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Understanding Why the Rays “Traded” Joe Ross and Trea Turner

By Robbie Knopf
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We have heard many criticisms of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Wil Myers trade, but one of the most common ones is that the Rays never should have gotten the Washington Nationals involved in the deal. The San Diego Padres were set to send Joe Ross and Trea Turner to the Rays in the trade, but instead, the Rays effectively dealt them to Washington in exchange for Steven Souza and Travis Ott.

If you view the Myers trade as two separate moves, the second piece, the deal between the Rays and Nationals, seems to make little sense. Ross and Turner were the best prospects that the Rays were getting in exchange for Myers–why would they immediately send them away for seemingly inferior players? After thinking about it for a couple days, it is time to answer that question.

It simply does not feel right to view the Wil Myers deal as two separate transactions. After all, it is not as though the Rays executed the deal and then made another move afterwards.

In recent weeks, Andrew Friedman and the Los Angeles Dodgers traded Andrew Heaney to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Zach Eflin to the Philadelphia Phillies just moments after acquiring them. The Padres themselves even did the same as they sent Ryan Hanigan to the Boston Red Sox for Will Middlebrooks. This isn’t a new phenomenon either–there are plenty of precedents in baseball history of players being dealt twice in 24 or 48 hours.

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However, the difference between those deals and the Rays-Nationals exchange is that the Myers trade was officially regarded as a three-team deal no matter how you slice it. All three teams officially described the trade as such and we also saw the rumors about the deal encompass all three teams. It may not have been a three-team trade in the traditional sense–the Rays and Padres could have executed a deal without the Nationals being involved–but there has to be some reason why the two parts of the trade were considered one big transaction.

The Rays were clearly the team in control in this deal. They had Myers, the sought-after commodity, and at the end of the day, whether the Nationals were going to be in the trade or not was entirely up to them. Obviously the Rays and Nationals were negotiating, but at any point, Matt Silverman could have walked away and went through with a more conventional deal with the Padres.

Considering the Nationals didn’t send any players back to the Padres, San Diego general manager A.J. Preller had to be entirely indifferent over whether the Rays were going to keep Joe Ross and Trea Turner or send them to Washington. He was losing them and not getting anything back for them, so why would it matter to him? Between the lack of direct interaction between the Padres and Nationals and the amount of control the Rays had over the structure of the deal, it is straightforward that Silverman could have made what we are now calling “the Wil Myers trade” into two separate deals.

By marketing this trade as a three-team trade rather than two distinct moves, though, the Rays are emphasizing the fact that Ross and Turner were never part of their organization and were only means to acquire Souza and Ott. The Rays’ bottom line is that they turned Myers, Hanigan, and two low-level minor leaguers into upgrades at right field and catcher in Souza and Rivera plus Burch Smith and two prospects they liked. That is the deal they wanted to make, and the fact that Ross and Turner had to be involved is mostly irrelevant in their minds.

An obvious assumption that we can make is that the Rays regard Steven Souza very highly. Souza’s skill-set isn’t the same as Myers’–while his raw power isn’t quite as impressive, he does feature better speed and defense–but the Rays clearly think that on the whole, he will be as good or better than Myers in coming years. The only way the Rays were going to be comfortable dealing Myers may have been if they were able to replace him with a player like Souza.

We heard last summer that the Rays turned down a David Price trade offer that featured better prospects so they could get a more big league-ready return from the Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners. Their logic is similar here in that the objective value of the players they received was not going to necessarily be the same as the value specifically to them.

Souza filled the void left by Myers while Ross and Turner were never going to mean as much to them. Ross has upside, but the Rays need offense a lot more than pitching, and Turner’s questionable bat was enough for them to part with him as well.

Steven Souza made more sense to the Rays’ needs as an organization, making them willing to deal Joe Ross and Trea Turner even when it was only debatably their best objective decision. Souza had the type of bat and all-around package that is harder to find, and between that and his big league-readiness, his worth to Silverman was extremely high. In addition, we can’t forget about Travis Ott.

We didn’t know much about Ott at the time of the trade, but Baseball America has since chimed in that he could be one change away from breaking out as a prospect.

"He works quickly and evaluators believe, with some mechanical adjustments, he could throw in the mid-90s."

Clearly the Rays think that they can implement such adjustments and turn Ott into an impressive prospect in his own right down the line. That doesn’t make Ott nearly as valuable of an asset as a more developed pitcher like Joe Ross, but it certainly played a role as the Rays chose to make the move. Considering their track record for developing pitching, they were even more willing to execute the deal with the Nationals knowing that Ott could eventually even it out further.

The Tampa Bay Rays were making a calculated decision as they chose to never actually acquire Joe Ross and Trea Turner and instead send them to the Nationals. They made the trade become known as a “three-team deal” instead of two trades to make it clear that they viewed Ross and Turner as more valuable to get them the return they wanted for Myers than to actually have them in their organization.

Matt Silverman and the Rays have nothing against Ross and Turner, but Steven Souza fit what they needed much better and Travis Ott will help make up the difference in value. Nevertheless, you can feel free to continue disagreeing that the second part of the Wil Myers trade was worthwhile. Be sure to understand, however, that every part of the deal was fastidiously carried out by the Rays and they achieved exactly what they wanted by making this trade a reality.

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