Always reliable internet rumors this morning seem to conclude that Matt Garza will open the 2011 season as a member of the Chicago Cubs. (St. Pete Times, ESPN Chicago). Not to brag, but I totally predicted this with my bobblehead sale scoop.
Everyone seems to agree on two things:
(1) The Cubs will be sending prospects Robinson Chirinos (a big catching prospect), Brandon Guyer (an athletic outfielder), Hak-Ju Lee (a big SS prospect that could ultimately be a full-time double-play partner for Reid Brignac or his replacement) and Chris Archer (a near-future closer); and
(2) The Cubs are paying too much.
None of these four players will likely be members of the Rays in 2011. That means, of course, that we are in for a 24-hour assault from various talking heads comparing the Rays to the 1997 Marlins fire sale. (Mr. Duemig, paging Mr. Duemig.) That comparison is lazy.
The 1997 Marlins expended a huge some of money for a one-time shot at the World Series and then dumped the players the following winter.
The Rays did not make a single huge investment in the 2010 season. They built the 2008-2010 Rays through measured long-term planning and then supplemented those rosters with a few free-agent splurges (like Pat Burrell and Rafael Soriano).
More importantly, the 2011 Rays are not “dumping” anyone.
Sure several key pieces left as free agents but, that wasn’t because the Rays made a short-term decision to dump salary. There was no secret that Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, and others would be cashing big free-agent checks. In fact, Crawford, Pena, and Soriano would all be playing elsewhere even if the Rays decided to maintain their 2010 payroll level into the 2011 season. (Just look at Benedict Crawford’s quote in this story.)
So, the Rays’ decision to reduce payroll merely reflects the reality that their 2011 roster was going to be younger due to factors beyond their control (baseball’s economic system). It is hard to blame the club for paying the replacements a salary commensurate with their experience.
That leaves the apparently forthcoming Garza trade as the most likely “salary dump.” The easy argument is ‘the Rays traded their most-expensive pitcher for minor leaguers that can’t help them in 2011.’ That same argument, of course, applied to Houston’s decision to “dump” Larry Anderson for some minor-leaguer back in 1990.
No. The Rays aren’t dumping salary. They are investing in the franchise. The Rays are trading from a position of strength (6 quality starting pitchers, 5 of whom Baseball Think Factory projects to be above league average in 2011) to supplement obvious weaknesses (Catcher – BBTF projects Jaso and Shop to have 2011 OPS+ of 93 and 91 respectively, SS – we have just bet the farm on Reid Brignac and have nothing, other than Tim Beckham’s rotting “upside” waiting in the wings, CL – Who is our closer again?, and OF – a place we have BJ Upton and a bunch of platoon players). It also gives Jeremy Hellickson an opportunity to start the 2011 season in the Major League rotation and, as our man Jonah Keri points out, clears up some money to spend on a 2011 bat like Jim Thome (who is reportedly asking for $8MM).
In the end, rooting for the Rays in 2011 and beyond is going to be a lot like dealing with the new American economic reality. George Will has a great column up today (coincidence? providence? who knows) reminding us that we got ourselves into the Great Recession by forgoing discipline and investment to get current and immediate satisfaction through consumption. The Yankees and the Red Sox have the luxury of constantly consuming. The Rays have to invest with discipline. Changing out Garza for four future pieces is an investment.
I’ll miss Garza (not as much as my two-year old daughter who thinks he looks like the Count from Sesame Street) but I will enjoy rooting for these prospects to make an impact in the future. Besides, we are all just rooting for laundry around here anyway, and that’s ok by me.