As the September stretch drive approached, the Rays made one final move in an attempt to add some run production, acquiring outfielder Ben Francisco from the Houston Astros in exchange for left-handed reliever Theron Geith. This trade looks like an automatic failure for the Rays because they failed to make the postseason and Francisco will be non-tendered in November, meaning that they basically gave up Geith for one month of Francisco. How much will the Rays regret this trade?
Francisco played decently for the Rays in September, posting a .228/.270/.421 line (91 OPS+) with 5 doubles, 2 homers, and 8 RBI in 24 games. He received some starts in right field in place of Matthew Joyce and at least offensively he was better as Joyce managed just a .187/.291/.360 line. But was it such a good thing that Francisco was playing over Joyce? Both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs have Francisco’s contribution to the Rays as slightly negative, -0.1 and -0.2 wins above replacement respectively. Francisco was halfway-decent offensively, but whatever he provided he essentially gave back with his defense. And although Joyce was probably worse, you never know whether he could have finally hit his stride if he was given the starts that Francisco took from him. There’s basically no good way to spin Francisco’s time with the Rays. He gave them nothing.
The cost of the Rays taking a shot with Francisco was Geith, 23, the Rays’ 39th round pick in 2011. Geith, a 6’5″, 175 lefty, was unequivocally great this season, going 0-3 with a 2.98 ERA, an 8.1 K/9, a 1.8 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 31 relief appearances. Minor League Central also had his groundball rate at a robust 48.0%. Why would the Rays get rid of someone like that? The obvious answer is pure stuff, which isn’t too special. Geith appears to have projection remaining, but right now his fastball is just in the high-80’s. He does get a solid downward plane on it and commands it decently, but it’s nothing much. Geith’s best offering is his low-80’s slider, which features sharp, tight break and forced quite a few swings-and-misses this season. However, Geith’s poor fastball forces him to throw it so often and more advanced hitters will be able to recognize more easily and lay off, putting Geith in a bind. He also throws a changeup, but that hasn’t made much progress. Worst-case scenario, Geith becomes a situational lefty someday.
This isn’t a case where the Rays foolishly gave up a pitcher throwing in the mid-90’s for a month of a backup outfielder. Geith has just modest potential and the Rays were willing to risk that in exchange for a player they thought could help them make the playoffs. It didn’t work out, but the cost here certainly was not that high. The Rays lost this trade, but they had the right idea, trading an unimpressive prospect for a player in Francisco who had shown some ability in the past, slamming 15 homers in 2008 and 2009, and the Rays hoped he would be electrified by the thought of going from the last place team in baseball in the Astros to a contender, the Rays. In the end, the Rays lost this trade. But when you take enough calculated risks, some will work out, and maybe the next trade like this the Rays make will make a positive impact in the Rays’ performance and help them secure a playoff berth this coming season. Just because this trade looks bad now doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right move at the time. When Andrew Friedman sees another opportunity for a low-risk gamble, he’ll take it knowing that next time might turn it better.