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12/11/08 1:25 AM EST

Rays ship Jackson to Tigers for Joyce

AL champs unsure if outfielder will help next year or in future

LAS VEGAS -- The Rays addressed the need to improve their offense Wednesday night, when they traded right-hander Edwin Jackson to the Tigers for left-handed-hitting outfielder Matt Joyce.

"We think he's an above-average defensive right fielder with plus power," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "We like what he brings to our club and like the years of control that we have, and feel like he'll help us for many years to come."

The big unknown is whether the Rays improved their offense for the 2009 season or for the future.

"It's not clear yet how it's going to play out," Friedman said. "He provides depth for us. It certainly doesn't take us out of the running for a DH/right-fielder type. But it does give us great depth in the event we're not able to acquire one.

"For us, we always have to keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future. And so, while we expect this trade will impact us in 2009, we think it also will pay dividends for us down the road. And we have to be mindful of those out years as well to remain competitive in the American League East. And this trade was exactly in line with that."

The Rays control the 24-year-old Joyce for six years and he also has options, which means if he's not ready for primetime, they can send him back to the Minor Leagues to gain experience without running the risk of another team claiming him.

"We didn't want to trade Matt Joyce," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He has some pop. It just so happens we're deeper in the outfield than most other positions we have."

Joyce, who is a Tampa, Fla., native, was a surprise for the Tigers after an early season callup from Triple-A Toledo. He batted .252 with 16 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs and 33 RBIs over 92 games in Detroit, including the final three months. He has followed with a strong winter-ball performance for Mexicali in the Mexican Winter League, batting .291 with eight doubles, eight home runs and 25 RBIs.

Joyce won't be handed the right-field job.

"We have Gabe Gross, who we like," Friedman said. "We've got Fernando Perez, who we like. We have different guys, but adding that power, adding a player like Matt gives us a little more comfort in the event we're not able to land a bat that we're targeting.

"And I think it was kind of a classic two-team trade, both teams trading from some surplus to address some areas of need. And it remains to be seen how things will play out for the rest of the winter, but we're happy to have him on board and look forward to him contributing for many years."

Jackson, 25, went 14-11 with a 4.25 ERA last season. Over parts of six Major League seasons, Jackson is 25-30 with a 5.15 ERA. He was acquired from the Dodgers in a five-player trade on Jan. 15, 2006. Jackson established a career high in innings pitched (183 1/3) and tied his career high with 31 starts. In short, Jackson gave the impression that he was moving closer to realizing his vast potential. But the Rays' deepest area of talent in the organization is in their starting pitching.

"He'll be one of our five [starters]," Dombrowski said. "I think the Tampa club was one of the few clubs who had an excess of pitching. They have a lot of depth starting pitching-wise -- not only the people that the nation's seen, but within their system."

Friedman said the Rays did not head into the offseason thinking they needed to trade a pitcher.

"It was more with the specific names we were targeting, people tended to gravitate toward our pitching," Friedman said. "For us to get a deal done for a player we liked, it became abundantly clear that we were going to have to use our pitching to do that.

"Edwin Jackson was a big part of our turnaround. It wasn't something that we were out seeking to do. But you have to give up talent to get talent."

Now the question needs to be answered regarding who will take Jackson's spot in the rotation. It's logical to jump to the conclusion that top prospect David Price will be the guy, but Friedman would not exclude the possibility of others winning the job, citing the likes of Jason Hammel, Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot.

"We'll have competition now for the fifth spot," said Friedman.

Joyce attended Armwood High School in Tampa then played three seasons at Florida Southern College before the Tigers selected him in the 12th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Following the 2007 season, he was named the No. 7 prospect and best defensive outfielder in the Tigers organization by Baseball America.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.