In a trade that has been panned by some critics on both sides, the Dodgers acquired Danys Baez, Lance Carter and a player to be named later from the Devil Rays on Saturday for a pair of pitching prospects, Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany. But the deal is a good fit for both clubs.
The Dodgers are the early favorite to win the National League West and have the deepest farm system in the game, so they were able to bolster their bullpen by giving up a pair of expendable prospects (whom several scouts project as no more than relievers themselves). The Devil Rays, meanwhile, are building for the future, and they just saved money by dealing veteran relievers (a luxury they didn't need) while adding to their growing stock of quality arms.
Baez, a 28-year-old righthander, will serve as Los Angeles' closer while Eric Gagne recovers from elbow surgery. Baez was an all-star in 2005, when he saved a career-high 41 games while going 5-4, 2.86 in 67 games. In 72 innings, he had a 51-30 K-BB ratio while opponents batted .244 with seven homers against him. Baez' best pitch is his 92-96 mph fastball, and he also can attack hitters with his splitter and curveball. He's not a dominant closer, but he's effective and could be a dynamite setup man once Gagne returns. Baez is making $4 million in 2006, the last season in a three-year, $9.5 million contract, and won't be eligible for free agency until after 2007. He has a career record of 26-31, 3.69 with 102 saves in 284 big league games.
Carter, a 31-year-old righty, was an all-star in 2003 but wasn't as effective last year, when he was demoted to Triple-A for six weeks at midseason. In 39 big league games, he went 1-2, 4.89 with one save. He had a 22-15 K-BB ratio in 57 innings, while opponents batted .279 with nine homers off him. Carter's best pitch is a changeup, which he sets up with an 86-90 mph fastball and a decent curveball. Tampa Bay nontendered him in December before resigning him to a one-year, $550,000 contract. He has a lifetime mark of 13-11, 3.94 with 29 saves in 171 games.
Jackson, a 22-year-old righty, once ranked as the top pitching prospect in baseball. He beat Randy Johnson and the Diamondbacks in his major league debut on his 20th birthday in 2003, but has struggled mightily in the majors (6.75 ERA) and Triple-A (6.90) during the last two seasons. He still has quality stuff, working in the mid-90s with his fastball and flashing a devastating slider, but he may lack the command and feel to be anything more than a reliever. He did get back on track at Double-A Jacksonville last summer, going 6-4, 3.48 in 11 starts, but that came after a 3-7, 8.62 stint at Triple-A Las Vegas and was followed up by a 2-2, 6.28 performance with the Dodgers. Jackson now owns a 6-4, 5.50 record in 19 big league games (14 starts). He has a 48-39 K-BB ratio in 75 innings, while opponents have tagged him for a .271 average and 11 homers. He'll get the chance to win a job in Tampa Bay's rotation during spring training.
Tiffany, a 20-year-old lefty, signed for $1.1 million as a second-round pick out of a California high school in 2003. He has slightly above-average stuff, with an 85-93 mph fastball he can move around the strike zone, a breaking ball that looks like a splitter with curveball rotation, and a changeup. Some scouts see him becoming a good No. 4 starter, while others think he'll wind up as a reliever. He went 11-7, 3.93 at high Class A Vero Beach in 2005, with a 134-43 K-BB ratio, .226 opponent average and 17 homers in 110 innings. Ticketed for Double-A Montgomery this year, he has a career 16-9, 3.90 record in 47 minor league games (43 starts).
March 31 update: The Dodgers received minor league first baseman Ryder Mathias from the Devil Rays to complete the trade. Signed as a nondrafted free agent out of Wake Forest last year, the 24-year-old Mathias is a marginal prospect. In his pro debut, he hit .236/.348/.328 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 52 games at short-season Hudson Valley.