The dust still hasn't settled from Sunday's huge James Shields trade. The great staff here has not slept since Sunday night, and I wanted to jump in to provide a little perspective. Much of the controversy surrounding the trade from the Royals side is the purpose of a 72-win team gambling the future for short term gratification. It will take a couple years to see how the trade plays out for them; if they can make the postseason, it can probably be justified. Otherwise, they could be regretting this trade. It's not the first time a losing team has traded some top talent for a quick improvement in the majors, and the Rays have quite a bit of recent history in that.
This trade isn't particularly analogous because Zambrano was never particularly good, but it did feature a top prospect being moved. He would turn 28 a week after the trade, and while he always had a good strikeout rate, at that point he only accumulated 481.2 mostly bad innings with the Devil Rays. The Mets were four games under .500 at the time and seven games back in the NL East when they made the trade, but Rick Peterson felt he could turn his career around. Their rotation was bad and didn't have much strikeout stuff. Fortunato was viewed as a nice relief prospect with strikeout stuff, and he would be a top 30 prospect in the Mets organization the following offseason.
Kazmir was viewed as a top 12 prospect in baseball twice before the trade and once again afterward, and at the time, I don't think anyone believed the Mets could make this trade. He had tremendous stuff and had risen to AA just two years after being drafted in the first round of 2002. There were plenty of injury concerns, but a pitcher with his ceiling and proximity to the majors is exactly the kind of risk a team like the Devil Rays should've taken. Diaz entered the season as New York's 23rd best prospect as a pitcher with a live arm who had to give up catching because he couldn't hit. He couldn't find the strike zone either, but pitchers who could strike out batters like he did always get chances.
What happened? Not surprisingly, Zambrano flopped with the Mets, accumulating 2.0 fWAR in 201.2 innings across three partial seasons for the Mets. In a cruel twist of fate, it was Zambrano who needed Tommy John surgery in 2006, and his ML career ended in 2007. Fortunato would pitch 21.2 unmemorable innings with the Mets in the same time frame, and he too missed a lot of time with a serious back injury. Of course, Kazmir was a huge part of the Devil Rays to Rays transformation in 2008. From 2004 to 2011, the electric lefty accumulated 16.4 fWAR in over 1000 innings with the Rays and Angels. His stuff gradually declined after a short prime, and he did not pitch in affiliated baseball in 2012. Diaz would pitch 7.2 ML innings with Kansas City and Texas.
Coming off a 71 win season with a bullpen that was probably in the lower half of the league in performance, the Dodgers wanted to add depth, so they added two former All-Star selections from a bullpen that might've been the worst in the league that year. Baez was coming off a 41 save season, but his peripherals were underwhelming despite a shiny 2.86 ERA. At this point, Carter was setting up Baez and wasn't effective at all, only striking out 9.2% of opponents while walking 6.3%. With a 5.14 FIP, it was his worst season with the Devil Rays, but the Dodgers wanted him anyway.
The Dodgers paid a pretty high price to add to their bullpen. Just two seasons earlier, he was the top pitching prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, but some of the shine had worn off with three straight seasons of ineffective spot starts with the Dodgers and an ugly season in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. He reached the majors at just 19 years old, and that was just two years after he took up pitching permanently. Tiffany was a solid prospect at the time with 275 strikeouts in 209.2 innings between 2004 and 2005. Despite the gaudy strikeout numbers, he was more known for his advanced feel for pitching than stuff, but he still had ML starter upside.
What happened? The Dodgers got an unmemorable 61.1 innings in 2006 between Baez and Carter. Baez started out as the team's closer, but he was soon replaced by the more effective Takashi Saito and was traded to Atlanta in July. Carter ended up spending most of the season in AAA, and he was incredibly ineffective when he was up with the Dodgers. It would be his last year in affiliated baseball. The two combined for 0.8 fWAR and were part of another losing Dodgers team. Meanwhile, Edwin Jackson eventually became an effective ML starter, although most of his success has come after the Rays traded him to Detroit. He's accumulated 14.1 fWAR among six teams since the trade, and he's not even 30 yet. Tiffany only pitched 57.1 innings in the Rays organization due to shoulder problems, and he never reached the majors.
Still struggling, the Dodgers wanted to bolster their infield to try and erase a five game deficit in the NL West. Rafael Furcal was occupying shortstop, but Lugo was in the midst of a career season for the Devil Rays. He had 12 home runs and a .377 wOBA in 322 plate appearances before the trade, and with Jeff Kent making several trips to the DL and third base being a sore spot in the lineup, the Dodgers felt they had a place for him moving around the infield.
