split between Hi-A and Double-A. Baseball America ranked him as the Cubs’ #1 prospect last week, and the Rays are salivating over a rotation led by David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Archer as early as 2012.

Considered by some to be the most valuable piece in this blockbuster deal, Korean shortstop Hak-Ju Lee‘s glove is considered MLB ready but that his bat needs to be tested at higher levels of competition. Sound familiar? I would have really been jealous of the Rays for acquiring him if the Jays didn’t have their own shortstop prospect that fits that mold in Adeiny Hechevarria.

Even still, Lee is quite a specimen, as he has the potential to be a four-tool player who will probably have average power at best. When the Cubs promoted Starlin Castro this past season, Lee became expendable. He was ranked as the Cubs’ #4 prospect by Baseball America last week.

The Rays got two Major League ready prospects back in their package for Garza. Outfielder Sam Fuld had a dismal and short 2010 campaign, hitting only .143/.226/.179 in 19 games for the Cubs last season, but he’s only one year removed from hitting .299/.409/.412 in 97 at-bats for them in 2009. With Matt Joyce emerging as an MLB regular, strong showings by Fuld and Carl Crawford‘s replacement Desmond Jennings could allow the Rays to move center fielder B.J. Upton and get even more pieces back in return.

The other MLB ready piece the Rays got back was 26-year-old catcher Robinson Chirinos. Chirinos has torn apart the Minor Leagues for the last three years, and appears ready for a promotion to the Majors. He hit .326/.416/.583 between Double-A and Triple-A last year, and with Tampa’s current catching options being John Jaso and underachieving Kelly Shoppach, Chirinos will likely crack the Rays roster at some point in 2011.

So, good riddance to Matt Garza, but damn the Rays’ management and their scouting department for another solid trade. They’re obviously taking a chance by acquiring these prospects and Jays fans could never see any of them for an extended period of time at the Major League level. The Rays’ track record of solid deals and player development, though, are reasons to bank on these prospects cracking the Major League squad and why it’s worth looking at the trade from the Jays’ perspective.


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