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12/23/10 3:15 PM EST

Garza a commodity worth shopping

With sights on future, small-market Rays would benefit from trade

For small-market teams -- for any team, really -- having to trade away young, affordable, talented starting pitching is as tough as it gets. Just ask Royals general manager Dayton Moore. But sometimes, the makeup of a ballclub, the outlook of a division and the landscape of a market justify it.

For the Rays, all of that is the case -- which is why it's in their best interest to shop Matt Garza.

The reasons are obvious.

• The Rays have a surplus of Major League-ready starting pitchers.

• Garza -- besides David Price, whom the Rays won't deal -- is the one who would bring the most value as the club hopes to address other holes and obtain a new group of prospects.

• The Rays can capitalize on a market with a slim crop of available starters that has several teams clamoring.

Cliff Lee is in Philly, Zack Greinke has moved on to Milwaukee and Carl Pavano is the only reliable starting pitcher left via free agency. That should tell you something, shouldn't it?

So, naturally, Garza's name has been thrust into the rumor mill lately, with several teams -- the Nationals, Rangers and Cubs, to name a few -- reportedly interested in the 27-year-old. But Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman expressed confidence in his current rotation on Friday by reverting to an old baseball axiom -- you can never have too much starting pitching.

"We were very fortunate last year until August that all of our guys took the ball every five days," Friedman said. "It doesn't always happen that way, and depth on the starting pitching front is more valuable than anywhere else."

No argument there. In a perfect world, teams would stockpile as much quality starting pitching as possible and would never think twice about having too many reliable arms.

But the Rays ranked 21st in the Majors in team payroll in 2010, setting a franchise record at nearly $73 million. And the situation going into last season was made very clear to players and fans: Tampa Bay was going to go for it all and then would need to cut costs for '11.

That contributed to star left fielder Carl Crawford landing a hefty contract with the Red Sox, Carlos Pena signing with the Cubs, Jason Bartlett heading to San Diego, Rafael Soriano looking for work outside of Florida -- and the Rays staring at a lot of holes to fill.

Dealing Garza, who will start getting much more expensive in 2011, wouldn't be about cutting costs, per se. It would be about restocking a farm system that has been so vital to the Rays' success, and it would be about addressing needs on the Major League club -- most notably in the bullpen and the first-base/designated-hitter spot -- in hopes of competing in the ridiculously tough American League East.

The most logical way to do that is to pluck from the greatest area of depth. And, as rare as it may be, starting pitching is just that for the Rays.

Tampa Bay already has an affordable ace under club control for a while in Price.

The Rays have promising rookie Jeremy Hellickson set to join the rotation full-time in 2011.

And in James Shields, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, the Rays have three other legitimate starters -- not to mention so many promising ones in their system -- to round out the starting staff.

Would retaining Garza -- who could double the $3.35 million he made in 2010 as he enters his second year of arbitration -- give the Rays a much-needed safety net in case a few of the above-mentioned arms struggle? Absolutely. But that's a luxury not afforded to a team that has few resources to address other, more pressing needs.

Perhaps Rays fans would be more comfortable seeing the older Shields be dealt instead. But you don't trade Shields now. Not when his value is so low after he posted a career-high 5.18 ERA in 2010.

The point here is to maximize your returns, and Garza gives Tampa Bay the best opportunity to do just that.

Especially in this market.

The Nationals were reportedly willing to offer starter Jordan Zimmermann, reliever Drew Storen and infielder Danny Espinosa -- three highly regarded young players -- to the Royals before Greinke utilized his no-trade clause to turn down Washington. Part of the reason the Yankees acquired catcher Russell Martin was so they could have an asset like prime prospect Jesus Montero to potentially dangle in a deal for a starting pitcher. And the Rangers have pieces they're willing to give up in hopes of filling the rotation void left by Lee.

With so many teams desperate for starting pitching, it seems that Garza has the highest ceiling among the remaining starters available, including Pavano and Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton.

And, depending on what they get back, dealing him could give the Rays a better chance to compete in baseball's toughest division now and in the future.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.