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Tampa Bay Rays: Discussing Trea Turner, Joe Ross Again

By Robbie Knopf
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Regardless of how Wil Myers does in the future, the trade the sent Myers to San Diego is unlikely to look good for the Tampa Bay Rays. In the first half of 2015, Steven Souza Jr. showed power and speed but struck out far too many times before hitting the disabled list. First base prospect Jake Bauers has played well while the Rene RiveraRyan Hanigan swap has been fine so far, and the Rays also have Short Season-A lefty Travis Ott and right-hander Burch Smith, who is recovering from Tommy John Surgery. But is there any real chance that Souza and Ott will outplay the players that the Rays could have received instead?

As we have discussed several times now, the Myers trade was essentially two different deals. First, the Rays dealt Myers, Hanigan, and young pitchers Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes to the Padres for Trea Turner, Joe Ross, Rene Rivera, Burch Smith, and Jake Bauers. And then, for reasons that still seem perplexing, they dealt both Turner and Ross to the Washington Nationals to get Souza and Ott. Now, nearly seven months later, let’s evaluate their decision again.

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Entering the season, Steven Souza Jr. was ranked as the #37 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America while Turner came in at #65 and Ross was considered the 96th-best minor leaguer. Trading the #65 and #96 prospects for the #37 doesn’t sound so bad–if those were the overall pick numbers of draft spots in football, that would sound like a pretty good deal. However, research would suggest that the Rays were trading a projected 8.5 WAR to receive only 6.8 WAR. Maybe the Rays regarded Souza more highly than most–if he was a top 25 prospect, he would be expected to be worth 12.5 WAR rather than 6.8–but there’s our first red flag.

Why would the Rays be more optimistic about Souza than other teams? One answer is that the Rays tend to pay less attention to age when it comes to prospects than the rest of baseball. Nate Karns is beginning to look like a steal after the Rays acquired him from the Nationals in an earlier deal, and the team has also been extremely patient with players like Ben Zobrist, Logan Forsythe, and (in a lower-profile case) Brandon Guyer. Souza stood out enough for his power, speed, and throwing arm that he was ranked among the top 40 prospects in baseball. However, perhaps the fact that he was about to turn 26 made that ranking too low.

On the other side, maybe the Rays did not evaluate Trea Turner and Joe Ross as highly as other teams. Turner had been the 13th overall pick the previous year, standing out for his blazing speed and solid defense at shortstop, but there were plenty of questions regarding his bat. Many teams thought of him as only a bottom-of-the-order hitter, and one that was no sure bet to stick at shortstop. Ross, meanwhile, had solid stuff but not the highest upside, with Baseball America describing him as a potential number three starter.

Another factor is positional scarcity. Especially as the Rays traded Myers, they needed a power-hitting outfielder, a type of player they simply didn’t have in their system. On the other hand, they had plenty of starting pitchers and even a pair of high-upside shortstops in Willy Adames and Andrew Velazquez. (They also acquired Daniel Robertson the following month.) Turner had talent, but the Rays had Asdrubal Cabrera signed for the season and guys like Nick Franklin and Tim Beckham ready if a stopgap situation beyond that became necessary.

Finally, if the Rays weren’t going to trade Turner and Ross for Souza, who would they have dealt? Adames was the one guy in their system at the time who was a top-100 prospect in baseball in his own right, and maybe the Rays could have substituted him for Turner. However, the Rays loved his upside and the last thing they needed was another shortstop who couldn’t really hit, especially one who couldn’t officially join their system until June.

Of course, Turner made mechanical changes to his swing this season and has proceeded to break out, hitting to a .318/.368/.472 line. Ross, meanwhile, was incredible in his first three big league starts, pitching to a 2.66 ERA and a 23-2 strikeout to walk ratio, and has also looked good in the minor leagues. Turner ranked as the #9 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America’s Midseason Top 50, and Ross placed 31st. Both took major steps forward while Souza has been alright but nothing more for the Rays.

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A the same time, though, this trade won’t exactly be a disaster for the Tampa Bay Rays. If guys like Robertson and Adames give the Rays a strong shortstop situation in the future while the rotation remains strong, it won’t be as though Turner or Ross could have made either situation much better. Souza was really the guy with the ability to make an impact on the Rays, and if he continues to progress, the Rays will have gotten exactly the type of player they needed. Turner and Ross have also looked more questionable in their brief Triple-A time, inspiring hope that their breakthroughs are temporary.

The flaw with that thinking, though, is that you always want the more valuable player no matter what your needs are. If the Rays had Ross and Turner as players they didn’t need, they could use one of them as the centerpiece of a deal to acquire say Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds to be that right field power bat. Steven Souza Jr. and Travis Ott are miles below what the Rays would receive for Turner and Ross if they dealt them right now. Even as we understand what the Rays were thinking and try to believe that Souza, Ross, and Turner will turn out exactly as the Rays think they will, this second part of the Myers trade looks like a clear mistake.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Pros and Cons of Moving Drew Smyly To Relief

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