The Rays have yet to decide whether they will be buyers or sellers at this year’s trade deadline. Hopefully their win Tuesday was the start of a turnaround and we’ll laugh at the thought of the Rays ever selling, but we’ll have to see how things play out. The Rays haven’t been a position where they have needed to sell at the deadline in quite a while, since 2007. But how have they done as sellers at the deadline in the past? Let’s go through every “selling” trade the Rays have ever made, assess the players who were traded and acquired, and then talk about how the trade turned out for the Rays and the other teams involved.
The first year that the Rays ever really sold at the deadline was 2000, when they made three moves. The D-Rays finally realized that they weren’t going to be winning anytime soon and could get good value for their best players at the deadline as opposed to letting them leave as free agents. Let’s see how GM Chuck LaMar and the D-Rays did.
This trade was a pretty weird instance of selling because the Rays traded two players and received just one in return, but you have to understand the players involved before we understand this trade. Mecir was having a good year for the D-Rays out of the ‘pen, going 7-2 with a 3.08 ERA in 38 relief appearances (although his strikeout-to-walk ratio was just 33-22), and he had posted a 14-5 record and a 3.03 ERA for the D-Rays from 1998-2000 (with a better 125-69 strikeout to walk ratio). The A’s needed bullpen help and they were willing to deal a pretty good prospect in Colome, a hard-throwing right-hander with an electric fastball and solid slider, to make that deal happen. But needing another bullpen piece, they also asked the D-Rays to give them mediocre prospect Todd Belitz, who had a chance to be a situational lefty. The D-Rays were happy to oblige. The D-Rays dealt a major league bullpen piece and a questionable minor league reliever in exchange for a pitching prospect with the upside to help their team a lot more. It was a strange deal, but LaMar had the right idea. As it turned out, Mecir was a solid reliever for the A’s for the next five years, Belitz was a waste of time, and Colome wound up as a hard-throwing but inconsistent reliever. The A’s clearly won this trade, but it was grounded in principle for the D-Rays.
Another unconventional deadline deal, and this one was flat-out idiotic for LaMar and the Devil Rays. The whole situation with Trammell was one of the most poorly-handled in Rays history. Trammell, selected in the expansion draft from the Tigers (despite having hit 33 minor league home runs in 1996 and 28 in 1997), had a nice major league stint in 1998 for the D-Rays as a 26 year old, posting a .286/.338/.568 line with 18 doubles, 12 homers, and 35 RBI in 216 plate appearances. Then, for no apparent reason, the Rays kept him in the minors in 1999 until June, and then we he came up he showed that his 1998 performance was no fluke, posting a .290/.384/.505 line with 19 doubles, 14 homers, and 39 RBI in 328 plate appearances. At that point, the D-Rays may have thought that he would be a part of the future of the team. In 1999, they finally started him on the big league roster and he got off to a pretty good start, posting a .275/.352/.466 line with 11 doubles, 7 homers, and 33 RBI in 213 plate appearances. He was still cheap, just in his first arbitration season, and at 28 years old, the D-Rays had control over him for his prime years at age 29 and age 30. And yet they traded him for peanuts in this deal.
White was a decent reliever who had posted a 3.41 ERA in 44 appearances with a 47-26 strikeout to walk ratio in 71.1 IP. It made sense to trade him. But listen to what the Rays got for Trammell and White: Jason Tyner, a player with one tool, speed, and he wasn’t even primarily a centerfielder! It took Tyner, the Mets’ first round pick in 1998, 10 professional seasons to hit a home run! At his absolute best, Tyner was an outfield tweener who could steal some bases. And then you have Wilson. Wilson was the number one overall pick by the Mets back in 1994. He had some very nice ability at one point with a dominating fastball-slider combo, but had a terrible rookie season in 1996, going 5-12 with a 5.38 ERA in 26 starts and 149 IP, managing just a 109-71 strikeout to walk ratio, and he hadn’t been in the big leagues since then after several arm injuries. He was already 27 years old and only in 2000 did he finally round himself anywhere near back into form in the minor leagues. He was damaged goods, and he wasn’t young. That’s not a great combination. So here’s the trade: good-hitting outfielder entering his prime and solid relief pitcher for a questionable outfield prospect and an oft-injured ex-number one pick who wasn’t young anymore. What a disaster for the Devil Rays.