Before the 2005 season, Guzman was listed as the #5 prospect in baseball by BA. He was a big bonus baby from the Dominican Republic three seasons earlier, but he didn't really break out until 2004 when he posted 23 home runs (and 67 extra base hits) and a .881 OPS across high-A and AA while playing shortstop. His 2005 and 2006 seasons weren't as good as he moved off shortstop to corner infield and outfield positions, but with his light tower power, his bat was expected to profile anywhere on the diamond. Pedroza was a throw in, but he was having a great season in the Dodgers organization, and he would finish that seasons with 28 home runs and 101 walks across low-A and high-A.
What happened? In what was a precursor to the hilarious contract he would sign with Boston, Lugo was awful with the Dodgers. He was a -0.7 fWAR player in 164 plate appearances in LA, and whatever power he was showing with the Devil Rays was gone. They made the playoffs, but it was no thanks to Lugo. Unlike the previous trade though, the return didn't burn them in retrospect. Guzman ballooned to 6'7 and 225 pounds, size that makes it tough to play anywhere except first base. His bat fizzled out, and he made 62 ML plate appearances without a home run. Pedroza has not reached the majors, but like Guzman he's still at it in the minors. He has never really hit above A ball, and especially not enough for a corner outfielder.
After another season in the basement, the Devil Rays were ready to make a big move to improve the pitching and defense. They were able to accomplish that in one fell swoop in this trade with the Twins. With Kazmir and James Shields emerging as one of the top one-two punches in the majors, they figured that adding the talented but inconsistent Garza would help form the rotation they needed for a major turnaround. They emphasized defense as well, and after going through a season where poor shortstop defense really hurt the pitching staff, adding Bartlett could've been exactly what they needed to secure the middle of the diamond. Morlan was a solid relief prospect who could throw strikes with decent stuff.
It was believed to come at a great cost though. Young wasn't a prospect anymore with a year of ML service, and despite the mediocre season, he still had value after completing four seasons as a top three prospect in baseball. They had a need for power, and they believed they had a surplus of pitching. Harris was coming off a pleasantly surprising 2007 season as one of the league's better hitting middle infielders, and again the Twins wanted to improve the lineup. Minnesota hoped Pridie could become a 4th outfielder after showing some solid power and speed across AA and AAA in 2007.
What happened? Garza teamed up with Kazmir and Shields to form the backbone of a rotation that reached the World Series. In his Rays career, Garza accumulated 7.6 fWAR in 592.1 innings, pitched very well in two postseasons and threw the first no-hitter in team history. Bartlett would enjoy two productive seasons with the club, including a career season in 2009 well above any of his career norms. His up the middle defense helped change the culture of the organization. Morlan has never pitched in the majors despite being selected in a Rule 5 draft, and he last pitched in affiliated baseball in 2011. Young never quite lived up to his prospect potential. His plate approach never improved, and that prevented him from ever tapping into his big raw power. He also proved to be a horrible defender in the outfield despite the strong arm. Harris crashed back down to earth, and he hasn't played in the majors since 2010. Pridie has been a productive minor leaguer with a cup of coffee in the majors.
The Cubs had made the postseason in 2007 and 2008, but they gradually declined to a 75 win team in 2010 before acquiring Garza. They had a mediocre rotation with okay performances from Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and even Randy Wells, and they decided that getting one more established arm could get them back to the postseason. He wasn't an ace, but he was a durable #2-3 starter that can improve the team. Although they got two more players, Garza was the key to the trade. Perez could have been a 5th outfielder, but he never really recovered from his broken wrist. Rosscup was coming off of a second solid season in short-season ball as a longshot to reach the majors.
It was a risk though because they traded two of their top prospects from an already mediocre system. With Starlin Castro just graduating to the majors, they felt Lee would be expendable despite being a top 100 prospect in the league. Archer was held in even higher regard. He had the stuff to eventually be better than Garza, and it finally appeared that he was able to throw strikes which led to being ranked as the #27 prospect in baseball. The Rays felt that with his stuff he could soon replace Garza as part of a young stable of arms in the upper minors. The other three were no throw-ins; Fuld showed 5th outfielder potential, and Guyer and Chirinos were older minor leaguers who could hit on an ML roster.
What happened? Garza was very good in 2011 for another losing Cubs team. In 2012, elbow problems finally caught up to him, and he was only able to throw half a season before being shut down. Now in a full-fledged rebuild, the Cubs hope he can prove he's healthy to be traded again. Perez is out of baseball, and Rosscup is still in the lower minors. The Rays really haven't received much help in the majors yet, but it's on the way. Fuld has contributed off the bench, and Guyer and Chirinos both missed all or most of 2012. With Shields in Kansas City, the Rays will give Archer a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation in spring training. In the second half of 2012, he was able to harness his great stuff, and now many in baseball are optimistic about his chances to pitch near the top of a rotation. Lee remains one of the league's better shortstop prospects, but he's going to have to hit in AA in 2013.