Rays’ Jesse Crain Trade Turns Into Heist for White Sox

The Rays were getting Jesse Crain, one of the best relievers in baseball, at a fraction of what he was worth. It was a vintage Andrew Friedman trade, a deal that seemed primed to go down as yet another stroke of genius. And then it totally backfired. The Rays got Crain from the White Sox so cheaply because he was on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. They thought he would get healthy. Instead, he never did, and he cost the Rays three players and cash for absolutely nothing.

The trade that was completed today saw the Rays send left-hander Sean Bierman and infielder Ben Kline to the White Sox. As David discussed earlier, Bierman was far from a top prospect but was not a non-entity either. Bierman, 24, is old for a player with just 21.1 innings above Low-A, but with excellent sink on his high-80′s fastball and a decent curveball as well, he had a chance to be a big leaguer in some capacity. Kline, meanwhile, is closer to an organizational player, showing a little raw power, good speed, and defense but not possessing any plate discipline at all, limiting what he can do at the plate. At age 24, Kline seems like a lost cause. Giving up Bierman and Kline is far from the worst thing in the world. Kline is a forgettable player and Bierman has a trifecta of things to overcome: age, injury issues (he spent time on the DL this year), and a history of getting into trouble (he had a DUI in college). But trading even flawed players for a player who gave you absolutely nothing is still a terrible value. And that wasn’t all.

In mid-September, Crain finally appeared to be healthy and the Rays took off the 60-day DL to add him to their roster. In order to do so, they had to get rid of someone, and they decided to make that player Frank De Los Santos. De Los Santos was traded for a player to be named later or cash, and the team that acquired him was, incidentally, the White Sox. Who is De Los Santos? He’s a lefty reliever coming off a terrible year as he dealt with injury, managing just a 5.34 ERA and a 21-14 strikeout to walk ratio in 32 Triple-A innings. But the numbers don’t tell the entire story here. De Los Santos has legitimate stuff, touching the mid-90′s with his fastball to go along with a good slider, and even in a disastrous year, he held lefties to a .610 OPS. It says a lot that the Rays were willing to add him to their 40-man roster to begin with–they thought he had the ability to make enogh of an impact to their major league team in coming years that they decided to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. And now the White Sox will consider De Los Santos for a situational lefty role next season. Lefty specialists are not too hard to find. But the Rays are really giving away a potential big league option for next year for a player who never pitched a game for them?

There is only one way that the Rays can possibly salvage this trade: if Jesse Crain rehabbing with them this season gives them an inside track to sign him this offseason at a reasonable price and Crain is an effective reliever for the Rays next season. Unless that happens, though, the Rays essentially gave the White Sox three players as a gift in exchange for absolutely nothing. De Los Santos, Bierman, and Kline are far from the flashiest players, but De Los Santos could be in majors next season, Bierman could be a big league arm down the line, and Kline has some talent as well. Acquiring Crain when he was injured was a calculated risk by the Rays. It failed. If this the end of the story of Jesse Crain’s time in Tampa Bay, this is the worst trade Andrew Friedman has ever made.

Topics: Ben Kline, Chicago White Sox, Frank De Los Santos, Jesse Crain, Sean Bierman, Tampa Bay Rays

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  • Baltar

    If this is indeed the worst trade Andrew Friedman ever made, he belongs in the Hall of Fame for sure. The Rays gave up 3 very minor somethings for nothing in a reasonable gamble on Crain’s recovery. Friedman lost the gamble, but I doubt that any of those 3 players will ever become something the Rays will gnash their teeth over.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      I see your point–yes, it could have been far worse. It wasn’t like the Rays gave up any top prospects in this deal. May this be the worst trade Andrew Friedman ever makes. But especially based on the high standard Friedman has set for himself, giving up real value for absolutely nothing is horrific. You’re giving up one surefire big leaguer in De Los Santos and another with a chance in Bierman for a pitcher who didn’t pitch a game for you. These aren’t total non-entities we’re talking about here. The gamble for Crain certainly wasn’t worth it with the benefit of hindsight–unless he re-signs.

