Things change for the Rays day by day in terms of what they’re gong to do at the 2012 MLB Trade Deadline. Are they on the verge of a blockbuster trade dealing away key pieces of their ballclub? Will they make moves aimed towards readying their team for a pennant run? If the Rays do sell, they better pull off moves like they did in 2006. That year is especially important because unlike the first 5 parts of this series, now we’re talking about moves made by Andrew Friedman and the new Rays regime. Right now we’ll discuss Friedman’s first trade deadline deal.
Friedman’s first deadline trade isn’t exactly his most memorable. But delving deeper, it was exactly the type of Friedman trade baseball has become accustomed to.
Hall, 30 when this trade happened, was a backup catcher type with good defense and a little pop that started for the Devil Rays for parts of five seasons because the Rays frankly had no better option. He posted a .262/.298/.382 line during his time with the D-Rays, topping out at 12 homers in 2003 and 60 RBI in 2004. In 2004 prior to the trade, Hall posted just a .231/.261/.398 line, but slammed 8 home runs in 64 games. The Dodgers had Russell Martin starting at catcher for them, but they had a burning desire for a backup catcher with some pop and Hall gave them that.
Hendrickson, 32, improbably managed back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the Devil Rays in 2004 and 2005, even going 12-10 in 2005 despite a 5.90 ERA. In 2006 before the trade, Hendrickson actually was pitching well, going 4-8 but with a 3.81 ERA in 13 starts and 89.2 IP, averaging nearly 7 innings a start, and Friedman capitalized by trading Hendrickson at his peak value.
Navarro, 22, was a solid catching prospect in the Yankees system who stood out most for his plate discipline and defense, and then had the unfortunate opportunity of being traded twice in the same day, first to the Diamondbacks in the Randy Johnson deal, and then from the Diamondbacks to the Dodgers in the Shawn Green trade. In 2005, Navarro spent much of the season as the Dodgers’ backup catcher, posting a .273/.354/.375 line with 9 doubles, 3 homers, and 14 RBI in 50 games and 199 PAs, walking 20 times versus 21 strikeouts but posting a below-average 21% CS%. In 2006, Navarro was named the Dodgers’ starting catcher, but after managing a .280/.372/.387 line with 2 doubles, 2 homers, and 8 RBI in 25 games, Navarro suffered a wrist injury and was replaced by Russell Martin, who quickly became a star. Navarro was sent to Triple-A after coming off the DL and that’s where he was at the time of this deal.
And the only player in the trade without big league experience was Ruggiano, 24, who had been the Dodgers’ 25th round pick in 2004. Ruggiano played very well in his first professional season in 2005 as he worked his way from High-A to Double-A, posting a .323/.409/.521 line with 25 doubles, 5 triples, 15 homers, 66 RBI, and 24 of 32 stolen bases in 124 games. He was playing pretty well back at Double-A in 2006, posting a .260/.367/.435 line in 89 games with 18 doubles, 9 homers, 45 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 89 games. Ruggiano never had great plate discipline and swung and missed a lot, but his power and speed gave him a chance to become a big league 4th outfielder.
The Rays managed to trade Hall, who was eligible as a free agent following the season, and Hendrickson, who had just one year remaining, to get a younger catcher in Navarro who had already logged big league time and had a chance to be better than Hall ever was, Seo, who had a better track record than Hendrickson and was a few years young, and a decent prospect in Ruggiano. This wasn’t an exciting trade, but Friedman took calculated gambles on Navarro and Seo that they would be better than Hall and Hendrickson, and the gamble was even more worthwhile because Hall and Hendrickson were heading out the door. Friedman took rapidly decaying assets and turned them into a couple of players with the potential to be as good players or better for less money and for many more years along with Ruggiano, who wasn’t anything special but had the ability to be a big league contributor. This wasn’t a flashy trade by Friedman but it was an astute one and he came out ahead.
Hall played in just 21 games the the Dodgers, although he did hit .368, before finishing his career with the White Sox in 2008 at age 32. Hendrickson posted a 5.01 ERA in 57 appearances, 27 starts, for the Dodgers from 2006 to 2007 before moving on to finish his career in mediocrity with the Marlins in 2008 and then the Orioles from 2009 to 2011. Seo never recovered from his horrific stint with the Dodgers, posting a 6.15 ERA in 26 starts and 2 relief appearances for the D-Rays between 2006 and 2007. Navarro would up spending 5 years with the Rays, including 3 years as their starting catcher, peaking with a .295/.349/.407 line in 2008 to go along with an All-Star appearance and a .293 batting average with 4 doubles and 5 RBI in the playoffs. He returned to the Dodgers as a backup catcher in 2011 and Navarro, still just 28 years old, is currently mashing (.337 BA) at Triple-A in the Reds system hoping for another big league chance. And Ruggiano surfaced as a bench player for the Rays, playing 98 games with the team between 2007, 2008, and 2011 and posting a .226/.262/.359 line with 8 doubles and 6 homer runs in 207 plate appearances, but he has been great in 2012 for the Miami Marlins, posting a .367/.430/.683 line with 15 doubles, 7 homers, 19 RBI, and 7 of 12 stolen bases in 44 games and 137 plate appearances (a limited sample size) since being acquired from the Houston Astros (who had signed him as a free agent) in late May.
In this first deadline traded carried out by Friedman we see him making a play for modest upside at catcher and starting pitcher at little risk. The worst-case scenario in this trade was that Hall had a great second half for the Dodgers, Hendrickson proved that his 3.81 ERA from the first half in 2006 was no fluke and he was a solid number 4 for the Dodgers for a season and a half, while none of the players the Rays acquired panned out. No matter what, the D-Rays weren’t contending anyway and keeping Hall and Hendrickson was completely pointless. If Friedman was lucky, Navarro was going to become a solid big league starting catcher, Seo was going to rediscover his previous effectiveness with the Mets and be a good back-of-the-rotation option, and Ruggiano was going to be a valuable big league bench player while Hall and Hendrickson amounted to nothing with the Dodgers. The best-case scenario didn’t happen. But the D-Rays gave up two afterthought players for a catcher in Navarro whose aberrant breakout helped lead the Rays to the World Series and another player in Ruggiano who hit 4 big home runs in 2012 to help the Rays win every single one of the games they needed to make the playoffs.
The Rays undoubtedly won this trade.This isn’t one of those trades where you can say “Wow, they traded washed-up veterans and got a couple prospect who turned into a stars.” But they received subtle yet crucial benefits that contributed to the success of their ballclub. In his first deadline deal, Andrew Friedman was vintage.