Hahn was overpowering as a junior at VT and looked to be a first round pick before injury struck. (Credit: DiamondScape Scouting)

The Roster Motivation Behind Trading Felipe Rivero and Jesse Hahn


The Tampa Bay Rays traded catcher Jose Lobaton and prospects Felipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson to the Washington Nationals for right-hander Nate Karns primarily because they believe Karns can be a valuable member of their starting rotation the next few years. However, every deal has more than one angle to it, and this trade was no exception. In addition to the contributions that Karns gives them the next few years, the Rays will gain something else: 40-man roster flexibility that they will take advantage of immediately.

Jose Lobaton was occupying a dead 40-man roster spot. Every team wants to have a third catcher available in case of injury, and the Rays had that last year with Chris Gimenez on the 40-man roster even though he was in Triple-A nearly the entire season. But unlike Gimenez last season, Lobaton is out of options and there was no conceivable way that the Rays could keep him as depth. A trade became an inevitability, and on Thursday it finally became official. Now Lobaton’s 40-man roster spot has been replaced by Karns, who should pitch for the Rays at some point this season. But Lobaton’s 40-man roster spot was going to be empty anyway by the end of the spring. The bigger deal in the trade was that the prospect Rivero was also taking up space.

Felipe Rivero is a talented prospect. His fastball touches as high as 94 MPH, and he combines it with a good curveball and a solid changeup. He has issues commanding his pitches, but with time, he could be a decent starting pitcher or at least a bullpen arm. However, Rivero is not the type of player it is efficient to spend a 40-man roster spot on. Rivero pitched last season at High-A Charlotte and did not even do so very well, managing just a 91-52 strikeout to walk ratio in 127 innings pitched. That doesn’t mean that Rivero can’t overcome that, but at this point, he is a good, not great prospect who is the 40-man roster despite being at least two years from the major leagues. If he was a potential ace with a real chance to get there, that would be just fine. Unfortunately, he is not. Rivero is still just 22 years old and could have a promising major league career ahead of him. But if the right opportunity came along, the Rays were going to try to use Rivero’s 40-man roster spot on a player who could contribute in the major leagues sooner. When Karns entered the picture in a Lobaton trade, the Rays decided that trading Rivero was worth it.

The funny thing is that Rivero was not the only pitcher on the 40-man roster who pitched at High-A Charlotte last season and ended getting traded this offseason. The other was Jesse Hahn, who went to the San Diego Padres with Alex Torres. Hahn is two years older than Rivero, but he features significantly better stuff and dominated when he was on the mound in 2013. Unfortunately, continued recovery from Tommy John Surgery limited him to even 5 innings in just 2 of his 19 starts, and even so he still missed time with injury. Hahn still has a chance to be an excellent pitcher, but between his injury problems and the fact that he still hasn’t pitched above High-A at age 24, the odds are that he ends up in the bullpen. The chances of him reaching his upside has gone down precipitously, and like Rivero, he turned into a player on the 40-man roster who lacked both big league-readiness and the realistic ability to star. Despite Hahn’s lofty potential, the return for Torres and him, shows us why it made sense to trade him.

The 40-man roster spots of Torres and Hahn were replaced by Brad Boxberger and Logan Forsythe. Boxberger will not immediately replace Torres but should crack the Rays bullpen at some point this year. Forsythe, meanwhile, could make the team as a versatile backup infielder who hits lefties extremely well. The Rays traded a big league pitcher and one relatively far off for a big league utilityman and a near-ready relief arm. Looking at the trade from that perspective is ignoring the fact that Hahn’s upside is quite a bit higher than Forsythe’s. But that is where Matt Andriese comes in.

Andriese is also 24, but he is still a year away from needing to be placed on a 40-man roster yet on the cusp of the major leagues. Andriese stands out for his excellent sinker and solid trio of secondary offerings, and he could be big league-ready with a half-season more at Triple-A. Andriese doesn’t have Hahn’s ceiling, but he has a much better chance of helping a big league team the next two years, and exponentially better odds of doing so as a starting pitcher. And the fact that he is at this point in his development without needing a 40-man roster spot makes him extremely valuable. He does not have to be on the 40-man roster until the Rays actually decide to call him up. In the trade, the Rays turned Hahn’s roster spot into a decent big league player for now and a more talented one for the near future. We will have to see how Hahn turns out, but that was quite a coup.

