Restocking their bullpen and bolstering their farm system with the nine players acquired in recent trades with the Padres and Cubs, the Rays have a lot of people to thank.
Most of all, Delmon Young.
That's because it was Young's uninspired performance in his first full big-league season that led the Rays to trade him in November 2007 for infielder Jason Bartlett and pitcher Matt Garza. Then after winning two American League East titles in three years, the team turned around and traded those two in separate deals for the haul of nine prospects.
Getting the pick
Actually, the genesis of those deals could go back further, to the June 2003 decision by former Rays executives Chuck LaMar and Cam Bonifay to make Young the No. 1 overall pick ahead of second baseman Rickie Weeks, who went second to Milwaukee.
And further back, to the dismal performance of the 2002 Rays who — managed by Hal McRae, "led" by Tanyon Sturtze and Aubrey Huff — lost 106 games, matching Detroit for most in the AL. And even to the season before, when they lost 100 games under Larry Rothschild and McRae, their 2001 record serving as the "tiebreaker" with the Tigers as the AL team to pick first in that 2003 draft.
Young got off to an impressive start in the minors after signing a major-league deal worth around $6 million. But his performance dropped off a bit by the time he got to Triple-A Durham in 2006, just as questions began to mount about his attitude and behavior, particularly after he was suspended for tossing a bat that hit an umpire.
Add in a good-but-not-great first full season in the majors — .288, 14 homers, 83 RBIs — and the new Rays regime led by executive vice president Andrew Friedman was willing to do what once seemed unthinkable: trade the projected superstar.
In sending Young (plus utility infielder Brendan Harris and outfield prospect Jason Pridie) to the Twins, the Rays got Bartlett to stabilize their infield and Garza to step into their rotation (plus minor-league reliever Eduardo Morlan).
And how did that work out for the Rays?
Bartlett was the team MVP one year and an All-Star the next, and Garza won 11, 8 and 15 games while earning MVP honors in the 2008 AL Championship Series and posting an overall 3.86 ERA, making a combined $10.5 million.
After averaging 97-plus losses and finishing out of last place only once in 10 tries, the Rays during those three seasons won 277 games and two AL East championships, advancing to the 2008 World Series.
And it worked out well for Young, too, as he made his first All-Star team last season.
Giving up Bartlett and Garza created big holes, but the Rays believe they have them covered, turning shortstop over to Reid Brignac and putting rookie Jeremy Hellickson into the rotation.
The trades saved the Rays about $11 million in salary this season (and maybe another $20 million Garza would have earned the next two seasons; Bartlett would have been a free agent after 2011), which they can use to sign more players this season and in the future.
And it netted them the nine new players.
Two relievers acquired in the Bartlett deal with San Diego, Adam Russell and Cesar Ramos, are likely to pitch in the bullpen this season, and a third, Brandon Gomes, could join them.
Sam Fuld, one of the five players acquired from the Cubs in the Garza deal, has a shot to make the opening-day roster as a reserve outfielder, and catcher Robinson Chirinos should reach the majors sometime this season.
But it's the future payoff that was most enticing, highlighted by two more former Cubs prospects. Pitcher Chris Archer, who will begin this season at Double-A Montgomery or Triple-A Durham, projects to be a frontline starter. And shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, a 20-year-old Korean likely to open this season at Class A Charlotte, could become a building block.
The Rays also got outfielder Brandon Guyer from the Cubs and infielder Cole Figueroa from the Padres.
And it all started with Delmon Young.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.
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