In 2013, the Washington Nationals struggled to find a good lefty reliever in their bullpen. Prior to the season, the Nationals expected to rely on Zach Duke as their main left-hander, but he struggled in his first 12 games, posting an 8.71 ERA and forcing the Nationals to move on. The Nationals then found themselves forced to rely on Fernando Abad and Ian Krol. While these players were decent for the Nats, both are now no longer with the organization after Abad was traded to the Oakland Athletics and Krol was traded to the Detroit Tigers. Thus the Nationals find themselves in need of a left handed reliever. Could the Rays deal one of their lefties to the Nats?
The Rays have more than enough lefty relievers to go around. Even after non-tendering Wesley Wright, the Rays still have Jake McGee, Alex Torres, Cesar Ramos, C.J. Riefenhauser, and Adam Liberatore who all could see some time in the big leagues next year. Normally teams carry two to three lefties in their bullpen, so the Rays have an excess of lefties to go around. While Riefenhauser and Liberatore both could use some extra seasoning in the minor leagues, both could contribute to a big league bullpen. The Rays could also simply elect to carry two lefties in the pen if they ended up trading McGee, Torres, or Ramos.
In terms of value, Torres is probably the most valuable, followed by McGee, Riefenhauser, Ramos, and Liberatore. One could argue McGee is more valuable given his closer potential, but Torres’ potential ability to start games might give him a slight edge. Riefenhauser is younger and has a much better ceiling than Ramos, who is a very replaceable big league arm. Liberatore figures to simply be a LOOGY down the line.
One player the Rays could look to acquire in this trade is first baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore. There is no doubt Moore has potential, as he hit 31 home runs in the minors in both 2010 and 2011. These solid seasons led to the Nationals including him on the big league roster for most of 2012 and 2013, however Moore has been blocked from an everyday role in the big leagues, and he struggled severely in his big league time this season (.607 OPS) . The Nationals are set in the corner outfield and at first base going into 2014, so they could be willing to deal Moore for the right return. That is especially the case because even his limited big league time has brought to light a serious issue with his game: plate discipline. Moore has struck out 104 times versus just 22 walks thus far in his big league career, including just a 58-8 strikeout to walk ratio in 2013, and he could end up as more of a power bat off the bench than a starting player. It could make sense for the Nationals to trade him for what they can get now before another year of mediocrity causes his value to take another hit.
Which of the Rays’ lefties would it take to acquire Moore? The Rays will likely be very hesitant to deal Torres and McGee, and would probably want to get more value on top of Moore if they were to deal either Torres or McGee. Riefenhauser might be the best fit. He is a good, young, controllable lefty who has potential to be a very good major league reliever. Riefenhauser alone likely would not be enough to pry Moore away from the Nats since he is not proven in the major leagues, but if the Rays included another piece a deal could get done. Ramos or Liberatore could be part of a package to get Moore, but there would probably have to be another significant player going the Nationals’ way.
A final proposal of C.J. Riefenhauser and Willie Argo in exchange for Tyler Moore could get the done for both sides. Riefenhauser would be in the Nationals bullpen immediately and would still have some upside as he continues to build on a good 2013 season. He would also be under team control for six years. Argo is a very scrappy player who does not have one specific tool that stands out. That being said, he is the type of player who helps his team win every night and has a chance to be a fourth outfielder when all is said in done.
The Rays have a need at first base, and Moore could slide in there quite nicely. Moore, despite his concerns, still has very good potential, and he deserves the opportunity to play everyday and see if he could replicate his minor league success in the big leagues. His ability to play the outfield if needed would surely be a plus to the Rays as well. Moore will also have two more years of playing at the league minimum before he is arbitration eligible, so he is very affordable for the Rays’ small budget. They would be taking a chance, but he has the upside to be starting for them at first base next year and he should at least be a bench piece.
There are certainly many scenarios in which the Rays could acquire Moore for one of their lefties, but this could be just one could be a potential fit. With any trade, the idea would be the same: the Washington Nationals and the Tampa Bay Rays would both be trading spare parts to get useful players in return. Some Nationals fans may want their team to get in the bidding for a more high-profile trade with the Rays for David Price, but a more subtle deal for one of the Rays’ lefties relievers could be a nice way to help their 2013 effort without giving up a massive return.