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Tampa Bay Rays: Putting Return for Kevin Jepsen in Context

By Robbie Knopf
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On July 31st, the Tampa Bay Rays traded reliever Kevin Jepsen to the Minnesota Twins for right-handed pitching prospects Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia. We discussed the deal at that time, concluding that it was nice for the Rays to turn Jepsen, a replaceable reliever, into a potential starting pitcher in Hu and a pitcher with room to develop in Tapia. However, now that we have had some time to take a deep breath and let the dust settle, let’s look at the return that the Rays received for Jepsen one more time.

It is far too early to know how any trade deadline deal will work out, but what we can do is compare similar deals to each other to get a feel for how players were valued. There were ten different deals where only a reliever was dealt for one or more young players (almost all prospects), so we have a decent amount of information to help us understand that Jepsen trade better. Here’s a quick summary of all ten trades, with prospect analysis coming after looking at Baseball America and Kiley McDaniel.

Marc Rzepczynski traded from Indians to Padres for outfielder Abraham AlmonteThe Padres received a year and two months of Rzepcyznski, a lefty reliever with a good track record who is having a poor season (4.43 ERA) in exchange for Almonte, a former decent prospect who is now a Quad-A outfielder who can’t be counted on for anything.

Jonathan Broxton traded from Brewers to Cardinals for outfielder Malik CollymoreBroxton has been terrible this year (5.89 ERA), but he still shows a mid-90’s fastball along with good strikeout and walk rates. He also has a $9 million team option ($2 million buyout) for 2016, although that is likely too high of a cost for him to be retained. In exchange for Broxton, the Brewers received Collymore, a Rookie ball hitter who has some bat speed but hasn’t been able to tap into his power and has moved down the defensive spectrum from second base to left field this season.

Steve Cishek traded from Marlins to Cardinals for RHP Kyle BarracloughCishek, the former Marlins closer, struggled enough this season that he was demoted to the minors before looking better (4 shutout innings) after returning. He is controllable for two more seasons via arbitration, although like Broxton, the price tag will be quite high. The Marlins got back Barraclough, a Double-A reliever with a mid-90’s fastball but huge control issues (7.3 BB/9 in 24.2 Double-A innings).

Joakim Soria traded from Tigers to Pirates for SS JaCoby JonesSoria, once a dominant reliever for the Royals, has been excellent as the Tigers’ closer this season, but only with a disturbing 1.7 HR/9. For two months of him, the Tigers got back Jones, a shortstop with power and speed but also serious questions regarding his defense (he may move to third) and his ability to make contact.

Tommy Hunter traded from Orioles to Cubs for OF Junior Lake: Hunter is a solid setup-type reliever whose flaw is an inability to miss many bats. For two months of him–and $1.6 million in salary relief–the Orioles got back Lake, a Quad-A outfielder who has athleticism and some power potential but has shown an extremely poor plate approach and questionable defense.

Jonathan Papelbon traded from Phillies to Nationals for RHP Nick Pivetta: Papelbon is costly (the Nationals will pay him around $15 million through the end of 2016) and his velocity is down, but his status as a dominant closer hasn’t changed thanks to improved command and control. The Phillies were able to get back Pivetta, a starting pitching prospect with a fastball that has reached 96 MPH and a good curveball who comes with questions regarding his command and changeup. He has number three starter upside but may end up in relief.

Tyler Clippard traded from Athletics to Mets for RHP Casey MeisnerClippard is an impending free agent owed a little over $2.5 million with a great track record but more walks and less strikeouts than usual this year. (On the positive side, his stuff looks fine). The Mets sent back Meisner, who can reach the mid-90’s with sink on his fastball but is considered to have just No. 4 starter upside between command issues and no secondary pitch with put-away potential at this point.

Sam Dyson traded from Marlins to Rangers for C Tomas Telis and LHP Cody Ege: Dyson won’t even be arbitration-eligible until 2018 as a hard-throwing right-hander who has been solid the last two years but has the pure stuff to pitch in the late innings, if not the command thus far. The Marlins got back Telis, who could be a backup catcher as contact and receiving go in his favor while his lack of power and arm strength do not, and an unimpressive lefty in Ege.

Mark Lowe traded from Mariners to Blue Jays for LHPs Rob Rasmussen, Jake Brentz, and Nick WellsLowe has an uneven track record, but he was unhittable (1.00 ERA) for Seattle this year and got his fastball back into the mid-90’s. In exchange for him, the Mariners get back Rasmussen, a lefty reliever with solid stuff but questionable command along with two Rookie ball pitchers in Brentz and Wells. Brentz has more upside and also comes with more risk, but both are extremely far away from the majors no matter what.

Kevin Jepsen traded from Rays to Twins for RHPs Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia: Finally, we have Jepsen, who pitched extremely well last year and had a shiny ERA (2.81) but extremely questionable peripherals. He is under team control for a year and two months. In return, the Rays received Hu, who is considered a relatively safe starter but one with only No. 4 upside, and Tapia, a rookie ball pitcher who has touched the mid-90’s but comes with plenty of uncertainty in terms of maintaining his velocity, his secondary pitches, and his command.

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If we look at the returns, the ones that clearly compose the bottom tier are Almonte, Collymore, Barraclough, and Lake. After that is a matter of debate. If you look at Kiley McDaniel’s analysis, he would say that the Mariners’ return for Lowe was the best, followed by what the Rays got Jepsen. Then Meisner would be third while Jones and Pivetta are tied for fourth before we get to the Marlins’ return for Dyson. On the other hand, Baseball America likes Pivetta the most while putting the returns of the Mariners and Rays in a tie for second. Then Jones, Meisner, and the Marlins’ return would be about even for fourth place.

For our purposes, though, we can say that the Tampa Bay Rays received about the second-most back for any reliever that was traded at this deadline. Did Jepsen have approximately the second-most value of any pitcher available? Once again, it’s a matter of debate. He is clearly ahead of Rzepczynski, Broxton, Cichek, and Hunter, but Papelbon, Soria, Clippard, and Lowe are all better pitchers than him while Dyson has a lot more team control.

There are a variety of questions we can ask. Will the contributions that Soria, Clippard, and Lowe will their teams in the season’s last two months outweighs what Jepsen will give the Twins in a year and two months? To what extent does Papelbon’s far higher salary than Jepsen overshadow the fact that he is a much more capable late-inning arm? Finally, can Dyson’s iffy track record really overcome the fact that he has a great stuff and could be a part of Rangers bullpens for years to come?

No matter what the questions to any of those questions are, however, the Tampa Bay Rays received a nice return for Kevin Jepsen. They didn’t get a steal by any means, but they got back value in line with pitchers better than Jepsen and maybe even better that what teams like the Phillies, Tigers, and Athletics received. The reality is that relievers aren’t valued too highly in baseball, and the Rays did well for themselves given that constraint. As it turns out, Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia are perfectly reasonable pieces to get back for a good but far from great reliever like Jepsen.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Chih-Wei Hu Solid in Debut

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