On January 8, the Cubs and Rays completed an eight-player trade; the centerpiece of the deal was right-handed starter Matt Garza, who had helped lead the Rays to the World Series and threw a no-hitter in 2010.
The Rays were looking to dump salary; Garza was in line for a substantial raise through arbitration. The Cubs were seeking another starting pitcher, and got one who had piled up a substantial number of innings while staying healthy and putting forward remarkably consistent numbers for the previous three years.
Many Cubs fans slammed the deal, because they had given up four prospects, two of whom were viewed as jewels of the farm system: right-handed pitcher Chris Archer and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee. Also going to Tampa were catcher Robinson Chirinos and outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld; coming to Chicago were outfielder Fernando Perez and pitcher Zach Rosscup.
Spring training and the first couple of weeks of the season made this deal look bad for the Cubs; Garza had a terrible spring, complained about the dry air in Arizona and got off to a rough start. Meanwhile, Fuld was hitting .365/.407/.541 on April 23, had nearly hit for the cycle in Fenway Park and was making enough diving catches that the Rays scheduled Super Sam Fuld Cape Day on May 29.
Big win for the Rays, right?
Not so fast. Since that date Fuld has returned to Earth, hitting only .124/.179/.202 in 96 plate appearances; meanwhile, Garza has posted a 3.72 season ERA -- pretty close to his career norms -- and is fourth in the National League in strikeouts with 68, despite throwing far fewer innings than the three guys ahead of him, pretty good pitchers named Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw.
For the last three seasons, Garza has put up WAR of 3.2, 3.8 and 2.0; his current figure of 0.8 WAR implies that he'll be pretty close to 3+ WAR again this season. Meanwhile, Fuld has been exposed as what he was with the Cubs -- a decent bench player who has some plate discipline and is an excellent outfielder with speed.
What of the other players? The Cubs got little value from the deal beyond Garza; Perez is a one-tool player (speed; he can't really hit or field) and Rosscup is just 22, playing in the Florida State League and a couple of years away from any judgment on his future. So far, all the value on the Cubs' side is in Garza.
Meanwhile, Guyer started the year in the minors, made his MLB debut on May 6 and promptly homered in his first at-bat; he was just as promptly returned to Triple-A. Chirinos, who was converted to catching from the infield in 2008, had a great spring but the Rays chose to stick with their two catchers from last year, Kelly Shoppach and John Jaso. Chirinos is posting a .483 OPS at Triple-A Durham. Archer, who some thought might have a shot at the Cubs rotation in 2011, is currently posting a 5.79 ERA in eight starts -- at Double-A Montgomery.
The real jewel for the Rays is Lee. The Cubs have signed quite a few Korean prospects in recent years, and Lee might be the best of them. A 20-year-old shortstop, he's currently tearing up High-A ball, hitting .383/.454/.539 in 114 plate appearances, and has shown good plate discipline for someone that young, drawing 14 walks and striking out just 23 times.
But Lee is two or three years away from the major leagues; Garza is still under the Cubs' control for two more seasons after 2011. There's no guarantee that Lee will make it, nor may any of the others; by the time Garza reaches free agency, perhaps the Cubs will have retooled and become a playoff team.
The Rays, who were easily able to replace Garza in their rotation with Jeremy Hellickson, are happy with the deal too. They saved money and are still contenders.
And isn't that what trades are supposed to do? Help both teams? Looks like both Jim Hendry and Andrew Friedman got this one right.