The Rays were getting Jesse Crain, one of the best relievers in baseball, at a fraction of what he was worth. It was a vintage Andrew Friedman trade, a deal that seemed primed to go down as yet another stroke of genius. And then it totally backfired. The Rays got Crain from the White Sox so cheaply because he was on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. They thought he would get healthy. Instead, he never did, and he cost the Rays three players and cash for absolutely nothing.
The trade that was completed today saw the Rays send left-hander Sean Bierman and infielder Ben Kline to the White Sox. As David discussed earlier, Bierman was far from a top prospect but was not a non-entity either. Bierman, 24, is old for a player with just 21.1 innings above Low-A, but with excellent sink on his high-80’s fastball and a decent curveball as well, he had a chance to be a big leaguer in some capacity. Kline, meanwhile, is closer to an organizational player, showing a little raw power, good speed, and defense but not possessing any plate discipline at all, limiting what he can do at the plate. At age 24, Kline seems like a lost cause. Giving up Bierman and Kline is far from the worst thing in the world. Kline is a forgettable player and Bierman has a trifecta of things to overcome: age, injury issues (he spent time on the DL this year), and a history of getting into trouble (he had a DUI in college). But trading even flawed players for a player who gave you absolutely nothing is still a terrible value. And that wasn’t all.
In mid-September, Crain finally appeared to be healthy and the Rays took off the 60-day DL to add him to their roster. In order to do so, they had to get rid of someone, and they decided to make that player Frank De Los Santos. De Los Santos was traded for a player to be named later or cash, and the team that acquired him was, incidentally, the White Sox. Who is De Los Santos? He’s a lefty reliever coming off a terrible year as he dealt with injury, managing just a 5.34 ERA and a 21-14 strikeout to walk ratio in 32 Triple-A innings. But the numbers don’t tell the entire story here. De Los Santos has legitimate stuff, touching the mid-90’s with his fastball to go along with a good slider, and even in a disastrous year, he held lefties to a .610 OPS. It says a lot that the Rays were willing to add him to their 40-man roster to begin with–they thought he had the ability to make enogh of an impact to their major league team in coming years that they decided to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. And now the White Sox will consider De Los Santos for a situational lefty role next season. Lefty specialists are not too hard to find. But the Rays are really giving away a potential big league option for next year for a player who never pitched a game for them?
There is only one way that the Rays can possibly salvage this trade: if Jesse Crain rehabbing with them this season gives them an inside track to sign him this offseason at a reasonable price and Crain is an effective reliever for the Rays next season. Unless that happens, though, the Rays essentially gave the White Sox three players as a gift in exchange for absolutely nothing. De Los Santos, Bierman, and Kline are far from the flashiest players, but De Los Santos could be in majors next season, Bierman could be a big league arm down the line, and Kline has some talent as well. Acquiring Crain when he was injured was a calculated risk by the Rays. It failed. If this the end of the story of Jesse Crain’s time in Tampa Bay, this is the worst trade Andrew Friedman has ever made.