While their bullpen was being picked apart and they lost several top position players, the Tampa Bay Rays still had some hope that they could compete in 2011. The reason? They had a solid starting rotation from top to bottom, perhaps as good as any in all of baseball.
By agreeing in principle to trade right-hander Matt Garza to the Cubs, the Rays may be sending a signal to the rest of the American League. This will be a transition year for the team that has won two of the last three AL East titles.
As mentioned, Tampa Bay is one of the few teams that can afford to part with a starter, given the depth of the rotation and the fact that top prospect Jeremy Hellickson is waiting in the wings for an opening. However, Garza was the definitive No. 2 man in the rotation behind Cy Young Award runner-up David Price. In the immediate term, he will be missed.
Now on his third team but barely 27, Garza was 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 2010, his third straight season with at least 30 starts and an ERA below 4.00, which should not be discounted in the AL East. He's also had some great moments on the big stage, something the Red Sox know all too well. Garza was the 2008 ALCS Most Valuable Player after going 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA against Boston. In his first 14 regular-season starts against the Sox, Garza was 6-2 with a 3.23 ERA.
Now, he'll be replaced by a 23-year-old who has made four major league starts. In time, Hellickson may be a better pitcher than Garza. And Chris Archer, the top piece coming to Tampa Bay in the deal, is a 22-year-old right-hander with a high ceiling.
Down the road, this may be a wonderful deal for the Rays, who paid $3.35 million to Garza in 2010, his first year of arbitration eligibility. However, for a year or so, the move could make things a tad easier on the Red Sox, Yankees and the rest of the division. Tampa Bay figured to be looking to the future when it let a handful of players leave this offseason, including Carl Crawford and Dan Wheeler to Boston. Now, it is a near certainty.