Rays Deal From Strength To Get Gross

The Deal
The crowded Brewers outfield stands to get even more crowded next week when Mike Cameron returns from his suspension for twice failing tests for banned stimulants. To help alleviate the logjam, Milwaukee on Wednesday traded lefthanded-hitting outfielder Gabe Gross, who had logged more games in center than any other Brewer, to the Rays for second-year righthander Josh Butler.

Tampa Bay had claimed lefty-hitting first baseman Dan Johnson on waivers from the Athletics last week, but promptly designated him for assignment after acquiring Gross, thus placing him back on waivers.

The Big Leaguers
In five seasons of part-time play, totaling 655 at-bats, the 28-year-old Gross has hit .243/.343/.402 with 20 home runs, 38 doubles and 87 RBIs. Because he strikes out a lot, he’ll probably never be much of a hitter for average, but Gross has solid-average tools otherwise. He hits for power, can cover all three outfield spots, controls the strike zone, throws well and has average running speed. His Achilles’ heel remains lefthanded pitchers, against whom he’s batted .093/.269/.167 for his career with strikeouts in roughly half his at-bats (54) against them. But spotted against righthanders, Gross has produced. In 2006, he batted .274/.382/.476 with nine homers in 208 at-bats for the Brewers. Remove his at-bats versus lefties, and you’re left with .294/.400/.508. Gross starred as a two-sport athlete (football) at Auburn, and the Blue Jays made him their first-round pick (15th overall) in 2001, one year before J.P. Ricciardi took over as general manager. Toronto dealt Gross (and Dave Bush) to the Brewers in the 2005 trade that netted them Lyle Overbay.
The Prospects
Though he had gotten off to a sluggish start (0-2, 6.35 with 10-5 K-BB in 17 innings) with high Class A Vero Beach, Butler, 23, possesses a varied and filthy repertoire. A second-round pick from San Diego in 2006, he pitches at 92-95 mph with plus movement and sink, and mixes in an overhand curveball and a hard slider. A sprained thumb cost Butler time in 2007, but when healthy, he went 5-1, 2.33 with 54-20 K-BB in 77 innings for low Class A Columbus.
Quick Take
With Ryan Braun and Corey Hart on the outfield corners, Gabe Kapler off to a hot start, Cameron on the way back and Tony Gwynn fresh off a successful rehab stint, the Brewers just don’t have a lot of at-bats to distribute among part-time outfielders. Trading Gross (or Gwynn) for an arm with upside is a sound move for Milwaukee at this time. But it’s hard to call it an unqualified success, seeing as Gross has the raw ability to flourish in Tampa Bay—under the right circumstances, of course.

And while it’s tough to give up on a young arm like Butler, the Rays are dealing from an area of strength. With a big league rotation stacked with young pitchers (James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel) and with Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza on the mend—and Jeff Nieman, Wade Davis and Jake McGee potentially a hot stretch away from Tampa Bay—Butler may have been forced into a relief role.

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