Half of this trade was obvious. Half of it you could have seen coming from the covered seats at Tropicana Field.
The Rays were going to deal Edwin Jackson this winter. It was nothing personal, nothing sinister. It just made sense, in the same way that avoiding federal wiretaps makes sense to most governors.
Jackson was coming off a breakthrough season, and his value had never been higher. His salary was about to make a leap of $2-million or so, and the right-hander's long-term prospects in the Rays rotation were shaky at best.
So, yes, Jackson's half of the trade was entirely expected.
It is the other half, the Matt Joyce half, that is intriguing.
Joyce is young, knows how to use a glove and has shown some power and patience at the plate. Does that mean he is destined to be Tampa Bay's rightfielder for the next half-dozen seasons? I have no idea, but I do know Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman has a pretty good track record at seeing beyond the obvious and finding real value.
He saw beyond Jason Bartlett's league-leading 26 errors in 2007 to know Bartlett could transform the Rays infield defense in '08. He saw beyond the five times Carlos Pena was traded or released to know Pena had a bat that a lineup could be built around. He saw beyond J.P. Howell's 88-mph fastball and Dioner Navarro's Baskin-Robbins body.
In this case, Friedman saw a corner outfielder who is above average defensively and potentially gives the Rays the best trio of gloves in the outfield in the American League. Joyce, 24, has good plate discipline and seems to be growing into his power. He has a big enough swing that he may never hit for a high average and will rack up a lot of strikeouts, but his walks and extra-base hit potential should offset that.
His numbers compare favorably to Eric Hinske's last season, and he is a far better defensive player with a higher upside. In a worst-cast scenario, Joyce is a younger and cheaper version of Gabe Gross. From this point, the only real concern is Joyce is a left-handed hitter on a team already left-handed heavy.
Conceptually, the trade is not all that different from the deal that sent Delmon Young to Minnesota and sent the Rays to the World Series. In both cases the Rays traded a valuable commodity that did not fit into their long-term plans and, in return, addressed one or more of their weaknesses.
Now it's hard to imagine this trade will have the same impact, simply because the Young trade eventually had a blockbuster-like effect. But there is a good chance the Rays just made themselves a much better offensive team without significantly affecting their pitching staff.
As much improvement as Jackson made in 2008, there was a feeling in the organization that he was always going to be something of an underachiever. He has a wonderful arm that could be enticing in small doses, but he never seemed to have the same command for long periods of time.
Jackson cut down substantially on his walks last season (to 3.78 per nine innings) but averaged a surprisingly low number of strikeouts (5.30 per nine innings) for a guy who throws in the upper 90s.
With David Price waiting in the wings — and with Jason Hammel, Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot nosing around the edges of the rotation — Jackson had become somewhat expendable.
"It's kind of unusual that there's a guy you pick up who's won 14 games," Tigers president Dave Dombrowski told Times staff writer Marc Topkin. "It's just a situation where they're so deep with pitching, and we kind of matched up. We didn't want to trade Matt Joyce. We like Matt Joyce."
You know, that Friedman is an awfully nice guy. Polite, friendly and a smart aleck in an endearing kind of way. He also does not appear to have a sentimental bone in his body.
Which is exactly what you want in a guy running your baseball team.
The Rays already have proven they will not be moonstruck when it comes to their World Series roster. Since Hinske's final strikeout in Game 5 in Philadelphia, the Rays have declined options on Trever Miller and Cliff Floyd and are running the risk that Rocco Baldelli is about to walk out the door along with Hinske. Now Friedman has dealt Jackson, who was the centerpiece in the first major trade he made upon taking over Tampa Bay's front office in the winter of 2005.
Rosters can be ruined by trades, but they can also be brought down by inactivity. A general manager who falls in love with his players or is hesitant to make moves can be just as ineffective as someone making clunker deals.
It's impossible to say today whether the Rays or the Tigers got the better end of this deal. That is an evaluation better made years down the road.
But I do think the Rays became a better team with this trade.
And that's good enough for today.
John Romano can be reached at [email protected]