Reviewing The Ryan Roberts Trade


On July 24th, the Rays made their only major trade deadline deal, acquiring infielder Ryan Roberts from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league infielder Tyler Bortnick. How did the trade work out? Let’s try to ascertain that.

After being acquired by the Rays, Roberts, 32, posted a .214/.284/.364 (81 OPS+), with 10 doubles, 6 homers, 18 RBI, 4 of 7 stolen base attempts, and 47 strikeouts versus 18 walks in 60 games and 209 plate appearances. Previously known as a lefty masher, Roberts was the exact opposite in a Rays uniform, posting a solid .234/.317/.395 line (103 sOPS+) versus righties with all but one of his homers and RBI and also 28 strikeouts versus 15 walks while managing just a .175/.212/.302 against lefties with 19 strikeouts against just 3 walks, albeit in only 66 plate appearances. But even as he struggled offensively, Roberts provided tremendous value defensively at second base as he posted a 4.7 UZR and 14.6 UZR/150 in 46 games at the position. He also did a solid job in 18 games manning third base. The Rays thought that Roberts would give them more value offensively, but he gave them solid at-bats against right-handed pitching and with Ben Zobrist at shortstop and Roberts at second base, the Rays managed to finally shore up their middle infield defense. Roberts did not make the type of impact the Rays thought he would make over the last two months of the season, but he was a solid contributor and certainly an improvement over the seemingly countless utility players the Rays tried before him.

Tyler Bornick, a 24 year old infielder who was the Rays’ 16th round pick in 2009, was having a solid season season as the second baseman at the Rays’ Double-A affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits, posting a .253/.352/.385 line with 18 doubles, 8 triples, 4 homers, 48 RBI, 23 of 26 stolen bases, and 61 strikeouts versus 46 walks in 91 games. He continued to show great plate discipline and speed, but he could not hit nearly as well as he did at lower levels as his lack of power was increasingly becoming an issue. The Rays then traded Bortnick to the Diamondbacks in the Roberts deal, and the D-Backs decided to bring him up to their Triple-A affiliate, the Reno Aces, albeit in a hitters’ league in the Pacific Coast League. However, Bortnick struggled mightily, managing just a .212/.293/.311 line with 7 doubles, 2 homers, 12 RBI, 5 of 7 stolen bases, and 26 strikeouts versus 14 walks in 39 games and 151 plate appearances. There were certainly excuses for Bortnick as he may have been brought up to Triple-A too early and also the D-Backs placed an added load on Bortnick, placing him at shortstop and third base defensively as they tried to work on his profile as a utility infielder. He hadn’t previously played shortstop since 2010 and third base since 2009. Another consideration is that 151 plate appearances is a pretty small sample size. Nevertheless, Bortnick’s performance after heading to the D-Backs organization fell short of expectations and they hope have to hope he’ll be able to rebound from his tough start in the organization in 2013.

For 2012 alone, neither team was resounding winner in this trade, with the Rays edging the D-Backs thanks to Roberts’ defense at second base more than anything else. Moving forward, Roberts will be arbitration-eligible this offseason after making $2,012,500 in 2012 and has three potential years of team control remaining while Bortnick will look to figure out Triple-A and break into the big leagues. At the end of the day, Roberts and Bortnick have similar potential, with Roberts having the advantages of more power and a big league track record while Bortnick has the advantage of being 8 years younger. The Rays traded an unknown commodity without much upside in Bortnick and received a player who could help their ballclub immediately. The Rays hoped that Roberts would play better in August and September, but he provided them with solid value and was a contributor to their 90-win season. Unless Bortnick turns out to be a much better player than anyone thinks he will be at this point, the Rays clearly won this trade. And by the way, Roberts still has a chance to find his stroke in a Rays uniform as long as the Rays tender him a contract this offseason.