As you are no doubt aware by now, Bill Smith made his first big move as Twins general manager yesterday, agreeing to a deal with the Rays that sends Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan to Tampa Bay in return for outfielders Delmon Young and Jason Pridie and infielder Brendan Harris.
This is a blockbuster trade, and likely a prelude of things to come. Losing Garza hurts, but the Twins remain likely to bring back a prized pitching prospect in the seemingly inevitable Johan Santana trade.
Meanwhile, the Twins bring in Delmon Young, who turned 22 in September and was viewed for a couple years as the best prospect in all of baseball. Young likely will take over in left field, with Jason Kubel sliding to designated hitter. Tampa Bay took Young, the younger brother of veteran Dmitri Young, with the first overall pick in the 2003 draft, and he subsequently cruised through the minor leagues to make his major-league debut at the age of 20. Debuting with the Rays in the final month of the 2006 season, Young hit .317/.336/.476 over 126 at-bats. In 2007, as a 21-year-old, Young hit .288/.316/.408 with 13 home runs and 93 RBI while playing in all 162 of Tampa Bay's games. That line might not seem very impressive, but for a 21-year-old with only three years of pro experience, it's extremely encouraging. Young hit 20+ home runs in both of his first two seasons in the minors and projects as a solid power hitter with very good speed -- he has the makings of a 30 HR/30 SB type player. He is also an excellent defensive corner outfielder with one of the best throwing arms in the game.
The one downside to Young's game is that he has almost no plate discipline. He has posted a sub par .319 on-base percentage over 192 major-league games, despite a very good .293 batting average. In his 2006 big-league debut, Young drew only one walk in 131 plate appearances, which is mind-boggling. Last year, he drew only 26 walks in 681 plate appearances, registering a .316 on-base percentage despite his solid .288 average. Of course, as long as Young can hit for good average and power, his lack of patience at the plate will not be a debilitating weakness.
It is somewhat surprising to see the Twins go for a player like Young, who has a documented history of losing his temper. In 2006, he was famously suspended for 50 games after throwing a bat at an umpire, and he was also suspended in 2005 after bumping an umpire during an altercation during a Double-A game. Obviously, that kind of thing won't be acceptable, but there's little doubt that Young brings a fiery and competitive attitude which, one could argue, might be a good thing for this laid-back, happy-go-lucky group of Twins players.
Garza-for-Young is clearly the meat of this deal, and I like that part, but there were a lot of other players moved in this swap as well, which is where things start to get a little less rosy. It's a bit surprising to see the Twins part with Bartlett, who was a solid shortstop both offensively and defensively with good speed. Then again, it seems like the organization never viewed Bartlett that highly, and Ron Gardenhire frequently seemed to take issue with the shortstop's attitude. From that standpoint, I suppose it's not overly shocking to see him go. The Rays' desire for Bartlett is puzzling, since their system contains one of the game's top shortstop prospects in Reid Brignac, but perhaps a position change is planned for him.
The Morlan part is where I start to dislike this trade. The original deal would have sent Juan Rincon to the Rays along with Garza and Bartlett, which would've been just fine. Some believed that trading the former dominant setup man right now would have been selling low, but I'm convinced that Rincon is a shell of his former self. He's also due a couple million bucks through arbitration next year, which he won't deserve. Unfortunately, the original deal hit a snag when the Rays had concerns over the medical reports on Rincon's elbow, and Smith ended up subbing in Morlan, who is by far the best relief prospect in the Twins system. Many had Morlan pegged to replace Joe Nathan as closer in 2009. Losing him is a huge hit, and with him in the deal, I feel like the Twins gave up way too much value in this trade.
The infielder that comes back to the Twins is Harris, who is coming off a career year in 2007 in which he hit .286/.343/.434 while playing primarily shortstop for the Rays. Prior to '07, he hadn't been much of a hitter in the major leagues, but at 27 he's still relatively young and considering his good minor league numbers, there's plenty of reason to think he can continue to be at least an average hitter. Whether he'll be doing that at shortstop remains to be seen, but I'll get to that a little bit later.
The final player involved in the deal is Pridie, a center fielder. Many will recognize the name because he was with the Twins in spring training as a Rule V pick in 2006, although he ended up being sent back to the Rays. The fact that the Twins gambled on him in the Rule V, however, tells us that he's a player they've had their eyes on for some time. In Triple-A this year, Pridie hit .318/.375/.539 with 10 home runs in 245 at-bats, which makes him look like an MLB-ready prospect. However, those numbers are a far cry from his career minor-league line of .272/.327/.432, so it's entirely possible that those outstanding stats were something of a fluke. Regardless, they're pretty good for a 23-year-old in the highest level of the minors, and there's little question that Pridie at least has the potential to develop into a major-league regular.
I said at the top of this post that yesterday's trade was a prelude of things to come, because it seems to be laying the groundwork for future moves. Because of that fact, we can't fully evaluate the trade at this point. At first glance, it would seem that Harris was brought in to replace Bartlett at shortstop, while Pridie could fill the vacated center field spot. However, Harris is a poor defensive shortstop and it's probably a stretch to think Pridie will be ready to take over a regular gig in the majors at the start of next season. It now seems clear that if the Twins trade Santana, they'll be looking to bring back a premier young starter to replace Garza, and a very good infielder. Could a Jose Reyes deal be in the works with the Mets? Can Smith pry Robinson Cano from the Yankees? We shall see what else is in store.
Upon the initial word of this trade, I was happy and I felt like the new GM was off to a great start. The fact that he had to throw in Morlan to get the deal done makes it much less impressive. The Twins needed hitting, and to his credit, Smith went out and got one of the most highly regarded young hitters in the game. That's good. The Garza-for-Young swap is a good one for both sides.
The rest of this deal doesn't look nearly as good and could turn out to be a large mistake. Unless Morlan breaks down, Pridie is going to have to turn out to be a pretty special player for Smith to be vindicated on this move.