Idea is fine, but execution is suspect

By JOHN ROMANO, Times Columnist
Published November 29, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Before we proceed with the arguments, the name-calling and the avalanche of high-end statistics most of us don't understand, let us begin with this premise:

The Rays eventually had to trade Delmon Young.


Because they need pitching. Because Young does not fit their ideal of a patient hitter. Because he had been talking about wanting to leave before he even arrived. Because, two sentences later, they still need pitching.

Because Rocco Baldelli and Elijah Dukes have virtually no trade value. Because B.J. Upton is the best player on the roster, and they're not going to trade him. Because Carl Crawford's departure would create a torrent of horrible publicity for a team about to put its future behind the curtains of a voting booth.

So, yes, in that context, it makes sense to trade Young.

I'm just not sure now is the right time. And I'm not sure the players involved from Minnesota's end are a sufficient return.

The key to trading Young is acknowledging that you are giving up a player with the ability to be a 10-time All-Star. A player who can hit in the middle of a lineup for years to come. A player who could allow Chuck LaMar to rest easier at night knowing the Bobby Abreu deal may not always be considered the worst trade in franchise history.

With that possibility of extreme seller's remorse, it is imperative the Rays get equal impact in return. And that's where this deal is open to debate.

Look, Matt Garza is good. He's very good. He may have been the best pitcher in minor-league baseball in 2006, and Baseball Prospectus had him among the top right-handed prospects in the game last spring. He would immediately become Tampa Bay's No.3 starter, and could even be No.2.

But Garza is less of a proven commodity than Young. And his upside does not appear quite as high. Which means the Rays need more quality in return from the Twins.

That is where Jason Bartlett comes in. Bartlett has been Minnesota's starting shortstop for the past season and a half and has done an acceptable job. He's a decent hitter, and supposedly a better fielder than the numbers show.

He is certainly an upgrade in the Rays lineup, and he isn't eligible for free agency for another three years.

I just worry, in this case, whether it's good enough on the risk/reward scale.

In the end, the Rays have traded a potential superstar for a very good pitcher and a serviceable shortstop. It's certainly a subjective argument, but it doesn't feel like enough on a gut-level reaction.

"This makes us a much better team," Rays vice president Andrew Friedman said. "When you acquire players you target, in return you have to give up a lot."

Once again, I think trading Young is the logical move for the Rays. They have a surplus of position players, and he makes the most sense for a variety of reasons. But he is barely 22 and five years from free agency.

So what was the rush?

I know the Rays feel Young is far too impatient as a hitter. He strikes out too much and walks too little. He swings at too many first pitches and doesn't know how to work a count. He has a great arm but is not fundamentally sound on defense. And then there is the petulance that even the hopelessly optimistic Joe Maddon grew tired of.

But even with all of those flaws, Young was one of the most impressive rookies in the majors. He was a better hitter in the second half of 2007 than he was in the first, and it makes sense he will be a better hitter in 2008 than he was last season. If he just repeated his rookie season, he would have still had high value. If he kicked it up a notch, the Rays would have had a lesser version of this winter's Miguel Cabrera sweepstakes.

So, again, what was the rush?

If a team were willing to blow the Rays away with a trade today then, by all means, do it. If the Rays could get a No.1 pitcher, or a package of players too good to pass up, than deal away.

But I don't think this qualifies as a no-brainer. I don't think you hear these names and immediately high-five the person sitting next to you. I don't think you go to bed feeling like regret is a distant rumor.

Of course, this is Friedman's job. This is what he and the Rays front office think about day after day, loss after loss. They have more information than you or I. They have much more at stake.

So, from that perspective, I would hope this looks like a slam dunk to them. I would hope they have examined all possibilities and are absolutely certain this is the best time to trade Young and these are the best players they can possibly get.

I hope they are right.

Because they are going to live with this trade for a long, long time.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.