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Breaking News: Rays Trade Matt Joyce for Kevin Jepsen

By Robbie Knopf

When we discussed possible trade destinations for Matt Joyce, the Los Angeles Angels checked in at number six. While they were never the most likely candidate, they could use an upgrade at DH and addition outfield depth, and Joyce could help them in both regards. The Angels did indeed deem him to be worth acquiring as they traded Kevin Jepsen to the Rays to complete the deal.

For Joyce, the trade ends his six-year run in a Rays uniform. He was never excellent except for in his All-Star 2011, but he was a solid player once we accepted his limitations. He didn’t play great defense, couldn’t hit lefty pitching at all, and was streaky even against righties, but we can’t complain too much about his .250/.342/.441 line and 118 OPS+ in a Rays uniform.

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Joyce became redundant on the Rays’ roster after David DeJesus was acquired and Kevin Kiermaier rose to prominence, but it is worth noting that this is a very different trade than the ones for Cesar Ramos and Sean Rodriguez. Ramos and Rodriguez had found some success, but left the Rays as spare parts. Matt Joyce, in contrast, didn’t leave as a super-valuable player but did net the Rays a very good reliever.

In 2014 for the Angels, Kevin Jepsen delivered a 2.63 ERA, a 10.4 K/9, a 3.2 BB/9, and a 0.4 HR/9 in 74 appearances and 65 innings pitched. He hasn’t always pitched that well–2014 was his first truly great season–but pairing numbers like that with a fastball that averaged 96.24 MPH and two secondary pitches makes him awfully impressive nonetheless.

Jepsen joins a strong Rays late-inning relief core that also includes Jake McGee, Brad Boxberger, and Grant Balfour, and he could be around for a while. Jepsen is under team control for the next two seasons and he is projected to make $2.6 million in 2014. His acquisition is even more important given that McGee just underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery.

With Jeff Beliveau and Ernesto Frieri set to man two more spots, the Rays will have two spot up for grabs in their bullpen entering spring training. Leading candidates for the roles include Jose Dominguez, Brandon Gomes, and Alex Colome, and Gomes could be a trade candidate himself now.

Jepsen may not possess quite the type of value the Rays were looking for in exchange for Matt Joyce, but turning one year of a player they longer needed into two of an elite reliever would still be a solid feat if Jepsen continues pitching well. The Rays have now checked another thing off their offseason checklist, and their 2015 roster picture is slowly becoming clearer.