Could the Tampa Bay Rays Trade Pitching for Hitting?
By David Egbert
There is an old saying in baseball that you can never have enough pitching and the Tampa Bay Rays have bought into that theory since their inception. In 2014, their stockpiled pitching worked to their advantage as three starters went down for all or a good part of the season. Starters like journeyman Erik Bedard and talented rookie Jake Odorizzi stepped in and kept the ship afloat until regular rotation members Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson came back. However, in the end, that was not enough as the offense failed to score enough runs and a sub-.500 season resulted. The message here is that lots of pitching is nice but at the end of the game, if your team has not scored enough runs, you lose.
For that reason, I’m going to propose a couple of deals that feature the Rays trading from their pitching surplus for hitting.
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Alex Colome and Desmond Jennings to the Chicago White Sox for Adam Eaton and a lower-level prospect: The Rays desperately need a leadoff hitter that can get on base and run. The White Sox’ Eaton fits that bill. Last year he delivered a slash line of .300/.362/.401 with 15 stolen bases and led the league with 13 triples. He is under team control for four more seasons. The White Sox also have an incentive to sell high on him after he looked like an injury-prone bust as recently as 2013.
On the other hand, the White Sox desperately need pitching and Colome, the Rays’ #2 prospect, has shown that he is ready to pitch at the major league level. Colome could make an impact in Chicago’s rotation or bullpen and the Rays have the pitching depth to cover his loss. Jennings, meanwhile, would not be too much of a drop-off from Eaton as an above-average centerfielder in his own right, and he could benefit from a change of scenery.
Jeremy Hellickson and Sean Rodriguez to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Pedro Alvarez: The Rays also need a lefty power bat to put between Evan Longoria and Wil Myers. Alvarez certainly can provide power. Last year was not far from the hitting version of Hellickson’s year as he struggled amid injuries. However, from 2012 to 2013, he averaged 33 home runs and 93 RBI. He has his limitations, specifically his strikeouts, struggles against left-handed pitching, and his defense, but his power makes everything else worthwhile. He could be the Rays’ DH while also seeing the occasional start at first base and third base.
For the Pirates, meanwhile, Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez are both free agents, and Hellickson could be an excellent buy-low candidate to replace one of them. Pittsburgh was able to get Volquez back on track in 2014, and Hellickson is not as far removed from an excellent season as Volquez was.
In regards to Rodriguez, Alvarez was losing time to Josh Harrison and others, and the Pirates could use a more versatile replacement. Rodriguez could give them a player capable of playing all over the infield and outfield while providing some pop in his own right.
Neither the White Sox nor the Pirates would necessarily accept a deal like this, but the Tampa Bay Rays need to get creative as they hope to find a better balance between pitching and hitting on their roster. They have the pitching depth to lose Colome and Hellickson–Nate Karns, Matt Andriese, Enny Romero, and a minor league free agent could compete for their fifth starter spot–and they have to take advantage of that. When you have as much pitching as the Rays do, you better make it count by having enough offense.