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Rays deal relievers to Dodgers
Danys Baez and Lance Carter are shipped out for two youngsters Tampa Bay projects as future starters.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published January 15, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays finally made a long-awaited big trade Saturday, acquiring premium starting pitching prospects Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany from the Dodgers for relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter.
What they don't know is how it will work out in the end.
The Rays expect Jackson, 22, and Tiffany, 20, to play major roles in their rotation for years to come, but executive vice president Andrew Friedman acknowledged there are "no guarantees" in predicting the success of young pitchers.
And of more immediate concern, the Rays open spring training in a month without knowing how they will replace Baez - who had 71 saves the past two seasons and was a 2005 All-Star - as well as Carter, who was a 2003 All-Star in the role. Together, they accrued 91 percent (98 of 108) of Rays' saves the past three seasons.
Friedman didn't rule out picking up an experienced reliever before opening day, but also said they could go to spring training and see if anyone emerges from a group that includes Japanese All-Star Shinji Mori, recently signed veterans Chad Harville and Dan Miceli (who has 35 career saves but only four since 2000) and impressive 2005 rookie Chad Orvella.
"It's hard to say," Friedman said. "We're trying to create a competitive environment in spring training and we feel like we've added some depth. And we'll continue to explore moves that make sense for us."
There will be some question over how much sense it makes to trade Baez, who is 28, signed for a reasonable $4-million in 2006 and has done a stellar job for two seasons in a tough role for which the Rays don't have an obvious successor.
But the Rays also considered what they were getting in return, and that Baez will be a free agent after the season in a very pricey market.
"While it will be hard to replace him this year, the return was compelling, especially given that there were no assurances he would be with us beyond this year and the potential long-term dividend of the pitchers we got back," Friedman said.
Baez's name was a popular subject in trade talks throughout the offseason, especially with the Mets. But Friedman was adamant about addressing an organizational weakness by acquiring young advanced pitching prospects, of which the Dodgers have plenty.
Carter's role was in question given the recent bullpen acquisitions. Once new Dodgers GM Ned Colletti called Friedman, the deal came together quickly, with the Rays also giving up a minor-leaguer or a small amount of cash.
The deal is the first major transaction by the new Rays administration, and is an obvious illustration there is more focus on long-term improvement than the 2006 season.
"It's difficult to lose Danny and Lance, but that being said we firmly believe what was done is in the best interests of the Rays organization," Friedman said. "I think it's consistent with what we stated our objectives are: developing and sustaining an exciting team."
Jackson was rated the Dodgers' top prospect (and No. 4 overall in the minors) by Baseball America in 2004 and their third best going into 2005, but his value dropped after an inconsistent season in which he struggled at Triple-A Las Vegas (3-7, 8.62), was sent back to Double-A Jacksonville, where he went 6-4, 3.48, then was promoted to the majors and went 2-2 with a 6.28 ERA.
But given that he is 22 (about the same age as some college draft picks) and was throwing well, the Rays feel he can return to top form. At least, he can be a middle of the rotation starter.
"The stuff that made him rated that high is still there," Friedman said. "Obviously he struggled a little bit last year, but more important is that he's healthy and that he still possesses that dominant stuff. We're excited to get him in the organization and working with our instructors."
Jackson, who has pitched in 19 games for the Dodgers over parts of three seasons, said he plans to make the most of his chance to win a rotation spot during spring training.
"My mind frame is that I'm going to break (camp) with the team and contribute to the team like I know I can," Jackson said. "Any thought of the minor leagues hasn't crossed my mind. I'm going in focused on one goal, one mission."
Tiffany, who is likely to open the season at Double-A, could be a real jewel, a somewhat polished left-hander who has compiled some impressive numbers in the low minors, including 279 strikeouts in 2121/3 innings. He was rated the Dodgers' 10th best prospect in 2005 by Baseball America.
"Both kids have a chance to be big-league pitchers," Colletti said. "Very good big-league pitchers."
Baez, who is slated for setup work in L.A., and Carter did not return calls from the Times.