      • Ryan

        I could definitely see him re-signing. That injury destroyed his value this offseason, so I could easily see the Rays getting him on like a 1-year deal, low starting salary but with some decent incentives based off games not on the DL or something to that effect. Best he probably could even possibly get right now.

        • Robbie_Knopf

          He definitely fits as a Joaquin Benoit-type of signing. But after Joakim Soria got two years from the Rangers last offseason after not pitching at all in 2012, you have to wonder whether some team enamored enough with Crain’s track record that they will look past his injury history and give him a more substantial contract.

          • Ryan

            I feel like Soria had more of a track record to lean on than Crain does – Crain really has only been at Soria’s level the last 2 seasons or so – plus Soria had more name value and reputation than Crain does, i.e. GMs are more likely to think of Soria when thinking of elite relievers than Crain. You do have a fair point though.

          • Robbie_Knopf

            Joakim Soria’s ERA 2007 to 2011: 2.40. Jesse Crain’s ERA 2010 to 2013: 2.39. Crain has been elite for years now.

          • Ryan

            Soria’s ERAs for his first 4 seasons were all lower than any of Crain’s save this year, which is a bit fluky based on his overall body of work (not saying it is definitely a fluke, just could be), and his K/BB ratio each season was better as well by a good amount than each of Crain’s season except last year (3.95, 3.47, 4.31, 4.44 and even a 3.53 in his less than stellar 2011 vs. 2.30, 2.26, 2.61, and 4.18 for Crain). WHIPs also shows slight advantage Soria. Also, you have to remember Soria put up those numbers as a closer and over more innings, which gives him 10x more value in the eyes of GMs, albeit not for that good of reason. Don’t get me wrong, Crain has been great, I just feel Soria was at a higher level when he got his contract.

          • Ryan

            Also circumstances of the injury have to be taken into account as well. Soria’s came after his first down year, so it could be assumed the injury may have had something to do with it; Crain’s came in the middle of his best ever season.

          • Robbie_Knopf

            The argument has nothing to do with Crain being better than Soria. It is just that they are comparable. No one is giving Crain a two-year contact with an option, but would someone give him a one-year deal with a high enough salary to price the Rays out?

          • Ryan

            Oh, okay, sorry, it read to me as if you were saying Crain could get a contract around what Soria got. I get you now. That being said, based off the fact that Crain was injured mid-season, so he hasn’t had too long to rehab it, and his injury coming right in the middle of his best ever season, I’m not sure there is a team out there that is so desperate for relief pitching that they would price the Rays out of the running for goods as damaged and unpredictable as Crain. Seems to me like Crain’s max, overpay value is still within the Rays price range, but of course, who knows what could happen. Sorry bout getting off track there.

          • Robbie_Knopf

            No worries. My fault for being unclear in that comment before. The thing about Crain that makes him interesting, though, is that even after injuries the last two years, he still has outstanding stuff. Do we see a team turning Crain into say the relief pitcher version of a Scott Feldman or Scott Baker-type deal? Even that may be within the Rays’ price range, like you said. But their strategy is to find undervalued players. Crain may in fact be overvalued because of his recent track record and stuff. Does that mean they avoid him?

          • Ryan

            At this point, I’d say the market for relief pitching is gonna be the deciding factor. If a team with money goes after Crain with the idea of him being a key part of their pen once healthy, such as coincidentally your example of Soria and the Rangers, then he’s overvalued from the Rays standpoint right away. However, if teams look at him as a reclamation project, his injury has turned out to be bad enough that he could still be undervalued by some teams, so the Rays may still be able to slip in and snag him for a good price, Benoit maybe being a decent example of this scenario, albeit on a lesser scale. Really just depends on the teams looking.

