What the Rays will decide to do at the trade deadline this year is still up in the air, but since the Rays haven’t been a seller at the deadline in five years, it’s worth looking back at what the Rays have done as deadline sellers in the past. Today we’ll look back at a Devil Rays trade from 2001.
In the past two installments of this (here and here), we saw the Rays carry out a series of pretty strange trades, not all of which had the wrong idea, but which were never the usual style for deadline deals. This is a little more of a conventional trade, being 1 for 2. The problem: who the two players were.
McGriff, a two-time homer champion, was 37 years old at the time of this deal but was still playing extremely well, posting a .318/.387/.536 line at the time of the deal with 18 doubles, 19 homers, and 61 RBI in 97 games. He had pretty good trade value. What dd the D-Rays get for him? Very little.
What did the Rays possibly want with Manny Aybar? Aybar, 29 at that time, had walked more than he struck out in 22.2 innings for the Cubs in 2001 and other than a 26-game stint with the Marlins in 2000 following failed runs with the Rockies and Reds, he had never been successful in the big leagues in 168 appearances and 348.1 innings. He had been a solid prospect as recently in 1998, but his lack of success in the big leagues and advanced age had to be major red flags.
Smith sounds good in theory, a second baseman with power-speed potential to go along with good defense. But he never could make sufficient contact or walk enough to take advantage of his abilities. In 2000 at Double-A in the Cubs organization, Smith hit 22 doubles, 7 triples, and 12 homers and stole 16 bases. But his line was just .237/.273/.387 in 481 plate appearances. He struck out 130 times against just 22 walks. He had four nice tools, but his hit tool was non-existent. Smith was 23 at the time of the trade. But his critical flaw was too much for him to overcome.
This trade predictably turned out to be a complete and total disaster for the Devil Rays. Aybar struggled with his command at Triple-A and never appeared in a single game for the D-Rays before becoming a free agent after 2001. He experienced brief success with the Giants in 2002 but appeared in the majors sparingly after that and was out of baseball by 2006. Smith played in just 27 games for the D-Rays, stealing 3 of 3 bases and slamming 4 extra-base hits, 2 triples, a homer, and a double, but he posted just a .203/.225/.319 line and bounced around a few other teams until 2009, never playing 70 games in a major league season. McGriff, meanwhile, managed a .276/.361/.518 line in 195 games for the Cubs in 2001 and 2002, slamming 30 homers and driving in 103 in his final great season in ’02. The D-Rays re-signed him in 2004, but by then he was washed up.
The D-Rays sold their big slugger and got nothing back. That’s not the correct formula for a trade like this by any stretch. As a team, you don’t sell just because you’re a losing and you’re supposed to sell. You sell because you believe that the players acquired will help your ballclub turn its poor performance around in the future. The D-Rays acquired two flawed players in this trade that were doomed from the start. If the Rays trade one of their stars, they will only do so for a package of players much more promising than the not-so-dynamic duo of players we see here.