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My Attempt To Make the Tampa Bay Rays a Better Team

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For the past week, I had the opportunity to be the President of Baseball Operations for the Tampa Bay Rays as part of the FanSided Faux Winter Meetings. It was an interesting experience, one in which I learned a lot, but now it is time to evaluate how I did. The following are the moves I made (in chronological order), and head to the comments to discuss what you liked, what I could have done better, and where I completely missed the mark.

Traded UTIL Sean Rodriguez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP Jimmie Sherfy

I wanted to clear space on my 40-man roster to make room for prospects and for the sake of the trade just below this, and Rodriguez seemed like the obvious player to go if I could get value for him. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to get a position player or starting pitching prospect with any sort of upside for one year of a utility player, so I zoned in on relievers and was able to get Sherfy.

Sherfy struggled after moving from High-A to Double-A in the middle of 2014, but he has electric stuff, touching as high as 98 MPH with his fastball to go along with a promising slider. He also doesn’t need to be added to the 40-man roster until 2016. While maybe not the ideal, getting him for Rodriguez was a fine move in my mind.

Traded RHPs Brad Boxberger and Joel Peralta to the San Francisco Giants for RHP Jean Machi, LHP Adalberto Mejia, and SS Matt Duffy

Believe me, I had intention of trading Boxberger when this all began. However, the Giants’ Faux GM was willing to blow me away with an offer, and I was just fine with that.

Boxberger is a better reliever than Machi, but he has only one additional year of team control and Machi has been excellent in his own right. The gap in present value was more than made up by the two prospects in the deal.

Mejia is coming off a rough 2014 and will be suspended to begin 2015, but don’t let that belie the fact that he is a top pitching prospect. He has three potential plus pitches in his fastball, slider, and changeup, and he even throws all of them for strikes. I would have had to consider Boxberger for him straight-up, and getting Machi and Duffy in addition made this trade a no-brainer.

Speaking of Duffy, he is interesting as a shortstop coming off a breakout season that ended with him making his big league debut. He features little power but makes for it with good speed and plate discipline to go along with solid defense. At the very least, Duffy is a utility infielder who can compete with Tim Beckham to take Rodriguez’s spot, but there is a chance that he can be even more than that.

Enny Romero was in this trade for a while, but I somehow got away with switching him out for Peralta. It didn’t make any sense to me to exercise Peralta’s option unless the Rays knew they could trade him. They did in real life, and the same worked out for me here.

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Designated RHPS Steve Geltz and Brandon Gomes and INF Cole Figueroa for Assignment

I just didn’t see anything at all from Geltz in September and I didn’t feel that he was worth a roster spot. Gomes was a little more questionable, but he has proven for years now that every time he makes a breakthrough, he will simply go back to struggling again. The Rays actually designated Michael Kohn for assignment, but I deemed him worth more of a chance than either of those two. I did agree with the Rays on Figueroa.

Why did I keep Jose Molina? The reason was simple: I thought I had a real chance to get rid of his salary in one of the trades below. I came awfully close, but I wasn’t going to let Molina’s salary ruin an otherwise favorable trade for me.

Added 2B Ryan Brett, C Justin O’Conner, RHP Matt Andriese, OF Mikie Mahtook, and LHP Grayson Garvin to 40-Man Roster

As you regular RCG readers know, I have been saying that these were the five the Rays would add for a while (although only the Garvin pick can make me feel special at all).

Traded OF Matt Joyce and RHP Alex Colome to the Chicago Cubs for 2B/CF Arismendy Alcantara

Here’s the sad truth: Matt Joyce could not net me anything remotely resembling a top prospect by himself. It became apparent that I would have to dip into my pitching depth to get real value in return, and for Alcantara, that was worth doing.

Alcantara’s first big league time this season certainly could have gone better, but he is a switch-hitting second baseman/centerfielder with good power, blazing speed, and excellent defense. If he can continue improving his plate discipline, he has the ability to be an excellent major league player. The Rays haven’t had a position player prospect like Alcantara since Wil Myers, and I wasn’t going to pass up on the chance to get him when it arose.

