When two teams make a trade, they don’t have the benefit of hindsight. In a trade for a contract-year player at the deadline, the acquiring team is taking the risk that the player they’re trading for may get hurt, but the dealing team doesn’t really care what happens to the player after they get the return they were looking for. In every trade, both teams take risks, and they hope that the potential reward is enough to outweigh them. But what if there was a way to make a trade fairer and less risky for both teams? In the Jesse Crain deal, the Rays and White Sox are coming as close to that as you’re ever going to see. Because while every deadline deal is a risk-reward assessment in the moment, the Rays and White Sox will actually have the benefit of hindsight as they negotiate what the White Sox will get for Crain following the season.
Jesse Crain is currently on the DL with a shoulder strain. Teams usually don’t like acquiring injured players, and when they do, they’re willing to give up significantly less. Crain, though, is far from your average hurt reliever. In 36.2 innings pitched before he got hurt, Crain put up a 0.74 ERA and a 1.51 FIP, dominating hitters game after game and emerging as one of the best relief arms in baseball. But for a trade to work, two things would have to be different than a typical trade: the acquiring team, the Rays, would have to protection over the pre-existing injury while the dealing team, the White Sox, would need realistic compensation should Crain come back healthy. If the White Sox were going to get next to nothing for Crain, they were better off waiting until he was healthy, putting him on trade waivers, and negotiated a deal with whichever team claimed him. So what the Rays and White Sox decided to do was make the trade and worry about the compensation when they see how the rest of the season plays out.
In this trade, there are a lot more variables than any other comparable deal. Every reliever has a chance to get hurt or pitch badly, but in this case we have to wonder how long it is before Crain comes back and whether he comes back anywhere near as dominant as he was pre-injury. The Rays can’t be sure exactly what they’re getting in Crain. So rather than put an arbitrary price on an unknown quantity, they’ll see what they end up getting before analyzing what he was worth at the time in retrospect. The White Sox will not end up getting a top prospect in this trade, but they could end up getting a solid prospect with some potential, about as much as they would have gotten had they dealt him in August. If Crain never really gets healthy, they’ll get cash and feel lucky that they got anything for a player that got hurt. The trade is going to be a win-win for both teams no matter what happens. How often can you say that? Although we can’t be quite sure of what it will turn into, congratulations to Andrew Friedman, Kenny Williams, and the entire Rays and White Sox organizations and making the first truly fair trade in baseball history.