Our own Kevin Gengler took part in a Rays blog 'round table' of sorts at Rays Anatomy. The question was which Ray is the most important to the team's future success; the answers included David Price (twice), Jake McGee, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, and Gengler's pick of Scott Kazmir, but my answer would be none of the above.
Price and McGee should make Rays' debuts before July 2009 and while we pencil both into future rotations and bullpens I'd group them along with Wade Davis as important, but not the most important.
Crawford, Upton, and Kazmir are again very important, but they've been here and performed quite well without seeing the team gain much success - it's not their faults, and you can lump James Shields and others into that faction.
That's why I'd go with Matt Garza - yes I'm bordering on being the head of the Garza fan club, but consider that the Rays' third best starter last year had an ERA+ of 78, 22% below average - it was literally Kazmir, Shields, run for the hills. Garza's ERA+ was 118, higher than James Shields' 117, now I'm not saying Garza's season was better, it wasn't and his peripherals indicate he was lucky, but when you take into account his success throughout all minor league levels I don't think it's a reach to say he could be perennial 110 ERA+ pitcher.
Why is he so important? If Garza can provide that substantial upgrade in the Rays' rotation you have to figure the team can get nearly 600 innings from the top three in the rotation, taking pressure off of the bullpen. In theory you want your best pitchers taking the most innings and the best hitters taking the most at-bats, that's what the Rays can do with Garza. With three solid arms you have to feel confident that the team can piece together a decent back-end of the rotation between all the spare and upcoming parts.
Assuming the Rays' have a solid rotation they could be heading for a 81+ win season, which would help turn public opinion towards the idea of a new stadium a bit more - consider that just a few days ago on a local news channel an opponent of the new stadium called the team "One of the worst teams in the nation." The local fans say they've heard the prospect talk before and the owners are too cheap - what better way to garner a few extra votes than provide winning baseball in St. Pete for the first time ever?
Garza takes pressure off of the organization to rush Price, Davis, or McGee into the majors and let us not forget who we traded for him, if Garza busts and Delmon flourishes you don't think local pens will let them live that down, do you?
Make no mistake 2008 is about breaking over .500, finishing at least third in the division, and getting that new park, Garza is critical to all three of those things and the future success of the Rays - namely maintaining long term success - weighs heavily on what the team does this year.