Felipe Rivero and Jesse Hahn had trade value to the Nationals and Padres respectively, but from the Rays’ standpoint, dealing them not only netted them assets in return but 40-man roster spots to use more efficiently. Andrew Friedman and the Rays use every method possible to maximize their roster, and these two trades are perfect examples of exactly that.

Tags: Felipe Rivero Jesse Hahn Matt Andriese Tampa Bay Rays

  • Chris Wise

    Lobaton trade long expected. What wasn’t clear is just how shallow the Rays catching depth is. The most experienced catcher in the NRI list has a total of 27 games at AAA level. Gotta think the Rays are still looking for a Crash Davis to send to Durham

    • Robbie_Knopf

      A Crash Davis type would make sense, especially with Craig Albernaz gone, but Ali Solis (who has 41 Triple-A games and 5 more in the big leagues) should be decent enough depth. Solid defense (especially pitch-framing), and good raw power.

      • Joey

        They’re also pretty high on Casali it seems. Where do you think he starts this year, back in Montgomery? Behind him it’s pretty darn thin. When I say thin, I mean thin with upper level prospects ready to make jumps. We’re loaded with catching below AA. I think this is a make or break year for O’Connor. He’s got a wide open road to advance. He’s done a little better with the K’s but still needs to improve overall offensively. His D looks to be carrying him right now with some pretty good reviews. I still think he ultimately gets moved to the mound which will be his only way to crack the bigs.

        • Robbie_Knopf

          Casali will probably be back at Montgomery with Solis and Eddy Rodriguez likely to splitting time at Triple-A. He has to prove last year was not a fluke, but it would not be a total shocker if the Rays called him up over Solis or Rodriguez if Hanigan got hurt (let’s obviously hope he does not).

          I don’t think the Rays are loaded at catcher at the lower levels, but they have some interesting names and we’ll have to see who pans out. O’Conner, though, is a lost cause as a catcher. He has no plate discipline and he still has a ton of work to do behind the plate (he had 22 passed balls in just 62 games in 2013). Unless he breaks out this year, he will be moving to the mound.

          • Joey

            Wow 22 past balls. Even I had less than that. I’m not making excuses for him but my eyes were shot in college and I didn’t know it at the time. I finally realized that I needed to get checked out when I couldn’t see the scrolling ticker on ESPN from my recliner 5 feet away. I was done playing ball but was beyond pissed when the doc put me in some contacts. I went from 20-30 to 20-15 and the difference was mind numbing. I remember forcing my buddy to throw to me off a mound to see if it made a difference. The difference was, I could see the seams on the ball almost immediately out of his hand. The clarity was amazing and thanks to the gradual decline I never realized my problem. I figured out that my eyes started going during the summer of my sophomore year in HS. I even had him not call his pitch to see if I could recognize 2 or 4 seam fb’s, cutters, and sliders. When I batted in college, if I made contact it was always opposite field because I picked the ball up so late. Same for my framing. When I setup outside and the pitcher missed his spot on the inner half. I was so late shifting over to receive the ball that I was catching it, taking the ball out of the zone and then bringing it back with an awful looking frame that no umpire awake would call a strike. Moral of the story. Justin or anybody else with kids playing ball who’s experiencing similar problems. Get your eyes checked before its too late.

          • Robbie_Knopf

            Early favorite for comment of the year. 22 passed balls is insane and O’Conner should absolutely get his vision checked.

          • Joey

            Thanks Robbie. I agree, there’s only 2 things that should cause that many passed balls. Check that, 3 things, the 3rd is tied in with the 2nd: You’re out of shape or extremely over weight, aka Molina, and you have to reach for balls because you can’t shift over in time to make the block. Molina’s mastered the reach but what’s bad about his habit is situations with runners on 3rd. How many times did we see Molina T-Rex stab at a ball away from him allowing the run to score? A bunch…The second would be potential eye problems. If you’re picking up the break on a ball too late then your screwed as a catcher. The problem only multiplies as pitchers throw harder. Higher velocity means less time to react on fb’s and sliders. A slider is the most difficult pitch to catch by far. Just after the slider is split change from a lefty. Nasty pitches that Justin will struggle with as he climbs the ladder. The 3rd issue would be crossing up. I’d say this is a long shot scenario and there’s no way he’s not on the same page with his pitchers that many times. Even when you get crossed up, good eye sight will allow you to pick up the rotation on the ball and you should be able to at least stop the pitch from getting by. You could add a 4th in blocking technique, but there’s no way he doesn’t have good technique with this many years in the minors.