Right now, we are hearing that the Tampa Bay Rays are in trade discussions with the Seattle Mariners about middle infielder Nick Franklin. But if not for an unexpected twist, the deal would already be done. Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reported that the Rays were about to complete a deal for Franklin last month when Jeremy Hellickson‘s elbow injury and subsequent surgery caused them to back out. Since Hellickson’s surgery on January 30th, the Rays have made two key starting pitcher moves, trading for Nate Karns and signing Erik Bedard, and now they are ready to reenter discussions. But as we wonder what the Rays will offer the Mariners now, there is another question that has to be asked: who would have been part of that earlier trade?
At one point, it seemed like Nick Franklin would be one of the centerpieces for a potential David Price trade. That never came together, and we have no reason to think it was almost executed in late-January. We heard nothing about Alex Cobb or Matt Moore being dealt, and it is unlikely that the Rays would be trying to trade Hellickson with his value at its nadir. Chris Archer is slightly more plausible, but his rookie year was much better Franklin’s and the Rays clearly think highly of him as well. The Mariners would have needed to give up Franklin and other prospects to net Archer, essentially putting him in the same category as Cobb and Moore. That leaves the Rays’ other starting pitchers, and let’s look at the case for each one being the primary piece the Mariners would receive in exchange for Franklin.
Jake Odorizzi: If the trade was going to be Jake Odorizzi for Nick Franklin, it makes perfect sense that the trade was halted because of Hellickson’s injury–Odorizzi was going to take over his rotation spot. It could have taken another lower-level prospect or two to complete the deal, say Drew Vettleson or Felipe Rivero (both of whom were included in the Karns trade), but the Rays could have seen no point of keeping a big league-ready pitcher like Odorizzi at Triple-A and tried to turn him into a valuable big league piece for now. Here is the issue: the Mariners did not really have a need for Odorizzi at the time. All five of the Mariners’ rotation spots looked to be filled with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma pairing to be one of the best one-two punches in the major leagues and three of Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, and Brandon Maurer filling out the rest of the rotation. Odorizzi certainly could have competed for a spot immediately, but he is not the pitcher the Mariners are looking for. The Mariners are looking to compete in the AL West this season, so that will likely make them more aggressive in terms of starting their top prospects, like Walker and Paxton, in the major leagues. Odorizzi would have taken some of the pressure off of them, but he lacks their potential and does not even have the pure stuff of Ramirez or Maurer. That does not rule out him being part of the deal, but it seems less likely.
Alex Colome: Colome does possess electric stuff, but would the Mariners be satisfied with a pitcher who may end up in the bullpen? Colome tantalizes evaluators with a mid-90′s fastball, two secondary pitches with excellent potential in his changeup and slider, and also a decent curveball. However, he has been held under 95 innings the last two years from arm injuries (though no surgeries) and also has issues with his command. Colome is not nearly the prospect he used to be. On the other hand, it is not crazy to think that the Mariners would trade Franklin for a pitcher who may not start the season in the major leagues. Colome could have provided depth behind their top six starters before coming to the big leagues in June or July either as a starting candidate or a power arm for the bullpen. Colome’s value is even lower than Odorizzi, so the package would have needed to include Colome, Vettleson, and Rivero, but that trade could make sense.
Enny Romero: Romero is in the same boat as Colome, but his command is a bigger issue than his health and he will need to spend most of 2014 at Triple-A. Romero, though, does have an arm to dream on. His fastball, slider, and changeup can all befuddle hitters, and we have heard for a long time that his command would come when he finally added strength (Romero is 6’3″, 165). If the Mariners saw a pitcher about to break out, they would consider trading for him along with other prospects. The other side of the coin, though, is that the Rays have no reason to trade Romero because they are a year away from deciding whether he is worth a spot in their rotation and we know they value their prospects highly. Romero is less of a “surplus starter” as Colome is.
The Field: Mike Montgomery could have been interesting, but it is hard to picture him as the headliner in a deal anymore. Merrill Kelly is another name, but once again, not as the centerpiece. In all probability, the pitcher the Rays were going to deal was either Odorizzi, Colome, or Romero.
The pitcher who the Tampa Bay Rays were most likely to trade for Nick Franklin was Alex Colome, and he is still the favorite to be part of a deal now. Despite his potential, he is somewhat of an “odd man out” in the organization at this point–especially with Karns and Bedard in the mix–and he is the type of pitching prospect the Rays would be willing to trade for the right price. With their number two starter, Hisashi Iwakuma, now facing a strained tendon on his middle finger, a pitcher like Colome could be even more attractive to the Mariners. Expect the Rays’ best offer to be Colome and an A-ball prospect or two in exchange for Franklin, and we will have to see whether that will be enough to make a trade finally happen.