The Tampa Bay Rays find themselves in an unceasing cycle of trading starting pitchers. Since 2008, they have traded the following starters (in chronological order): Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, James Shields, Wade Davis, David Price, and Jeremy Hellickson. Not only is another trade inevitable, but it also needs to happen soon.
To clarify, I am not advocating that the Rays should move towards trading one of their top six starting pitchers now. Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, and Alex Colome form a rotation that is the backbone of this team, and Matt Moore will only make the group stronger when he returns. The issue, however, is all of the pitchers behind them on the depth chart.
Just on the Rays’ 40-man roster, they have Nate Karns (their number 7 starter), Matt Andriese (number 8), Burch Smith (number 9), Enny Romero (number 10), Mike Montgomery (number 11), and Grayson Garvin (either number 12 or number 13 behind the non-rostered Dylan Floro). This is getting completely out of control.
The Rays needs pitchers ready for when injury or ineffectiveness strikes, and each of these pitchers could also be used in relief. However, there is no reason that they need every single one of these six, and we have to believe that the Rays can spare at least one of them to clear a roster spot. If they don’t trade someone in the coming weeks, they will have to designate some pitcher for assignment unnecessarily later.
How would the Rays execute such a deal? One possibility is for them to include a pitcher like Romero or Montgomery in a Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, or David DeJesus deal. Romero has been mentioned in the past as a possibility to be dealt along with Price and Hellickson, and the same logic would apply here.
Other teams could use the starting depth–or a hard-throwing bullpen arm–more than the Rays, and it makes sense to put them into a deal. Romero and Montgomery are no longer considered top pitching prospects, but dealing them could still net the Rays an additional prospect or two and/or make a team more comfortable dealing one of their well-regarded young arms.
Three examples of trades in this vein include the recent Justin Upton, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Kemp deals. In the Upton trade, Aaron Northcraft went from the Atlanta Braves to the San Diego Padres to help even out the package of players going to the two teams. That is certainly a possibility for say a Zobrist trade, but the other two deals have more interesting wrinkles involved.
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The Samardzija trade saw the Oakland Athletics force the Chicago White Sox to take Michael Ynoa, an A-ball reliever taking up a 40-man roster spot, in exchange for a slightly lesser return than they would have received otherwise. In this instance, the Rays could require that a team angling to acquire Zobrist would need to take Romero or Montgomery, but unlike Ynoa, both of those pitchers have real trade value and could augment their return.
In the Kemp deal, meanwhile, Andrew Friedman and the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Yasmani Grandal, but to facilitate the deal, they did give up fellow catcher Tim Federowicz. Federowicz is not at all comparable to Grandal, but getting him back made the Padres more comfortable with their catching depth and was a factor as they agreed to the trade.
A pitching prospect like Kyle Crick or A.J. Cole could head back to the Rays in a Zobrist trade, but the San Francisco Giants or Washington Nationals might need some convincing. If it made the other team more comfortable, the Rays could easily throw Romero into the trade if it also netted them a low-minors player or two with upside.
Another route the Rays could go to deal Enny Romero or Mike Montgomery would be to trade them directly. Three pitchers in relatively similar situations to them, Zeke Spruill, Matt Magill, and Sean Gilmartin were dealt for Myles Smith, Chris Heisey, and Ryan Doumit respectively. (The former two trades occurred this offseason while the latter happened in 2013).
Smith is a low-minors pitching prospect with risk but also quite of a bit of potential while Heisey and Doumit had both been decent big league players for years. However, Romero and Montgomery have better stuff than that duo, so we should try to find at least a couple more comparables.
Arodys Vizcaino had dealt with manifold injury issues and been converted to relief yet still had enough value to be dealt for Tommy La Stella. La Stella’s MLB debut in 2014 did not go particularly well, but he was also not far removed from being a top second base prospect. This could be an interesting framework for a Romero or Montgomery deal.
Then, as a negative example, we can look at Andy Oliver, who was traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Pittsburgh Pirates for unimpressive catching prospect Ramon Cabrera in the 2012 offseason. Even though Oliver was still considered a reasonably good prospect even after the trade, teams had soured enough on him that he had little trade value.
If the Rays sought to trade Enny Romero or Mike Montgomery directly, the range of returns they could receive is much larger. Nevertheless, they have nothing to lose seeing what offers they would get. A player like La Stella would be interesting, or it may make more sense for the Rays to accept a prospect slightly better than Smith and gain a 40-man roster spot.
We have continuously heard the Tampa Bay Rays say “you can never have too much pitching,” but they find themselves in precisely the situation of having too many starting pitchers. A deal involving Enny Romero or Mike Montgomery makes a lot of sense in their pursuit of roster flexibility, and it may be only a matter of time until it occurs in some form.