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Talking trades with a Tampa Bay blogger

Marc Topkin, the Tampa Bay Rays beat writer for the St. Petersburg Times (check out his blog here), was kind enough to chat about trade possibilities involving the Rays, including Matt Garza and James Shields. The Rangers have a tendency to check in on everything, so if there's a trade to be made, you never know what could happen. Texas certainly could use another starting pitcher and Garza is a high-quality option that could be available.

Q: Why would the Rays want to trade Matt Garza?

A: They don’t want to trade him. They’ve been pretty public in their positioning that they don’t want to trade any of their starts, but they obviously have a number of holes to fill based on free agent departures like Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate plus Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour (both expected departures). Garza is their most tradeable commodity. He is a proven starter in the AL East and that means he could pitch anywhere. His salary is growing. He’ll probably make $5-6 million this year in arbitration, so he’s going to get expensive. They have some other starters and a wave of pitching prospects that were at ‘A’ level or Double-A and are coming in the future. If they were going to make a significant trade, Matt would bring back a nice return.

Q: What do you think it would take to get Garza?

A: Given that they are in a position of not needing to or wanting to trade him, it’s safe to assume the Rays would have to be overwhelmed to make a deal. They value young, high upside players they can control for a number of years. They are trying to accumulate those types of players because that helps them offset the financial inequities they face. The other thing about the Rays is that they are adamant about not making deals just to fill positions of need. They will do deals for who’s the best player or prospects and figure it out later. You could look at them and suggest they may not have a shortstop of the future, not a lot of advanced hitting prospects, not a lot of catching, but they have a lot of starting pitching. There are spots of need, but they wouldn’t necessarily be motivated by need. They would take the best prospects. If they were to make a trade for major league players in terms of current needs, they need relievers and a bat to replace Pena and/or Crawford.

Q: Give us your scouting report on Garza.

A: Everyone talks about Matt being an emotional pitcher, but he’s done a good job of controlling those. When he gets into trouble it’s when he gets away from his fastball and outsmarts himself and gets a little too cute. He’s got a wide repertoire. But he’s most successful when he’s pounding his two-seamer down in the zone and works off that. He’s most successful when he’s using that fastball. But he’s streaky. He’ll go good for a few games and then he’ll struggle. He’s talented, high end, was the ALCS MVP in 2008 and has the kind of stuff to be a Cy Young candidate pitcher. He started great last season, let some things get away and then found it again with a no-hitter and was good. His next step is going out there and doing it for 30-plus starts.

Q: Do you think the Rays will trade him at some point this season? What’s your gut feeling?

A: I think the Rays will trade him at some point this season. I don’t know if they’ll trade him before Opening Day and part of that rests with how the rest of the offseason goes. [Rays GM] Andrew Friedman has been adamant for weeks that he’s not looking to trade a starter. But he’s also very smart and he has the caveat out there that he’s looking for something to help their short- and long-term goals. If they can get a piece that can help them now and some that can help them later, they’d do it. I’d say it’s 50-50 before Opening Day and better odds after that.

Q: Any chance the Rays would deal James Shields after his 2010 season?

A: He might be a better guy for them to trade because he struggled last year (13-15, 5.18 ERA) and is making pretty good money as well. I think he has one more year guaranteed and a couple of options. They are confident he’ll bounce back. I think he’d be available as well and I think it’s fair to say the price would be as high because the upside isn’t the same. I think they’ve gotten calls on all the starters, including Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis. At the right price, they’d make a deal. They can make one deal and have to be careful on which one they should make.

Q: What do Rays fans think are the long-term prospects for the Rangers now that they saw them win the series?

A: The way the Rangers beat the Rays show the Rays that others are playing their style. They were considered innovative and the National League style in the American League. But the way the Rangers beat the Rays in the playoffs showed the Rays they’re playing the same game and other teams are going to be doing that. The Rangers did it better than the Rays. The Rays think the Rangers are very good and they’ve got to figure out something else to get ahead of the game. The Rangers were the Rays with bigger bats in their lineup.