D’backs make room for youth with Cruz trade

By John Manuel
February 6, 2005

Faced with an overflow of talented young outfielders and constantly in search of pitching, the Devil Rays traded veteran outfielder Jose Cruz Jr., as well as cash considerations, to their expansion brethren, the Diamondbacks, for lefthander Casey Fossum.

The Devil Rays need pitching more than they need mediocre outfielders, making Cruz, 30, expendable. Cruz has seen his power production slip since his best season in 2001, when he was a 30-30 player for the Blue Jays, and the Diamondbacks will be his fourth team in four seasons. Over his eight-year career, the third overall pick in the 1995 draft out of Rice has hit .250/.336/.455. A switch-hitter who’s shown increasing patience as his career evolves, he’s also a good defender (he was a Gold Glove winner in 2003), though a key defensive miscue in the 2003 playoffs helped sink the Giants against the Marlins in their Division Series. The Diamondbacks plan to play him in center field, where he has played just 25 games the last three seasons.

With Tampa last season, he batted .242/.333/.433 with 21 home runs, 78 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. His 76 walks were the second-most of his career. Cruz also is durable, having played in 145 or more games four of the last five seasons. Cruz earned $2.5 million each of the last two seasons and is in the last year of a contract that will pay him $4 million in 2005. The trade should open more playing time for young outfielders Joey Gathright and Jonny Gomes in Tampa.

Fossum, 27, was a 1999 first-round pick out of Texas A&M by the Red Sox, who used him last offseason in the four-player package that brought Curt Schilling from the Diamondbacks. The slender lefthander will compete for innings in a revamped Devil Rays rotation with veterans Hideo Nomo and Denny Neagle as well as holdover lefties Scott Kazmir and Mark Hendrickson, and righthanders Dewon Brazelton, Rob Bell and Doug Waechter.

Fossum had a disastrous season in 2004, going 4-15, 6.65 for the 111-loss Diamondbacks. He gave up 31 home runs in just 142 innings and is now 18-26, 5.27 overall in his career, which includes parts of three seasons spent in Boston. He had shoulder surgery midway through 2003 and his performance suffered in the first half of 2004 as he regained arm strength. At his best, Fossum works with an 88-92 mph fastball that he must keep down in the strike zone–that failure led to all those home runs allowed in 2004–and two curveballs that can be above average. He also throws a cutter and a changeup.

Fossum avoided arbitration by agreeing to a new contract with the Devil Rays that will pay him $950,000 in 2005, then has a $1.25 mutual option in 2006, with a $100,000 buyout. The option increases to $1.4 million if he makes 15 starts for the Rays.