It seems like the Tampa Bay Rays have a quota of one blockbuster trade they have to make each and every offseason. With a David Price trade not a possibility, the Rays looked elsewhere, acquiring Logan Forsythe, Matt Andriese, Brad Boxberger, Matt Lollis, and Maxx Tissenbaum from the San Diego Padres for Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn. Everyone loves blockbusters, but Torres was a key piece of the Rays’ bullpen last season and Hahn has shown promise as a prospect. Why did the Rays make this deal?
Alex Torres had a great rookie year for the Rays, managing a 1.71 ERA and a 62-20 strikeout to walk ratio in 39 appearances and 58 innings pitched. Torres was a major reason why the Rays bullpen weathered the struggles of Fernando Rodney, Jake McGee, and Joel Peralta at different points of the year to have another nice season. But as a reliever, and one without electric stuff at that, Torres was replaceable. As we discussed earlier, Torres’ fastball stays in the 92-93 MPH range and his changeup became less effective as the league adjusted to him, leading to subpar performance in his final 18 appearances. He does occasionally throw a slider, but it was not very effective. Torres’ stuff gives him the ability to be an interesting reliever, but less than spectacular stuff limits what he can do.
Just how easily can the Rays move on from Torres? As it turned out, they managed to acquire an extremely similar reliever in the deal in Brad Boxberger. Boxberger has a 2.72 ERA in 42 big league relief appearances, and although his control has been iffy (5.6 BB/9), the Rays see enough in his repertoire that 2014 could be the year he finally breaks out. Boxberger has almost exactly the same arsenal as Torres although as a right-handed pitcher, featuring a low-90′s fastball, an excellent changeup, and a solid slider that he uses quite a bit more. Despite being a righty, however, Boxberger has been significantly more effective against lefty batters, holding them to a .687 OPS compared to .790 by righties. What is going on? The answer is that Boxberger has used his great changeup almost exclusively against lefty batters, leaving him without a weapon to finish off righties, and that is something we know the Rays will look to correct. If the adjustment goes as planned, Boxberger should immediately replace Torres in the Rays’ middle relief corps and the Rays bullpen may not miss a beat.
Hahn is a prospect that a lot of people like, and the reason is obvious: he has great stuff. His fastball has touched as high as 97 MPH, and he combines it with a slider that flashes plus and a good changeup. Tampering that excitement, however, are Hahn’s age, injury history, and relative inexperience. Hahn is already 24 years old and he still has not pitched a single game above High-A. After the Rays drafted him in the 6th round of the 2010 MLB Draft, Hahn underwent Tommy John Surgery that prevented him from making his pro debut until 2012. In the two years since, Hahn has looked dominant, managing a 122-33 strikeout to walk ratio in 121 innings pitched, but injuries have continued to limit him. In 2013, he made 19 starts but he lasted as many as 5 innings in just two of them. Even that level of protection didn’t stop him form hitting the DL again. With that in mind, Hahn is unlikely to continue as a starting pitcher and will hope to find better health in shorter stints. His arsenal gives him the chance to thrive in that role, but all the obstacles in his way make his odds of success much lower than you would think. Hahn certainly has potential, but the Rays saw enough risk that it was worth giving him up.
Contrast Hahn with Matt Andriese. Andriese is just a month younger than Hahn, but he is a solid prospect with the ability to help the Rays as soon as this season. Andriese had a big season in 2013, going 11-7 with a 3.27 ERA, a 105-29 strikeout to walk ratio, and a 55.0% groundball rate in 25 starts, 2 relief appearances, and 134.2 innings pitched between Double-A and Triple-A. Andriese keeps the ball on the ground with a power sinker touching 94 MPH, and he pairs it with two strong secondary pitches in his curveball and splitter. He completes his arsenal with a slider that has its moments. Andriese will head to Triple-A Durham to be another member of the Rays’ starting pitching logjam, but the Rays could opt to move him to the bullpen if the need arises. Andriese’s sinker makes him an obvious candidate to be a reliever that can come in and force a double play, and his secondary pitches could make him a late-inning arm. Andriese will be in the major leagues in 2014 for the Rays, and it will be interesting to see how long they wait before calling him up to their bullpen. Andriese may not quite have Hahn’s stuff, but with better health and experience and a strong repertoire of his own, the Rays would take Andriese over Hahn any day.
Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn may be slightly more valuable than Brad Boxberger and Matt Andriese, but the difference in value is not so extreme at all and the Rays needed only a minor piece or two to even out the deal. Instead, they got a major league role player for next season in Forsythe, a reliever with frustrating inconsistency but the best stuff of anyone in the trade in Lollis, and a solid depth piece in Tissenbaum. It hurt to part with Torres and Hahn, but Andrew Friedman the Rays saw a clear opportunity to upgrade their team for the coming years without losing much of anything for this season. That is the type of deal the Rays will make every time.