Garza, Bartlett ready for run with Rays

Garza, Bartlett ready for run with Rays

Matt Garza has spent his entire professional career in the Twins organization, which hasn't given him an opportunity to make friends with many Rays. That means no idle chitchat with Scott Kazmir or James Shields, and no real concept of what that duo -- now a trio -- can achieve.

Though he still has a pretty good idea.

"I know enough that if you put us together," Garza said, "we'll win quite a few games."

That's the notion that prompted Rays vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman to acquire Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett and Minor League reliever Eduardo Morlan in a six-player swap with the Twins on Wednesday night, and that compelled him to deal away top prospect Delmon Young to do it. The rotation temptation was too great to ignore.

Now, that ideal has become a reality, and Garza will join Kazmir and Shields with Tampa Bay -- in theory forming one of the best young pitching corps in the game.

They all played for losing teams last season -- Kazmir and Shields for the worst team in baseball -- but combined, they finished 30-24 with a 3.67 ERA. They struck out more than three times as many batters as they walked, and -- here's the best part -- every one of them is younger than 26.

So when Garza heard the rumblings this week, that his future might be in Tampa Bay, he wasn't deterred by the team's recent struggles. Quite the opposite.

"I got a strong sense that this one might happen," Garza said of the trade. "I started doing some homework on the Rays organization, and I was pretty excited."

He's excited about the new stadium, excited about a young team, and excited that a rotation spot -- which was not a guarantee in Minnesota -- is now his to keep.

"This organization is moving in a great direction," Garza said. "They want to establish a core nucleus. They've always had the offense, but they've never really had that great rotation. That's what they're trying to build now."

Garza has little reason to worry about that offense, even without Young's powerful bat. The Rays finished in the middle of the league in run production last season, and with the addition of Bartlett, have their lineup all but set heading into Opening Day. They could still add a catcher or tweak the outfield situation, but they aren't likely to change much else. There's just no need.

Bartlett was added more for his defensive prowess than any offensive skills, though he does add speed -- he swiped 23 bags last season -- and is just one year removed from hitting .309 for the Twins. But he's just fine with his reputation as it is.

Hot Stove

"I think the little things are what I pride myself on," Bartlett said. "Get the runner over, trying to take the extra bag, that kind of stuff. The big numbers that everybody always sees, that's not me. So it's hard for a regular fan to appreciate me, I guess."

Bartlett made that more difficult last season, when he committed 26 errors at shortstop, the most in the Major Leagues. He still had a strong arm and good range, but those things don't translate onto stat sheets. And for a player who says he prides himself on defense -- and indeed, who considers himself a defensive shortstop more than an offensive one -- that spells trouble.

Certainly it's possible to attribute some of those struggles to the neck and shoulder injuries that plagued Bartlett all season, just as it's possible to chalk it up to some sort of fluke. But Bartlett wouldn't take the bait.

"I really can't tell you what happened," Bartlett said. "I know I'm better than that and I hope that they really believe that I am, because I'm going to go out this year and try to prove it to them. There are no excuses or anything I can make for last year. I just didn't have a great year."

Now, he'll try to change that. He won't anchor the Rays' lineup, just as Garza won't anchor the rotation -- not yet at least. But both have the ability to help the Rays climb from baseball's basement, perhaps a little earlier than expected, and both have the potential to ensure that next season is simply a start.

"I'm the type of guy where I love challenges," Garza said.

Consider this his greatest one yet.

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.