While dealing Joyce was a foregone conclusion in my mind, letting Colome go was tougher. However, the Rays have the pitching depth to absorb losing him, and what is all this pitching depth really worth if you’re not willing to use it in trades? I knew that Nate Karns, Matt Andriese, Enny Romero, and Mike Montgomery could compete for the fifth starter job, and I also had the option of heading to the free agent market.

Traded CF Desmond Jennings and LHP Grayson Garvin to the Atlanta Braves for RHPs Jason Hursh, J.R. Graham, and Alec Grosser

This was the trade I liked the least–maybe I should have pushed harder for the Braves to take Molina–but Jennings became unnecessary once I acquired Alcantara and the time was right to move him. In addition, I do like these three prospects quite a bit.

Hursh was the type of prospect I insisted on to headline this deal. He has a heavy sinker that can reach as high as 98 MPH, and he has shown promise with a slider and a changeup. If the Rays can get him one of their signature dynamic split-changes, he has the ability to be a frontline big league pitcher. Adding him in addition to Mejia would give the Rays as good of a righty-lefty pitching prospect combo as they have had in years.

Graham has seen his star fade of late (the real Braves didn’t even add him to their 40-man roster although the faux ones did), but he still has the ability to be an impact major league pitcher. He is probably going to end up in relief because of durability concerns, but he touches 100 MPH with his sinking fastball to go along with a good slider and a solid changeup. He is potential closer, and he could be a big league bullpen option within a few months.

Finally, Grosser is a more under-the-radar pitcher but he has shown considerable potential as well. He stood out at Rookie ball for yet another electric sinker, and he has also shown a feel for a breaking ball and a changeup. Getting a third talented pitcher as a throw-in was a nice touch in this trade.

I like Garvin a lot, but his injury issues have left him with a higher probability of being a reliever than a starter. That was worth giving up to facilitate the acquisition of those three prospects.

If it hasn’t been clear from my articles the past few weeks, I believe that Jennings is still quite a valuable player, but the fact that I had Wil Myers, Arismendy Alcantara, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Guyer, and David DeJesus in my outfield gave me additional incentive to make a deal happen. This wasn’t exactly the return I was hoping for, but I can’t complain too much about turning him into a potential number two starter and a closer.

Signed RHP Carlos Villanueva to a One-Year, $1.5 Million Contract

Especially with Colome gone, I needed starting pitching depth and Villanueva was exactly the type of pitcher I was looking for. Villanueva looked electric in the Cubs’ bullpen in 2014, and he also could provide a fallback starting option in case the prospects did not work out for the fifth spot in the rotation. At that price, I was quite satisfied with signing him.

Was I too soft as I extended Zobrist? (Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Extended 2B/OF Ben Zobrist for Three Years and $36 Million

This was probably the decision that involved the most emotion of all, but I wanted to see if the player reps from the simulation would agree to a deal like this. Zobrist is such a critical part of this Rays team, and even with Alcantara and Franklin around, Zobrist would find a way to be a productive player the next few years. When the reps agreed to it, I was pretty excited.

The deal has him making $10 million in 2016, $12 milllion in 2017, and $14 million in 2018. The market value for Zobrist is probably closer to Carlos Beltran‘s three years, $45 million with the New York Yankees, and considering how many teams could use him given his versatility, he could have gotten significantly more than that.

Having Zobrist around would probably force the Rays to trade either Yunel Escobar or James Loney following 2015, but the timing would be perfect as both players would have just one guaranteed year left on their contracts. If I had more time in the Faux Winter Meetings, I also would have pushed harder to deal Escobar for whatever I could get knowing that shortstop was no longer as much of a question for the Rays.

Even after all these moves, I’m left with two 40-man roster spots remaining, three if I designate Molina for assignment. While I was far from perfect, I was able to move nearly all of the Tampa Bay Rays’ trade candidates, and I lost little if anything from the 2015 team while making the future look considerably brighter. Do you agree with that assessment?

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