Rays-Cubs could be fantasy boon

Tuesday January 11th, 2011

It isn't always what you get back in a trade that makes it justifiable, especially if you are dealing a potential Cy Young candidate in Matt Garza. For the Rays, it was about creating the opportunities for the next wave.

Fantasy owners can thank them for some potentially great draft day sleepers now.

A small-market club always needs cash and opportunities for who's next. In the wake of the Garza deal to the Cubs, it is Jeremy Hellickson and Jake McGee (or free-agent reliever Brian Fuentes).

This move might have looked bad for the perpetually reloading Rays, but Fantasy owners can like it for a number of reasons:

1. Hellickson, 23, gets a free path to the fifth-starter's spot.

2. McGee gets either a look to start, or more possibly a chance to close.

3. Garza goes to the NL Central, which poses far less competition than the AL Beast.

4. Fuentes might have a contender to close for now, as opposed to setting up elsewhere.

Hell-boy looks capable of being the AL Rookie of the Year. After going 12-3 with a 2.45 ERA, .238 batting-average against and 123 strikeouts in 117 2.3 Triple-A innings, the hard-throwing right-hander looked like he might serve a Neftali Feliz-like apprenticeship as a closer. But he is going to be the leading No. 5 starter candidate for the Rays, competing with veteran swing man Andy Sonnanstine and the 24-year-old McGee.

McGee is coming off Tommy John elbow surgery and wouldn't be able to reach the 180 innings the Rays need to get out of a No. 5 starter. After going over 155 innings combined last season, Hellickson can. It is possible McGee will shuffle back to the relief apprentice role Hellickson served down the stretch last year, though.

The Rays can deal a big-time power arm like Garza and still be all right because of the depth of their system, which just got more backup talent in right-hander Chris Archer. The Rays got four other minor-leaguers in the Garza package -- OF Brandon Guyer, C Robinson Chirinos, SS Hak-Ju Lee and OF Sam Fuld -- but this trade was more about Hellickson and McGee.

Those who enjoyed the returns of Rays rookie pitchers of years past -- David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis -- like this deal even more than the Cubs.

Some might have scoffed at the suggestion Garza can win a Cy Young, especially in the Friendly Confines. But Garza is a right-hander who relies heavily on his fastball and the NL is far more of the fastball league (the AL is notorious for being the "breaking ball" league).

He obviously won't have to face DHs or the Yankees' and Red Sox's lineups anymore. And, he will get the bulk of his starts against the weak sisters of the NL Central in Pittsburgh and Houston. The Reds can be scary, but other than a few bats, the Cardinals and Brewers really aren't juggernauts in that division.

Garza won 15 games in the AL East last season with a 3.91 ERA, surpassing 200 innings in back-to-back years. The 27-year-old is healthy, durable and smack dab in his prime. Even mild improvement could make him a candidate for 18 victories, a 3.50 ERA and 200 strikeouts in the NL -- borderline Cy Young numbers.

His challenge is the longball. He has given up 25 and 28 the past two years. Fantasy owners can hope he gets a lot of days with the wind blowing in at Wrigley Field.

Projected Batting Order

1. Marlon Byrd CF 2. Simon Castro SS 3. Aramis Ramirez 3B 4. Carlos Lee 1B 5. Alfonso Soriano LF 6. Tyler Colvin RF 7. Geovany Soto C 8. Blake DeWitt 2B

Top bench options Kosuke Fukudome OF Jeff Baker INF Fernando Perez OF

Projected Rotaton

1. Carlos Zambrano RH 2, Matt Garza RH 3. Ryan Dempster RH 4. Carlos Silva RH 5. Tom Gorzelanny LH 6. Randy Wells RH

Top bullpen arms

Carlos Marmol RH Kerry Wood RH Sean Marshall LH Andrew Cashner RH Jeff Samardzija RH

The Cubs have a little bit of everything for fantasy owners, but they really need a lot of it to go right to be a top contender.

On the surface, dealing Garza after losing Carl Crawford to the Red Sox and Carlos Pena also to the Cubs signals the Rays are ready to play third fiddle in the AL East again. Maybe not.

This could be more of a retooling than a rebuilding. Looking at the Rays outlook for this spring, they have a huge hole at closer. The money they saved by paying a rookie to start over Garza could be used to buy their closer in Fuentes.

Projected Batting Order

1 John Jaso C 2 Ben Zobrist RF 3 Evan Longoria 3B 4 B.J. Upton CF 5 Matt Joyce DH 6 Reid Brignac SS 7 Sean Rodriguez 2B 8 Dan Johnson 1B 9 Desmond Jennings LF

Top bench options

R Kelly Shoppach C R Justin Ruggiano OF

Projected rotation

1. David Price LH 2. James Shields RH 3. Jeff Niemann RH 4. Wade Davis RH 5. Jeremy Hellickson RH 6. Andy Sonnanstine RH

Top bullpen arms

Joel Peralta RH J.P. Howell LH Jake McGee LH Mike Ekstrom RH Adam Russell RH

Clearly they cannot try to get by in their division with that bullpen. McGee can be great, but he is still healing and unproven at the major-league level. Howell is coming off labrum surgery, and while he could be ready for the season, he cannot be counted on to close. Ekstrom and Russell are decent arms but not closer arms. It might appear Peralta is the current leading candidate to close right now.

It all points to a Fuentes signing. At least he won't be pitching lefty setup role for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox not only have the Crawford edge on the Rays after signing him away from them this winter, but they also have a significantly stronger bullpen. They considered signing Fuentes to be their situational lefty.

A potential closer for the Rays (and many other teams) would merely be a situational lefty on the Red Sox.

Tellling ...

Projected Batting Order

1 Carl Crawford LF 2 Dustin Pedroia 2B 3 Adrian Gonzalez 1B 4 Kevin Youkilis 3B 5 David Ortiz DH 6 J.D. Drew RF 7 Marco Scutaro SS 8 Jarrod Saltalamacchia C 9 Jacoby Ellsbury CF

Top bench options

R Jed Lowrie INF R Jason Varitek C

Projected rotation

1. John Lester LH 2. Josh Beckett RH 3. John Lackey RH 4. Clay Buchholz RH 5. Daisuke Matsuzaka RH 6. Tim Wakefield RH

Top bullpen arms

Jon Papelbon RH Daniel Bard RH Bobby Jenks RH Hideki Okajima LH Dan Wheeler RH

Lester and Buchholz were the Red Sox best fantasy starters last season, but if Beckett, Lackey and Matsuzaka each have one of their good years, look out. The Yankees failed to add anything significant this winter, losing out on Cliff Lee, so the Red Sox have to be the favorites in the AL East.

Their big names throughout could make them the most popular team to pick from on draft day.

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