ST. PETERSBURG — When Matt Garza called David Price on Friday morning to share the news that he was being traded to the Cubs, Garza told his now former teammate that he didn't want to leave the Rays but understood it was part of their business.
And it is because of the business aspect of the game that the Rays had to make the deal that further dismantled their American League East championship team. They are trading their established No. 2 starter for a handful of prospects in what could end up as an eight-player swap when it is completed, likely today.
"He wasn't upset," Price said. "Obviously he wanted to be with us. But if he was traded, he wanted it to be resolved quickly so he could take his family with him, so he was happy it happened now and not during the season. He understands."
In trading Garza, the Rays deal a 15-game winner with the potential to be a frontline starter for years. But with their payroll being reduced and an eye on the future, they dealt from their depth of six starters. They save Garza's approximate $6 million salary and replace the right-handed pitcher with right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and add prospects with the potential to fill several spots.
There appears to be two keys to the deal: right-handed pitcher Chris Archer, 22, who went 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA last season between Class A and Double A, and was just ranked the Cubs' top prospect by Baseball America; and middle infielder Hak-Ju Lee, 20, ranked as the No. 4 prospect who could supplant Tim Beckham as the Rays' shortstop of the future.
The Rays, pending physical exams of the players, are also in line to receive outfielder Sam Fuld, 29, who has a shot to be on the big-league team this season; outfielder Brandon Guyer, who turns 25 on Jan. 28, a strong defender ranked 10th by Baseball America; and catcher Robinson Chirinos, a converted infielder who at 26 was considered the Cubs' top catching prospect.
The Rays are also giving up spare outfielder Fernando Perez, who said he was sad to go but welcomed a "probably better" opportunity, and possibly a minor-league pitcher.
The teams had been talking for months, but the deal came together quickly this week, Cubs.com said. The Rays pressed the action by saying they had another suitor, and the Cubs, who had been reluctant, agreed to give up Archer.
"He's a kid with a high ceiling," said Rays Double-A manager Billy Gardner Jr. "He's long and loose, has a good pitcher's body. He's a couple years away. There's some fine-tuning he needs to go through, some maturity as far as being a pitcher. But he's got good upside."
The deal continues the breakup of the Rays. Carl Crawford, Carlos Peña, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate, Dan Wheeler, Brad Hawpe and Dioner Navarro have left as free agents, with Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour expected to follow. Shortstop Jason Bartlett, acquired with Garza from Minnesota in November 2007, was traded to San Diego last month.
Garza, 27, was MVP of the 2008 AL Championship Series and won a career-high 15 games last season while throwing the first no-hitter in Rays history, but consistency and focus have been issues. He was 34-31 with a 3.86 ERA in three years with the Rays and overall is 42-44 with a 3.97 ERA in parts of five big-league seasons.
"I hate to see him go as a player and a friend; it's just part of the business," Price said. "But I think we'll be all right. I still like our starting five."
Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.