As it turned out, everyone lost this trade, although the Mets get the slight edge in my mind as they lost a little bit less. Trammell didn’t play well for the Mets down the stretch in 2000, so they traded him to the San Diego Padres, where he broke out with a 25 home run, 92 RBI season. He slammed 17 more home runs in 2002 for San Diego, but his career was derailed by depression. But that was something that you can’t blame anyone for. Trammell playing well in his prime? That was pretty predictable and the D-Rays and the Mets both missed horribly on that. White pitched fine for the Mets the rest of 2000 and in 2001, and then became a free agent and his career fell apart as he bounced from team to team. Now to the players that the D-Rays acquired. Tyner managed to hit .280 and steal 31 of 36 bases in 2001 fo the D-Rays, but his OBP was just .311 and that was his only good season in the big leagues. Wilson actually stayed healthy, but he was a below-average pitcher over the next three years for the Rays, going 15-25 with a 4.66 ERA, a 6.1 K/9, a 3.1 BB/9, and a 1.2 HR/9 (4.72 FIP) in 78 appearances, 61 starts, and 396 IP including an unlikely 193.2 inning season in 2002 for the D-Rays. He had his breakout year in 2003 after signing with the Reds as a free agent, going 11-6 with a 4.36 ERA, but his career trailed off after that.
Maybe it made sense for the D-Rays to trade Trammell as they were not contending. Trading White was a good idea for sure. But when you trade established players, you want prospects with upside. You don’t want a Quad-A player with a gaping hole in his game, his lack of power, and a washed-up pitcher who used to have some promise. LaMar almost definitely could have gotten a better package than this, and if he couldn’t he should have held on to them. Even when you’re selling, you don’t sell just because you feel like you have to, you sell because you see an opportunity to make moves that will help your team in the future. This trade does not nearly meet that criteria.
Another two veterans for one prospect deal? If this one had worked, I wouldn’t be complaining. Steve Trachsel was actually a sneaky-good free agent signing by LaMar and the D-Rays as they got him for one year and just 1 million dollars after he had made 5.25 million dollars the year before with the Cubs. Of course, in vintage D-Rays fashion, it didn’t pay off as Trachsel went 6-10 with a 4.58 ERA in the first half of 2000 as a 29 year old. But somehow LaMar managed to package him with 34 year old lefty reliever Mark Guthrie, who had managed just a 4.50 ERA in 34 appearances after the D-Rays had gotten him from the Cubs in a trade earlier in the season (yeah, two indirect Cubs connections in this trade, but there’s one more coming) and get Abernathy, a second base prospect with power-speed potential. This trade actually sounds great for the Devil Rays! Of course, it didn’t turn out that way.
The winner in this trade: the Mets, and it’s not even close. No, they were not involved with the trade, but listen to this. Trachsel pitched badly for the Jays the rest of 2000, but after the season he signed with the Mets as a free agent and proceeded to have the best six-season stretch of his career. Guthrie managed just a 4.79 ERA for the Jays, but in 2002 he ended up with the Mets and proceeded to have the best season of his career at age 36, going 5-3 with a 2.44 ERA, an 8.3 K/9, a 3.6 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 68 appearances and 48 IP. Guthrie’s last hurrah was actually with the Cubs in 2003, when he posted a 2.74 ERA in 65 appearances to end his 15-year career on a high note. And then there’s Abernathy. Abernathy managed just a .253/.304/.339 line with just 7 homers and 18 of 25 steals even as the D-Rays gave him 839 plate appearances between 2001 and 2002, and the D-Rays eventually exposed him to waivers. The final rankings for this trade: 1) Mets 2) Cubs T3) The other 26 teams T29) Devil Rays and Blue Jays. That takes skill.
As it turns out, ranting about Devil Rays trades can take up quite a few words, so we’ll continue this look back at the Rays’ history as sellers at the trade deadline over the next few days.