The Winter Meetings is the time when baseball’s hot stove really heats up and big trades and free agent signings seem to happen one after another. Andrew Friedman and the Rays, however, have a penchant for carrying out trades at unconventional times. Their big trade of Matt Garza to the Cubs was in January of 2011, and they traded Scott Kazmir in late August of 2009. Even when they make moves around December, they seem to always happen before or after the Winter Meetings. The Rays initially acquired Garza along with Jason Bartlett in the Delmon Young trade the week before the Winter Meetings in 2007 before trading Bartlett the week after the 2010 Meetings. But that’s not to say that the Rays never do anything at the Winter Meetings, and when they have made moves, they happened to be quite interesting.
On December 3, 2007, the Rays traded outfielder Elijah Dukes to the Washington Nationals for right-handed pitching prospect Glenn Gibson. The Rays knew Dukes was talented- but they also knew that his attitude problems made him enigmatic and also reduced the morale of his teammates. They decided to deal him, receiving a good pitching prospect in Gibson in return with a solid sinker, a plus changeup, and a good curveball. Gibson never panned out in the Rays organization and they wound up releasing him, but it showed us that the Rays were willing to take risks to put together a winning ballclub even if meant trading promising players.
On December 10, 2008, the Rays dealt right-hander Edwin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Matt Joyce. Jackson was a 25 year old right-hander with electric stuff coming off a 14-win season, albeit with a 4.42 ERA, and the Rays were willing to trade him for a promising outfielder in Joyce, but one who had just debuted in the big leagues in 2008. Most teams have a bias toward their guys and even when they struggle, they keep with them seeing their promise. But the Rays knew that there was no guarantee that Jackson would improve and that they had plenty of pitching depth with bigger needs elsewhere*, and they were willing to pull the trigger even though casual fans would not believe that they would trade a pitcher who tied for their team lead in wins. The winner of that trade is debatable, but when you consider that the Rays had plenty of pitching and Joyce gave them a huge offensive season in 2011 and strong performance in 2010 and 2012 as well, the Rays definitely are happy with their end of the deal.
*Sure, the Rays have pitching depth and bigger needs elsewhere now as well, but they don’t have a pitcher anywhere near as enigmatic as Jackson was in 2012 and are confident that all their starters can pitch well for them next season if they are retained and don’t feel a need to sell-high.
Those two moves were vintage moves the Rays would make, taking calculated risks to give their team the best long-term reward. The move they made on December 11, 2009 was quite a bit more surprising as they traded Jesse Chavez, who they had just acquired in November for Akinori Iwamura, to the Atlanta Braves for Rafael Soriano and signed him to a one-year, 7.25 million dollar contract. Soriano was coming off a great season for the Braves in 2009, posting a 2.97 ERA, a 102-27 strikeout to walk ratio, and 27 saves, but he had made just 14 appearances in 2008 after dealing with injury problems all year and then undergoing surgery on his right pitching elbow to remove bone spurs. If Soriano had gotten hurt again, the Rays would have been in trouble. Instead, they took a chance knowing that they needed an effective late inning arm to contend after J.P. Howell was lost to the year to shoulder surgery, and the results were remarkable as Soriano posted a 1.73 ERA and 45 saves to help the Rays win the AL East division title.
The Winter Meetings presents the Rays with plenty opportunities for potential deals. Most of the time, they don’t take them for a variety of reasons. But in these trades, the Rays saw opportunities for upside and seized them, something they did once again today when they signed James Loney. The Rays don’t carry out trades during the Winter Meetings if they think that they can find a better value at a later time. But if the right player becomes available or the offer comes along, anything can happen and it will be interesting to see exactly what will.