Does a Rays-White Sox Trade for a Catcher Make Sense?


With the Rays looking for a catcher, they’ll be looking at a multiplicity of options across baseball. Three of those options will come from the Chicago White Sox organization. Let’s see if there’s a realistic fit here for a trade between the Rays and White Sox with the Rays acquiring a catcher.

The White Sox have three upper-level catchers that the Rays could be interested in: A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers at the big league level, and Josh Phegley at Triple-A. Pierzynski, 35, has 11 full big league seasons under has belt but has not really showed signs of slowing down. In 2011, he posted a .287/.323/.405 line with 29 doubles, 8 homers, and 48 RBI. Defensively, he was halfway-decent, throwing out baserunners at a 20% clip but making just 4 errors and allowing just 4 passed balls. Thus far in 2012, Pierzynski has posted a .278/.313/.500 line with 3 doubles, 5 homers, and 18 RBI. Pierzynski is a catcher who hits for average with a little pop and who is extremely difficult to strike out (just 33 strikeouts in 2011 after 39 in 2010), but his plate discipline and defense aren’t so great.

Flowers, 26, was supposed to be the White Sox’ catcher of the future but that has never materialized. From 2009-2011 at Triple-A, 196 games, Flowers posted a .244/.358/.456 line with 40 doubles, 33 homers, and 98 RBI, striking out 237 times although walking 104. Flowers has nice power for a catcher with nice plate discipline but strikes out a ton (29.6% of his plate appearances at Triple-A). Flowers has never gotten an extended chance in the major leagues, posting a .188/.310/.357 line with 6 doubles, 6 homers, and 17 RBI in 62 games. Defensively, Flowers defense never came up to par, and he has a 27% career CS% in the minor leagues. He has played excellently defensively to begin 2012, throwing out 5 for 5 runners attempting to steal and has not allowed a single error or passed ball. Flowers’ major flaw is his propensity for striking out, but he has nice overall ability and is still waiting for a prolonged chance in the big leagues.

Phegley, 24, was a supplemental first round pick by the White Sox in 2009 but hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations. In 2011 between Double-A and Triple-A, Phegley posted a .242/.298/.368 line with 25 doubles, 9 homers, and 56 RBI. Phegley has played well to begin 2012, posting a .352/.388/.484 line with 7 doubles, 1 homer, 12 RBI in 23 games. Defensively, Phegley has a rocket for an arm and has posted a 48% CS% in 200 minor league games at catcher. However, he needs a ton of work at blocking balls as he allowed a ghastly 20 passed balls in 2011 and 4 already in 2012. Phegley has to improve his plate discipline (he has more line drives than ever in 2012) and he has to be fine-tuned behind the plate, but he still has nice potential if he can ever figure everything out.

So what would it take for the Rays to acquire these guys? Before we figure that out, we need to look at the organizational needs for the White Sox. Evidently, they need starting pitching prospects. The White Sox have a nice big league rotation, but Nestor Molina is their only legitimately good starting pitching prospect anywhere near the majors. The White Sox also need positional prospects as their system is unimpressive at this point, especially on the infield. With that in mind, let’s come up with some trade scenarios.

Pierzynski will be traded if the White Sox ever begin trusting Flowers. Pierzynski is in a contract year and will make 6 million dollars by the end of 2012.  At 35, he can’t be a long-term solution for anybody. But for 2012, he could provide a capable starting catcher as a rental for the rest of the season.

Chicago White Sox trade C A.J. Pierzynski and Cash to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for LHP Enny Romero

The White Sox finally get a high-upside starting pitching prospect in form of the fireballing Romero. The Rays would rather not trade a guy like Romero with his mid-90’s fastball and dominant curveball, especially for a rental, but he’s a low minors pitching prospect who has yet to figure things out, and dangling him could facilitate this deal. The Rays would get a starting catcher and a capable offensive player to help their lineup. The big qualifier to this trade is whether the White Sox trust Flowers enough to give him the starting catcher job, which would expedite their efforts to deal Pierzynski and would derail them if they steadfastly believe that Flowers isn’t ready.

Chicago White Sox trade C Tyler Flowers to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for SS Reid Brignac, LHP Alex Torres, and RHP Jake Thompson

In this trade, the White Sox and Rays would swap Quad-A guys: the White Sox would trade Flowers and the Rays would trade Brignac, who flopped when, unlike Flowers, he actually got an extended chance to start in 2011. To even the deal, the Rays would throw in a couple of pitchers: Alex Torres, who has electric stuff and led the Triple-A International League in strikeouts in 2011, but has struggled unremittingly with command and control issues that have relegated him to the Durham Bulls bullpen at this point in 2012. Thompson is another guy with great stuff who has struggled in 2012, but his problems are the antithesis of those of Torres: he has great control but can’t strike anybody out despite a low to mid-90’s fastball and nice secondary pitches in a changeup and slider. The major issue here was that trading Flowers would mean that either the White Sox would re-sign Pierzynski or sign a veteran catcher following the year, and that they had faith in their other catching prospects, Phegley, Mike Blanke, and Kevan Smith. That is not a safe assumption. The Rays, even though there’s a solid chance that they would lose this trade if Brignac could rediscover something and Torres and Thompson could harness a portion of their respective potentials, would love this trade because Flowers, for all his faults, is better than any catching option they have right now and could immediately start at the big league level (or at least get Chris Gimenez-esque playing time). With some smoothing out, Flowers could still be a good big league player. The problem is that the White Sox believe that as well and won’t part with Flowers easily.

Chicago White Sox trade C Josh Phegley to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for RHP Wilking Rodriguez and 2B Hector Guevara

In this trade, the White Sox trade from a position seemingly of strength, catcher, and get a couple of promising prospects at postions of need in return. Rodriguez, 22, has struggled to begin 2012 at High-A, but he’s regularly in the low to mid-90’s with his fastball while mixing in a nice curveball and solid change with nice command. Guevara, just 20 and on that same High-A squad, has shown great power potential for a second baseman but his power has disappeared the past couple of seasons. He’s very good at making contact, has some speed, and has shown good actions defensively, but he lacks plate discipline and the disappearance of his power in concerning. But we’ve seen that he has the potential and could be a project worth taking, especially since he’s still so young. The White Sox are trading a player that really don’t need for a couple of prospects with the potential to be good major league players in a few years.

I don’t think the Rays would acquire a rental player because that’s just not the way they operate. I doubt the White Sox would part with Flowers as well. But Phegley is an interesting player for the Rays to consider. If they think that they can fix his plate discipline and help improve his ability to block balls in the dirt he could be a solid, even a tick above-average big league catcher, something the Rays frankly lack entirely at the upper levels of their system. We see the Rays take reclamation projects on players who had shown promise in the past. Phegley could be another example of that. The Rays have to be looking at Phegley and the White Sox’ other catchers as potential trade options. And with the Rays possessing players who could fit the White Sox’ needs as well, a deal could very well happen.