Only Time Will Tell

Jason Bay

Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman was not willing to meet the Pittsburgh Pirates' asking price. There is no way that the Rays would have matched what they received, says Tyler Hissey. And while the club will get criticized for not making any moves, a verdict on the decision not to give up Wade Davis or Jeremy Hellickson to make any other moves will not be reached for years

An MLB.com report that said the Tampa Bay Rays acquired All-Star outfielder Jason Bay from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for minor league prospects Reid Brignac and Jeff Niemann turned out to be false. With Tampa Bay fans jumping for joy on the Internet on sites like this very one right here, it appeared as if the Rays had finally landed the impact right-handed hitter who they desperately need.

A deal, however, was never reached, as Tampa Bay Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would not back down to meet the Pirates' asking price of a high-level pitching prospect along the lines of Wade Davis or Jeremy Hellickson. With all signs pointing towards Bay remaining a Pirate if a deal with the Rays did not occur, it seemed likely that Pittsburgh general manger Neal Huntington would eventually agree to a deal for two legitimate prospects in Brignac and Niemann.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, though, the Rays did not make or receive an offer about the aforementioned pair, and the Pirates were more interested in Hellickson.

Brignac profiles as an above-average major league shortstop defensively and has plus power potential. While his on-base skills leave a bit to be desired, he has the chance to turn into a quality player in the majors. The 22-year-old, who recently made his debut with Tampa Bay, was considered off limits until the report.

Niemann, a former first-round pick out of Rice University, was once one of the top pitching prospects in the minors. However, his star has dimmed as a number of injuries have delayed his progress. One of the tallest professional pitchers out there, he potentially could have joined the Pirates' starting rotation immediately if a deal had been reached. He is still only the fifth-best pitching prospect in the Rays' organization—though he would be ranked higher in other systems—but has the chance to make an impact for the Rays later this season.

Huntington and his staff were asking for an "elite" arm in return, with their eye on Hellickson, a 21-year-old right-hander who was dominant in the Florida State League this spring. After a long day of discussions, he did not budge from his demands. He waited for a better offer for a proven slugger like Bay, who does not become a free agent until after the 2009 season.

And, as it turns out, Huntington ended up receiving a much better package in the three-player deal with the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers at the last minute.

After deciding not to make any deadline deals and then watching Bay come into the division, Tampa Bay will now have to rely on internal reinforcements Rocco Baldelli and David Price. Baldelli, making steady progress in Double-A, is expected to join the team next week. It would be unwise to count on him to be a huge difference maker, given his past. Anything they get from him will be a bonus.

Thus, Triple-A Durham outfielder Justin Ruggiano will be in the mix as well.

Price, the top pitching prospect in the minors, will provide a huge boost to the Tampa Bay pitching staff.

The Rays almost landed Bay, but were not willing to pay the price in prospects. Friedman and the organization will surely get criticized for not budging on Davis or Hellickson or making any moves on Thursday. In reality, however, only time will tell if they made the right choice. Davis or Hellickson could turn into a star alongside Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza and Price, making near the minimum for several years.

One thing that was clear during this draft, though, is that organizations are now valuing their prospects—assets, essentially—more than ever. When replacement-level major leaguers such as Carlos Silva are making millions in exchange for mediocre on-field results, perhaps this is the right choice.

To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.

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