          • Ryan

            Bit of a long winded way of saying: As long as the market isn’t too big, the extent of Crain’s injury this year should outweigh his recent track record when it comes to salary and contract length, making him undervalued.

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  • Lexi Ronson

    John Jaso was the worst trade he has ever made, and there really is no question. Jaso is basically Matt Joyce in the batters box. We spent big money on a DH in Luke Scott, and traded away a cost controlled 130wRC+ catcher/dh in order to be able to play Scott. What did we get out of it? A 29 year old rapist AAAA relief pitcher.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      Jaso wasn’t really a catcher. He was basically useless for the Rays. They traded him for a reliever in Lueke who has great stuff and still has a chance to be an impact arm. It hasn’t worked out so far, but at least the idea made sense. You can say the same thing about this Crain trade–but like him or hate him, you would much rather have Lueke for the Jaso exchange than lose three players for nothing like this Crain trade.

      • Lexi Ronson

        I disagree, but respectfully. I read a lot of your stuff, but rarely comment.

        Jaso was a bad catcher, but he’d be a great DH for us. A .394 and .387 OBP batting in front of Myers, Zobrist and Longo would generate a lot of runs. If we’d have kept him, we wouldn’t have had to sign Scott, because Jaso is left handed. Scott cost us 5 mil in 2012, plus a 1 mil buyout, plus 2.75 mil this year. We gave away Jaso, who has posted 3.8 fWAR over his last 510 PA. Jaso is a very good hitter. He wouldn’t catch for us, so he likely doesn’t have concussion problems. Jaso made league min in 2012, and 1.8 mil in 2013. Fangraphs says 1 win is worth roughly 7 million $, so we traded away approx 25 mil in excess value for Lueke, a soon to be 30 year old AAA reliever, and the ability to pay Luke Scott 8.75 mil for 2 very forgettable years.

        Even if Lueke pans out, what is panning out? We weren’t short on pitching at the time, and we still aren’t. We were short on MLB quality bats. Peralta, McGee, Torres, Ramos, Beliveau…. At best, if he improves, Lueke will be our 4th best bullpen arm, and that just isn’t worth very much.

        It was an awful, awful trade

        • Robbie_Knopf

          No offense taken. This is a nice discussion.

          It was a bad trade, I’ll agree with that. But the thing that you are overlooking is that no one had any idea that Jaso would be that proficient against right-handed pitching after how poorly he played in 2011. Luke Scott or another DH was coming no matter what, and if Jaso stayed, he may have never gotten an opportunity to play the role he played for the Mariners. It took the perfect storm of mediocre seasons from Miguel Olivo, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak for Jaso to get as much playing time as he did. Carlos Pena and Scott struggled, but the Rays were not about to put in Jaso to replace them. He would have been a catcher splitting time with Molina–what, they were going to make Molina an everyday player with Jaso DHing?–and that would have been it.

          Evaluating a trade isn’t about what happens the next season–it’s about understanding the circumstances involved. Jaso could not have put up that season in Tampa Bay. He was a spare part that somehow had a great season for another team. What can the Rays do about that?

          • Lexi Ronson

            I thought it was a crap trade at the time. His minor league numbers mimic his major league numbers. His bat has played at every level. He had a rough 2011 for us, but a .244 BABIP explains that pretty clearly. Friedman was smart enough not to give up on Shields after a disasterous 2010, but he gave up on Jaso after a mediocre 2011. Jaso’s wRC+ in A ball was 111. In AA it was 148, then 127. In AAA it was 123 and 107. In the MLB it was 115 his rookie year, then fell to 85. Then we traded him. His .244 BABIP was almost 50 points lower than it have ever been at any level.

            I was shocked he put up a 143 wRC+ in Seattle. I was not shocked he showed that he has a MLB caliber bat though. The only difference between John Jaso and David Dejesus is one can catch, and the other makes 5 million more. It was a bad move at the time. Lueke’s past had been revealed by then, and he was 27 at the time of the trade, which should have decreased his value so much that a crate of oranges might have gotten Seattle to part with him. If we were going to target him, we should not have sent a pre-arb catcher who was a year removed from a 2.3 fWAR season.

