What gift will Andrew Friedman give the Rays this offseason?

Andrew Friedman has worked miracles before. He turned a forgettable trade, Aubrey Huff to the Astros for half a season, into franchise cornerstone Ben Zobrist. He traded Matt Garza to the Cubs and received several top prospects in return while allowing eventual AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson to take over a rotation spot. What’s will the “gift” trade that the Rays will make this offseason under Friedman’s leadership?

Well, these trades are hard to predict because most of the time they happen because Friedman takes advantage of another team’s desperation and that team forks over such a crazy package of players that no one could have seen the trade coming. That being said, here’s my best shot.

When we heard about the blockbuster Padres-Reds trade the other day, there was something conspicuously missing. Here was the trade:

San Diego Padres trade RHSP Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for 1B Yonder Alonso, C Yasmani Grandal, RHSP Edinson Volquez, and RHRP Brad Boxberger.

When I look at this trade, I’m surprised that the Padres didn’t acquire any young starting pitching. The Padres have already lost Latos, Aaron Harang, and Wade LeBlanc this offseason, leaving their current rotation as Tim Stauffer, Clayton Richards, Dustin Mosely, Cory Luebke, and Volquez. None of those pitchers are brand names by any stretch. In the upper minors, the Padres do have some nice prospects in Casey Kelly, Robbie Erlin, and Joe Wieland who are relatively close to the major leagues. But none of those prospects projects as an ace and neither do their top pitching prospects in the lower minors. Now that the Padres have acquired Alonso, they have a two first basemen who are just about major league ready and who could be their first baseman of the future. Especially since they play in the National League, where there’s no DH, there’s absolutely no reason for the Padres to keep both Alonso and their other top first base prospect, Anthony Rizzo. Could the Padres match up with the Rays for a possible Rizzo trade?

The Padres play in such a pitcher’s park at Petco that they really need to have a good rotation in order for it to be an advantage. If the Padres have decent pitchers, in any given game, the other team’s average pitchers will be just as good. Even if on the season the Padres’ pitchers will have a better ERA, if the playing field is even for every game, the Padres will almost definitely lose more than they win because their offense is nearly always worse than their oppositions’. Could the Padres acquire a pitcher with true ace potential in exchange for Rizzo.

Here’s a trade that does might make enough sense to get done, but could turn into a very one-sided trade in the Rays’ favor.

San Diego Padres trade 1B Anthony Rizzo to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for RHSP Jeff Niemann, RHSP Chris Archer, and OF Justin Ruggiano

Why this trade makes sense for the Padres: The Padres are trading away a player they have no need for anymore with Alonso in the fold and in return filling a bunch of differetn needs. They’re getting a proven yet cheap major league starter, giving them nice depth for the inevitable starting pitcher injury or in case Volquez continues to be a complete disaster. Archer is a potential ace-type pitcher. He has two plus-plus pitches in his arsenal, his fastball and his slider, and his changeup is also developing well. He struggled in 2011 and has experienced mixed results in the minor leagues, but maybe working more off his fastball and less off his slider while make him a more consistent performer. Ruggiano isn’t anything special, but he has nice power, something the Padres have a dearth of.

Why the trade makes sense for the Rays: They can spare one major league starting pitcher with Matt Moore 100% ready to dominate big league hitters, and they can also afford to give up Archer for the same reason. Ruggiano is a spare part and although he’s a decent player, he’s inconsequential to the future of the team.

Both teams give up nothing they can’t afford to give up and get things they need in return. But here’s why this trade could be so one-sided even though it appears completely fair. Rizzo was incredible at Triple-A in 2011, posting a .332/.404/.654 line with 34 doubles and 26 homers. He may very well be a better player than Alonso. His brief big league stint did not go so well, but he has the talent to be a good big league first baseman, exactly what the Rays need. For Niemann, something to think about is that Tropicana Field is a pitcher’s ballpark as well. When you use Baseball-Reference’s Neutralized Pitching tool to convert Niemann’s 2011 performance to Petco Park, his ERA actually goes up (admittedly that has to do with the Rays great defense). For Archer, he has the potential, but he may never figure it out. Even if does, the Rays won’t miss him because they have Moore and more.

Andrew Friedman is no Santa Clause. He doesn’t use his time and effort to meticulously deliver gifts all around the world. He’s a businessman, in it to give the Rays an advantage over the rest of baseball. We’ll have to see how he gives the Rays that advantage this offseason.

Tags: Andrew Friedman Anthony Rizzo Chris Archer Jeff Niemann

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