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01/07/11 8:00 PM EST

Rays brass thinking steps ahead

Deal of Garza would net formidable group of Cubs prospects

Other teams knew the Rays were going to trade Matt Garza. Now, this was not akin to the Royals having to trade Zack Greinke because Greinke had let it known to the club and teams with whom he met before the Winter Meetings that he wasn't going to Spring Training with Kansas City and that the markets in which he could and would play were limited. Washington was willing to take the chance, but Greinke wouldn't sign a long-term deal because the right-hander didn't know if he'd like it.

So by the beginning of this week, the Rays' trade partners for a potential Garza deal had been narrowed down to the Rangers and Cubs, who own two of the deepest farm systems in the game.

Texas could complete a deal that would have more impact for 2011. But if, at the end of the season, the Rays had finished in third or fourth place in the American League East, they weren't certain as to what they would have left. So general manager Andrew Friedman, who listens to his scouts and not the pop culture ratings of prospects, went with what he felt was the highest long-term ceiling.

The Rays love Chris Archer. Is he Kyle Drabek? Probably not. Is he Casey Kelly? Maybe. He was 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA between Class A and Double-A in 2010, with 139 strikeouts in 142 innings, six homers allowed, a .199 average from right-handed hitters and a 92- to 95-mph fastball with life.

Robinson Chirinos may be 26, but he's a converted infielder whom the Rays compare to Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz; his numbers between Double-A and Triple-A were very good -- .326 average, .999 OPS, 18 homers, 46 extra-base hits, 44 walks, 43 strikeouts. The Rays believe Brandon Guyer -- who batted .344 with 24 steals in Double-A -- is an off-the-charts makeup guy. And that shortstop Hak-Ju Lee may be farthest away, but with Starlin Castro, the Cubs had a top young shortstop already in the Major Leagues.

And though the trade sends Fernando Perez to the Cubs, his inclusion makes this one of the most intellectual deals -- Perez for Sam Fuld, American Studies at Columbia for psychology at Stanford, and for the preppies out there, The Peddie School for Exeter.

The Rangers were the other team in it to the end. They thought they could get Chirinos from the Cubs, then package him with left-handed pitcher Derek Holland, reliever Frank Francisco and outfielder Engel Beltre, plus pay some of Francisco's contract. Friedman sees everything in the long term, and he thought that in 2012 and '13 -- when Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and Archer could be an extremely formidable front three -- the Rays would have a better chance to keep their window open.

This deal speaks volumes about the job general manager Jim Hendry and scouting director Tim Wilken have done building back the Cubs system, as Boston's deal for Adrian Gonzalez spoke for its scouting and development. And for those who can sit in the back seat and second-guess online, remember this -- seldom has this Rays management team made bad decisions.

Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.