Cockcroft: Young-Garza trade has long-term fantasy significance
Who doesn't love a good, old-fashioned baseball trade? One not centered on team finances, rebuilding processes or shuffling contracts, I mean.
Such pure baseball deals are much rarer today than, say, a decade or two ago, which is why a trade like the one that went down Wednesday night warrants such interest, both from a pure fan's as well as a fantasy perspective. The Twins, hurting for right-handed power after losing free-agent center fielder Torii Hunter, acquired 2003 No. 1 draft pick Delmon Young, among others, from the Rays, while the Rays, seeking starting-pitching help since their inception, picked up right-hander Matt Garza (again, among others).
Of course, let's name those others, as a straight Young-for-Garza trade borders on lunacy, from a value standpoint. Tampa Bay also acquired shortstop Jason Bartlett and minor league reliever Eduardo Morlan, while Minnesota got infielder Brendan Harris and minor league outfielder Jason Pridie. Still a great trade for the Twins, but at least the Rays got a of couple interesting parts.
Young is the clear-cut biggest name in the deal. Surely you know all about him: No. 1 pick overall in the 2003 amateur draft; top-three overall prospect as ranked by Baseball America each year from 2004 to '07, including No. 1 in 2006; No. 2 finisher in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2007; future fantasy megastud and likely MVP winner. With Michael Cuddyer already manning right field in Minnesota, Young likely takes over in left field and as a future franchise player for a Twins team slated to open a new ballpark in 2010. Interestingly enough, with Young on hand, the Twins now have two former No. 1 overall picks in the heart of their lineup (Joe Mauer, 2001, is the other).
Statistically speaking, though, Young is coming off a disappointing season for fantasy, hitting 13 home runs, well beneath expectations, and striking out a whopping 4.88 times for every walk he drew. Still, in spite of those concerns, his rookie season showed us a lot to like; he registered 186 hits, 38 of them doubles, drove in 93 runs, stole 10 bases, batted .288 and was actually a .309 hitter from June 5 on (a span of 107 games). A 22-year-old, Young is certain to add more bulk to his 6-foot-3 frame, and if you tack on, oh, 25-30 homers and at least that many RBIs to his rookie stat line, that's an exceptional player, be it for the Twins or fantasy owners. If Vladimir Guerrero and Alfonso Soriano can be first-round fantasy picks and MVP candidates despite swinging at everything, why can't Young? As for immediate fantasy value impact, there really isn't any. You'll be taking him at around the same place as you would have had he stayed with the Rays.
One thing I'll be watching: the Twins' lineup in the spring. Young might simply slide into Hunter's former No. 6 hole, behind the Mauer-Cuddyer-Justin Morneau triumvirate, but if he can squeeze between the new "M&M boys," that'd be quite the advantageous hitting position. Cuddyer has been rather productive in that role the past two seasons.
Harris should take over a middle-infield spot, either second base if Alexi Casilla can't hack it in the spring, or shortstop, if Casilla can. Since the Twins might need Casilla to lead off, and shortstop alternative Nick Punto is coming off such a dreadful season, I'd hope for a Casilla-Harris middle infield. Harris, though, is the best bet of the three to be an everyday player, even if he's a .280-hitting, 10-15-homer, underwhelming fantasy type.
For the Rays, Garza, ranked the Twins' No. 1 prospect and baseball's 21st overall entering 2007, immediately slides into the rotation behind Scott Kazmir and James Shields, comprising one of the game's more interesting, underrated top threes. Each brings a little something different to the table, meaning they might help feed off each other, so although you might have done it the past nine seasons, don't immediately write off Tampa Bay as a pitching wasteland for fantasy. The team's 2008 staff seems likely to be its best yet.
Garza himself had a 3.69 ERA in spite of a troubling 1.54 WHIP in 16 games (15 starts) for the Twins after a midseason call-up in 2007, and many of those came against some of the better lineups in the American League. He's still making adjustments at the big league level, but looked much more like the real deal in his second try than his first, when he had 5.76/1.70 numbers in a brief stint with the Twins in 2006. A huge breakout might not be coming in 2008, but then no one really expected Shields to do what he did in 2007, either. Garza is actually a better prospect than Shields was, and working in obscurity, could be quite a revelation. He'll be a sleeper in shallow mixed leagues and a solid middle-of-the-rotation option with upside in AL-only ones.
The acquisition of Bartlett is a sure sign the Rays feel top prospect Reid Brignac, coming off an underwhelming year in which he batted .260 with a .328 on-base percentage and .433 slugging percentage for Double-A Montgomery, won't be ready in 2008. Brignac, who also struggled in the Arizona Fall League (.177 average in 113 at-bats) should get in a full year in Triple-A, then perhaps bump Bartlett to second base in 2009. But make no mistake, Brignac is the team's shortstop of the future. For now, Bartlett brings the Rays adequate defense, contact ability and a little speed on the base paths, or, at least, comparable value to what Harris provided. Despite 26 errors, most among shortstops, Bartlett at least has better range than Harris (4.67 range factor to Harris' 3.98). He'll be an adequate middle-infield option in AL-only leagues.
Morlan is the interesting sleeper in the deal. A power right-hander, he had a combined 3.10 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 99 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings between Class A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain, though only two of his games actually came at the Double-A level. That was his first full season since being converted to a short-inning reliever, and the 21-year-old brings 97 mph heat, a darting slider and a closer's mentality to the table. Hmmm Why does that all of a sudden bring to mind the name Joba Chamberlain? Unlike Chamberlain, Morlan probably isn't returning to the rotation anytime soon, and he's at least a year away from being a help to the Rays. Still, while I rarely gush over minor league relief prospects, Morlan has the tools to be Tampa Bay's ninth-inning option, perhaps as soon as 2009. He'll be interesting to watch in Double-A ball this year.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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