            If John Jaso gets 400 PA next year, he will likely be a 3 WAR player. Friedman should have peeked at Jaso’s previous 4 years of data, and not just his final 300 PA. Conversely, if Lueke morphs into the best reliever we have ever had, he is likely a 2 WAR player. Friedman is better than this.

          • Robbie_Knopf

            The way you are looking at the stats defeats the purpose of them to begin with. Stats don’t foretell anything–they tell the story of player’s past, a narrative of his abilities with a certain amount of luck mixed in. BAbip does not simply tell us about luck. Just as often, it tells us about bat speed and quality of contact. John Jaso’s BAbip was low in 2011 because he wasn’t hitting anything hard. In the minor leagues, he had stood out for his plate discipline more than anything else, and he was able to use that to find pitches to hit. In the major leagues, that wasn’t sufficient. Pitchers make less mistakes, and especially as they learned how to pitch Jaso, his performance suffered significantly. The game changes from the minors to the majors–how many players who put up big Triple-A numbers falter in the major leagues? How many have a great rookie year and then fall off the map? Jaso looked like a Quad-A candidate himself. He did not have the bat speed or the power to hit anywhere near the way he did in 2010. Combine that with poor defense, and it doesn’t look like you have anything. Friedman stuck with Shields because he had the stuff to keep being a really good pitcher. Jaso did not have the obvious skills to be a good hitter, especially given his inability to be a regular at the catcher position.

            So why did he succeed? Why did he have that great season in Seattle? He found his niche. He played overwhelmingly more against right-handed pitching and didn’t have to worry about catching nearly as often. He stayed fully healthy for the first time in years. He had the best season he possibly could have, not hitting for much power but drawing a ton of walks and taking advantage of the fact that pitchers thought they were facing a weak-hitting catcher to take advantage when he got ahead in counts. But then the league adjusts. They’ll realize that his pitch recognition trails behind his plate discipline and they’ll give him more breaking pitches. And most of the time, the hitters without major talent crumble. Will Jaso? We will see. But one thing we know is that catching takes its toll on him and may very well hamper his ability to hit. If he stops being as productive of a hitter and needs to catch more, he simply isn’t as good of a player. He’s a DH, and DH’s have to hit. David DeJesus can play centerfield or left or right and make an 0 for 4 day a day to remember with a diving catcher. Jaso can’t. He has to hit, and when the hits don’t come, he does nothing for a team.

            Jaso’s level of performance won’t stay the same if he stays healthy–it will decrease. He’ll tire out and the league will more opportunities to see him and adjust. In all likelihood, his 3.5 WAR season will be an outlier. He had his time in the sun, but he simply isn’t that good of a player. He isn’t durable enough to catch regularly, he can’t hit lefties, and his performance against righties in the long term will not be nearly as good as it was in 2012. Maybe he’ll be the exception, the player who overcomes a lack of standout talent to carve out a great career as a platoon player. But if it’s between a player who has plate discipline and almost nothing else versus a reliever with a 95 MPH fastball and a splitter and curveball that show promise as well, you pick the reliever.

            The Mariners won this trade even if Lueke is closing games in dominant fashion for the Rays this year. The Mariners bought low on Jaso and were rewarded with the year of his life. But that doesn’t mean this was a stupid trade on the Rays’ part. It doesn’t mean that Andrew Friedman and the Rays front office didn’t do their homework. They went for the player with the better skill-set, a strategy that works far more often than it doesn’t. This time it failed.

          • Lexi Ronson

            Add in the fact that Jose Molina was a career backup, and was 36 years old when we signed him. Molina very easily could have spent half the year on the DL. We traded from our biggest weakness, to add to our biggest strength.

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