It has taken us 9 long parts and until the day of the trade deadline to finish, but here’s our final post discussing the moves the Rays have made as sellers at the trade deadline. We’ll talk about two deals made in 2007, just one year before the incredible run of 2008.
This trade seemed like a complete afterthought at the time, a trade of one struggling middle reliever for another. But the acquisition of Balfour happened to be one of the many things that had to go right for the Rays’ 2008 season to be as good as it was.
McClung, 26 at the time of the deal, had seen time both as a starter and a reliever for the Rays in 2005 and 2006, going just 13-23 with a 6.44 ERA, a 6.4 K/9, a 5.5 BB/9, a 1.4 HR/9, and actually 6 saves in 32 starts, 41 relief appearances, and 212.1 IP. He spent all of his time with the D-Rays in 2007 at Triple-A, and he did post a 1.99 ERA in 40 appearances, but while his K/9 was 10.4 and his homer rate was 0.5 per 9 innings, his BB/9 was ghastly 6.4. McClung threw a nice fastball in the mid-90’s, but his secondary pitches never really developed, with his best one being an 11-to-5 curveball that he struggled mightily to locate.
Balfour, 29, had been a semi-effective reliever for the Minnesota Twins in 2003 and 2004, going 5-1 with a 4.27 ERA, a 9.9 K/9, a 4.8 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 in 53 appearances and 65.1 IP. But he missed all of 2005 and 2006 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, and he struggled with the Brewers in 2007, posting a 20.25 ERA in 3 appearances. But Balfour was pitching extremely well during his time at Triple-A in 2007, posting a 1.87 ERA, a 14.1 K/9, a 3.1 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 32 relief appearances. Balfour was a relatively similar pitcher to McClung, throwing a mid-90’s fastball and an inconsistent breaking ball, although his was a slider, but the difference was his track record and his control.
Andrew Friedman and the Rays saw that McClung had no value as a pitcher, and in exchange for him, they managed to get at the very least a serviceable major league reliever. It was an excellent low risk trade, and the results were incredible. Balfour struggled to the tune of a 6.14 ERA the rest of 2007 with the Rays, but he was incredible in 2008, going 6-2 with a 1.54 ERA, a 12.7 K/9, a 3.7 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 51 appearances, and after posting just a 4.81 ERA in 2009, Balfour was great again in 2010, posting a 2.28 ERA, a 9.1 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 57 appearances. Balfour departed as a free agent following the 2010 season, and the Rays thanked him on the way out for two tremendous years. He has since been great in 2011 and 2012 for the Oakland Athletics. McClung, meanwhile, was actually pretty decent for the Brewers between the end of 2007 and 2008, going 6-7 with a 3.99 ERA, a 7.5 K/9, a 4.6 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 39 relief appearances, 12 starts, and 117.1 IP, but he collapsed to a 4.94 ERA in 41 appearances in 2009 as his strikeout to walk ratio was just 40-39 and his HR/9 was 1.6, and he has been hit hard at Triple-A for the Rangers in 2011 and then back with the Brewers for 2012. This trade was very under-the-radar, but this was one of Friedman’s best trades. No one thought Balfour would be quite as good as he was, but he was a marked upgrade compared to McClung, and the difference between the two turned out to be staggering.
This deal was actually the more notable D-Rays deal on July 28th, 2007 as they dealt Cantu, who had slammed 28 home runs back in 2005. Cantu, just 25 at the time of this deal, had been terrible in 2006, posting just a .249/.295/.404 line (80 OPS+) with 14 homers, and he was even worse in 2007 as he had seen time at Triple-A, hitting just .205 with only 1 homer in 25 major league games and 65 plate appearances. Friedman held on to Cantu in 2006 clearly hoping that he would rebound in 2007, but that did not happen by any stretch.
Cumberland, 22, was an afterthought outfielder who was terrible at Double-A in 2007, posting just a .246/.303/.347 line with 6 home runs and just 3 of 11 stolen bases. He had been excellent at High-A in 2006, posting just a .258/.316/.396 line, but with 16 home runs, 98 RBI, and 29 of 38 stolen bases. Primarily a right fielder, Cumberland’s flaws were zero plate discipline, poor instincts on the basepaths, and a strong, but extremely erratic right fielder’s arm.
Shackelford, 30, had gotten off to a nice start to his professional career as a situational lefty with the Reds in 2005, posting a 2.43 ERA, a 5.2 K/9, a 2.7 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 37 appearances. He had also seen major league time with the Reds in 2006, but he posted just a 7.16 ERA, an 8.3 K/9, a 5.3 BB/9, and a 2.2 HR/9 (gasp) in 26 appearances. He had recovered a little bit at Triple-A in 2007, posting a 4.91 ERA, a 3.9 K/9, a 3.6 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 41 appearances. The Rays had to hope he could recover to be at least a passable lefty middle reliever.
Medlock, 24, was another right-handed reliever, but he threw in just the high-80’s with his fastball a couple of inconsistent secondary offerings in a curveball and a changeup. In 2006, he posted a 2.97 ERA, a 9.9 K/9, a 4.0 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 42 relief appearances at Double-A, but he sputtered to a 5.62 ERA and just a 17-14 strikeout to walk ratio after being promoted to Triple-A in 2007.
Cantu had completely fallen off a cliff and Friedman was trying to get anything he could get for him. He managed to trade Cantu and an afterthought in Cumberland for a couple of relievers with a chance to be major league contributors. Cumberland had shown solid results as a situational lefty in the past and Friedman hoped that he could recover that, and Medlock did show some flashes with his curveball and changeup and even in terms of his fastball velocity. This trade turned out pretty bad for both sides. Cumberland and Medlock amounted to nothing for the Rays, and same story with Cumberland for the Reds while Cantu broke out, but only after the Reds non-tendered him in 2007, hitting 29 homers for the Marlins in 2009 and hitting just 16 homers but driving in 100 for the Marlins in 2010. He then proceeded to fall off a cliff again after he was dealt to the Texas Rangers at the 2011 trade deadline.
In this trade, Friedman tried to do exactly what he did with the Balfour deal: turn players who were going nowhere into major league contributors. Unfortunately, the players he acquired did not pan out at all and this trade was forgotten. Friedman had to view this as another low-risk play. It turned out that Cantu had some ability left, but no one had any idea what to make of him, and nobody still does. In trades like this, general managers take shots at players hoping that they can return to their previous caliber of play. The simple truth is that some work and some don’t. The Balfour trade where Balfour became a ridiculous reliever for the Rays for a couple of seasons is certainly the exception, not the rule. But when you throw enough darts, one of them has to hit the bullseye. Friedman took two shots on July 28th, 2007, and while one trade was forgotten, one trade turned into exactly the type of lift the Rays needed for 2008.
Maybe the Rays don’t make a blockbuster trade at this year’s deadline. But they could make an under-the-radar deal, and you never know how it could turn out.