Here we go again. On July 31, 2014, the Tampa Bay Rays traded ace lefty David Price to the Detroit Tigers. What we are about to discuss on December 17th, 2014 is a little bit too similar in that Rays fans are confused, angry, and still trying to figure out what in the world just transpired. Hopefully I can help you all with that right now.
The Rays have executed a Wil Myers trade, sending their young outfielder to the San Diego Padres as part of a three-team deal with San Diego and the Washington Nationals. The deal which was confirmed by Jim Bowden after contributions from Jeff Passan, Ken Rosenthal, and Marc Topkin, goes as follows:
Part 1: Tampa Bay Rays trade OF Wil Myers, C Ryan Hanigan, LHP Jose Castillo, and RHP Gerardo Reyes to the San Diego Padres for C Rene Rivera, RHP Burch Smith, 1B Jake Bauers, RHP Joe Ross, and SS Trea Turner (as a player-to-be-named-later).
Let’s first summarize the players involved. Myers, 24, is obviously a talented outfielder, winning the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year, but he struggled mightily in 2014 amid issues with overaggressiveness and pitch recognition along with a wrist injury. His future is certainly more up in the air than it was before. He will be controlled by the Padres through the 2019 season.
Hanigan, 34, has proven himself to be a capable tandem catcher between great defense and a solid bat, but he wore down when the Rays tried to make him more of a true starter. He is owed $3.5 million in 2015 and $3.7 million in 2016 to go along with an $800,000 buyout of his 2017 option after the Rays extended him shortly after acquiring him from the Cincinnati Reds.
Castillo and Reyes are low-minors wild cards. Castillo, a lefty who is about to turn 18, has reached 95 MPH with his fastball but pitched just 4.2 Rookie ball innings this season. He had considerable work to do on his secondary pitches and command, but is considered to have the upside of a No. 2 or No. 3 starter if his development goes smoothly.
Reyes, meanwhile, pitched well at Short Season-A this season while flashing a 97 MPH fastball and a promising slider. The right-hander, who will turn 22 in May, is a only a bullpen arm and is years away from getting there, but he does have late-inning potential.
Rene Rivera, who we just talked about, is a 30 year old catcher coming off a breakout year for the Padres. He may not hit as well as he did in 2014, but he is an excellent defender (and pitch-framer) capable of excelling against lefties and being at least serviceable against righties. He is under team control for the next three seasons and projected to make $1.3 million through arbitration this offseason.
Burch Smith, who will turn 25 in April pitched in just two games in 2014 while recovering from a forearm injury after a poor big league debut in 2013. As a starting pitcher, he throws a low-90’s fastball, a good changeup, a below-average breaking ball. Refining his curveball is the key for him to remain a starter, but his fastball can reach the upper-90’s in short stints, giving him a good fallback as a setup man or even a closer.
Now we’re up to Bauers, a 19 year old first baseman who more than held his own at Low-A despite being 3.4 years younger than the league’s average age. He doesn’t have as much power as you would like from a first baseman, but thanks to an excellent feel for hitting and strong pitch recognition, he could be a James Loney-esque starting first baseman nonetheless.
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Ross, the first player we’ll discuss who will end up the Nationals, was the Padres’ first round pick in 2011 and is coming off a solid season that finished up at Double-A. He stands out for a mid-90’s fastball touching 97 MPH, but he is working to continue improving his sharp slider, solid changeup, and overall command of his pitches. He has the raw ingredients to be a No. 2 starter in the big leagues, but enough questions that he could end up as a reliever.
Turner, meanwhile, was the Padres’ first round three years later and pairs exciting tools with considerable risk. He has the speed to steal 50 bases and the defense to be a solid shortstop, but his bat speed and pitch recognition are both question marks. Turner does have raw power, but he is unlikely to be even an average hitter. The hope of the Nationals now is that he’ll hit decently enough that his other abilities will help him be a starting shortstop in the big leagues.
Back to the players heading to the Rays, Steven Souza is a five-tool player that had a breakout season at Triple-A. At best, he can be good defensive right fielder with 25-homer power and 20-steal speed. On the other hand, he turns 26 in April and has issues with pitch recognition. How much he improves in that regard will determine whether he is a starting corner outfielder or a useful reserve.
Finally, Travis Ott is a complete question mark as a 19 year old lefty with a projectable 6’4″, 170 frame. He pitches in the high-80’s with more velocity to come and also throws a decent curveball. He has potential, but he is raw enough that we still have no idea what the future holds for him. Clearly the Rays saw something they liked with him, but that is all we can say.
With all the cards on the table, let’s evaluate the trade. In the first part of the trade, the Rays traded a talented but risky commodity in Myers, a relatively steady performer in Hanigan, and two low-minors lottery tickets. In return, they received a cheaper catcher in Rivera who is about as good as Hanigan, two high-ceiling, low-floor prospects in Ross and Turner, additional pitching depth in Smith, and a solid A-ball prospect in Bauers. If we assume that the Rays dealing Myers implies that they think the uncertainty involved with him has increased exponentially in the last year, turning him into all these prospects and a favorable Hanigan-Rivera swap looks pretty good.
The second part of the trade is admittedly harder to figure, but the best we can say is that Ross and Turner come with risk and clearly the Rays believe in Souza. He cut down on his strikeouts and showed improved patience and pitch recognition in 2014. If Souza’s hitting clicks, the Rays are looking at a very good outfielder, one that just might outperform Myers. If that’s the guy he is now, he’s worth giving up Ross and Turner for.
The issues with this trade are all the assumptions we have to make to view it favorably for the Rays. Is Myers truly fatally flawed? Are Ross and Turner more interesting as trade bait than as players in the Rays’ system? Has Souza truly broken through? All those questions will take time to answer. However, the bottom line is that the Rays turned an outfielder and a catcher in Myers and Hanigan into an outfielder and a catcher they liked more in Souza and Rivera, and even got Smith, Bauers, and Ott for making the exchange.
This Wil Myers trade is one of the most polarizing deals the Rays have ever made, but if they are right in how they are evaluating these players, it could end up being one of their best. Let’s give this deal some time to stew in our heads and even more time to play out on the field before we decide whether this trade is a favorable one for the Rays.