ST. PETERSBURG - As it turned out, unveiling the plans for a new ballpark was merely the opening act for the Rays on Wednesday.
Hours after the much-anticipated stadium proposal was finally laid out to the public, Tampa Bay finalized a blockbuster deal that sent right fielder Delmon Young and two other players to the Minnesota Twins for a package headed by starting pitcher Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett.
Also Wednesday night, the Rays appeared on the verge of signing free-agent reliever Troy Percival to help stabilize a bullpen that was the worst in baseball in 2007.
The trade with Minnesota was a rare swap of young players with All-Star potential. The Rays gave up a lot in Young, the top overall pick in the 2003 draft who was the runner-up in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2007. They also sent the Twins infielder Brendan Harris and minor-league outfielder Jason Pridie.
In return, though, they filled a pair of immediate needs with Garza and Bartlett. Garza, a 24-year-old right-hander who was USA Today's Minor-League Player of the Year in 2006, will slot in alongside Scott Kazmir and James Shields in the Rays' rotation and the team expects him to grow into a top-end starter. As for Bartlett, Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman immediately declared him the team's Opening Day shortstop for 2008. The Rays also got minor-league reliever Eduardo Morlan in the deal.
The move was a significant departure from the Rays' age-old ways in that it was designed to improve the team immediately.
"This trade is about the present and not the future," Friedman said. "We're a better ballclub because of this trade and we feel like with these two guys Garza and Bartlett it really allows us to move forward with a nucleus in place for many years."
Friedman didn't sound overly concerned about parting with Young, saying only that to get players you want, "in return you've got to give up a lot and we feel like we did that with all three guys we gave up."
Despite the remarkable all-around talent and work ethic Young brings to the field, he will carry some baggage with him to Minnesota.
Based on the reactions of fans in opposing stadiums, the bat-tossing incident from 2006 remains the first image of Young that comes to mind for many outside the Tampa Bay area. Young appeared to have left those issues behind him in his first full season in the majors until the final weekend of the season, when he clashed with Joe Maddon in Toronto after the manager pulled him from a game for not running hard to first base. An angry Young said afterward that he wouldn't play in the next day's season finale, but he apologized to Maddon the following day and came in as a mid-game replacement for his 162nd appearance of the season.
Maddon said Wednesday night there were no hard feelings and he wished Young well with the Twins.
"I think he was happy last year," Maddon said. "I think a lot of the things about the discontent occurred in the past. Outside of the little thing we had at end of season, he was fine. I have no complaints about Delmon - he showed up early every day, did extra work, played in every game. People are going to look for all these different reasons, but he's fine and he's going to do fine in Minnesota."
Young did not return a message left on his cell phone Wednesday night.
His departure leaves the Rays with a void in right field and Friedman said the team will explore internal and external candidates to fill it. If the Rays don't sign or acquire a right fielder later this off-season, they could use some combination of Rocco Baldelli, Jonny Gomes and perhaps Elijah Dukes there in 2008.
The infield, however, appears relatively settled. It remains to be seen whether top prospect Evan Longoria will break camp as the third baseman, but he undoubtedly will take over the position before too long. That would put Akinori Iwamura at second base next to Carlos Pena. With Bartlett at short, Josh Wilson or Ben Zobrist probably will slide into the utility role that would have been fallen to Harris.
Adding Percival would be a big step toward shoring up the Rays' bullpen, whether or not the 38-year-old supplants Al Reyes as the closer.
Percival's agent, Paul Cohen, said Wednesday night that the pitcher told him earlier in the day to get to work with two finalists for his services and try to get a deal done before the winter meetings open Monday. The Rays are one of the teams, and Percival likely would get a two-year contract.
Aside from the opportunity to close, the Rays would offer Percival a comfort zone. The pitcher spent a decade working alongside Maddon with the Angels and Cohen said the two maintain "a very close relationship."
Percival, a four-time All-Star, was 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 34 appearances for the Cardinals in 2007 after missing nearly two years following a forearm injury.