The reaction was largely positive at the time. Positive from Twins fans, that is. The Rays didn’t even have fans yet.
On this day two years ago, the Twins acquired Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie from the Rays for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan.
It was the first big move for Twins GM Bill Smith, who was named Terry Ryan’s replacement in September. Young, the first overall pick in the 2003 draft, was coming off a second-place finish in the Rookie of the Year balloting after driving in 93 runs as a 21-year-old. Still, the Rays considered him expendable since had plenty of outfield talent and weren’t thrilled with his attitude.
In return for Young, the Twins gave up their 2005 first-round pick, Garza, who had just gone 5-7 with a 3.69 ERA in 15 starts as a 23-year-old. They also surrendered their shortstop in Bartlett. He hit .265/.339/.361 in 2007.
The third piece in the deal was supposed to be veteran setup man Juan Rincon, but the Rays had concerns about his arm after a physical and persuaded the Twins to part with a top relief prospect, Morlan, instead. After that last-minute change, I gave the trade the following writeup on Rotoworld:
We liked the deal more a few hours ago, but the Twins are still picking up a 22-year-old bat with Hall of Fame potential. Young was a below average regular as a rookie, but he still smacked a lot of line drives and more home run power is on the way. What remains to be seen is whether he’ll learn to do a better job of waiting for his pitch or if he’ll continue to do AL pitching staffs favors by reaching for the ball. Odds are that he’ll have at least one more year in which he puts up superficially strong Triple Crown numbers without doing a lot to help his team win games.
Now it’s been two years. Young has flatlined, finishing with OPSs of 741 and 733 after finishing at 723 as a rookie. The Twins saw so little progress in his first year that they almost certainly would have moved him for significantly less than they paid for him. They ended up playing him part-time as a 23-year-old, but now it looks like they’re recommitting to him with Carlos Gomez off to Milwaukee.
Any Hall of Fame potential that Young might have had then seems gone, but he still makes quite a bit of contact and flashes big-time power on occasion. The odds remain good that he’ll put it together and turn into an above average regular. I wouldn’t put money on him ever going to an All-Star Game, though. He’s always going to swing at too many bad pitches.
Garza has been pretty much the pitcher the Twins thought he’d become when they sacrificed him. He dominates at times, and he was largely responsible for the Rays advancing past the Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS. Still, one can’t help but be a little disappointed by his 19-21 record and 3.83 ERA the last two years.
Bartlett’s loss has probably been the bigger one for the Twins. The Rays weren’t expecting him to be more than a one- or two-year solution at shortstop with top prospect Reid Brignac on the way, but he’s played quality defense since the day he arrived in St. Pete and he suddenly raised his OPS by 200 points last season, coming in at .320/.389/.490.
Meanwhile, the Twins have gotten little from the shortstop position since he departed. They finally stepped up and got a real solution in J.J. Hardy this winter, but it cost them Gomez, the biggest piece from the Johan Santana deal.
So, what if the trade never took place? Maybe Minnesota balks when the Rays ask for Morlan and talks die after that? The Twins played tiebreaker games for entry into the postseason each of the last two seasons, losing to the White Sox in 2008 and beating the Tigers last season. If they still had Garza and Bartlett and anything resembling a league average left fielder in place of Young, they certainly should have skated into the postseason in a weak AL Central both years.
The Rays, obviously, made the World Series in 2008 after winning the AL East. They finished eight games ahead of the Yankees and nine games ahead of the White Sox and Twins. That’s quite a margin, but Garza and Bartlett were worth more than that and Rays right fielders topped Young’s OPS by 50 points. Even accounting for the likelihood that Ben Zobrist would have broken out sooner, I don’t think the Rays would have made the postseason in 2008. And if they didn’t have that run, then Carl Crawford is probably already gone.
Even if Young takes off next year, it’s hard to imagine this deal ever completely turning around. Young has three years left until free agency, and now that he’s arbitration eligible, any big breakthrough is going to make his salary jump through the roof. The Twins would trade him for either Garza or Bartlett in a heartbeat.