Rays trade for Diaz raises more questions than answers
By Austin Reimann
The Tampa Bay Rays completed a three team deal that included the Cleveland Indians and the Seattle Mariners. In the trade completed on Thursday, three first baseman were on the move including the Rays’ Jake Bauers. With the dust settling, the trade has created more questions than answers.
In what was surely an unsettling announcement for most Tampa Bay Rays fans, Jake Bauers was traded away for Yandy Diaz and Cole Sulser. Yes, “Light Tower” Bauers was traded away. Yes, it stings. Yes, it may confuse Rays fans, but it was a good trade.
As a fan, it does hurt seeing Willy Adames and Jake Bauers ripped apart after only one major league season. But the bromance was likely in jeopardy with Nate Lowe surging through the minor league ranks. Bauers struggled mightily down the stretch after thriving on arrival.
Although I agree with the trade, I do believe that it raises more questions than answers going forward this winter. Let’s start with the answers…
Answer #1: Bauers was never really the “first baseman of the future” after all
Let me explain. Even though the Rays execs praised Bauers and even pointed to him as the answer at first base in 2019, it was likely a show. It could be entirely possibly that the Rays have known since the end of the season that Bauers wasn’t going to be playing first at the Trop this season.
If this is the case, the front office did a great job of inflating his value at the Winter Meetings. They made sure to use rhetoric that showed confidence in their young first baseman. But, this may not be the case at all. They may have actually planned on him being their opening day first baseman until they stumbled upon a chance to acquire Yandy Diaz. I honestly don’t know.
I have a feeling Bauers’ struggles at the end of 2018 and the emergence of Nate Lowe put his future in Tampa Bay at risk even though the front office didn’t admit it. Chances are he was going to be traded, whether it was for Goldy, Realmuto, etc.
Answer #2: The Rays really like Yandy Diaz
For the Rays to send Bauers to Cleveland and 5 million in cash to Seattle, shows just how highly they value Yandy’s bat. Yes, they have money to spend, and yes, they still get the same amount of control with Diaz, but 5 million is still a healthy chunk of change for the Rays.
They are obviously high on the 27-year-old Cuban utility player.
Answer #3: Yandy Diaz and Cole Sulser
In return for Bauers, the Rays got Yandy Diaz and Cole Sulser from the Indians. Lets take a look at what we got…
Yandy Diaz, RHH, U
The 27 year old cuban utility player who can play both corner infield and outfield positions has played parts of two seasons in Cleveland. In 88 career games, Yandy has a line of .283/.361/.366 and a 94 OPS+.
Cole Sulser, RHP
The 28 year old right hander, has been strictly a reliever since 2015. In his career in the minors, he has logged 378.1 innings with a 4.02 ERA and 424 strikeouts. In 51.2 innings at AAA in 2018, he had an underwhelming 4.53 ERA but did strikeout 78 batters. IN 60.2 total innings last season, Sulser struck out 95.
No more answers… Now for the Questions…
Question #1: Where will Yandy Diaz play?
Will he play third? Will he play 1st? I honestly don’t know… I think the most logical move would be to make Diaz the full-time third baseman, trading away Matt Duffy. This would hurt Daniel Robertson’s playing time, unless they move him to first and employ a Robertson/Choi platoon.
Diaz projects more pop at third than Duffy and if he gets the ball in the air more, he could become a real power threat. The next trade they make could very well be to ship off Duffy. I guess we will see…
Question #2: Will they pursue Jose Martinez more aggressively now?
If Diaz does become the everyday third baseman of the future, the Rays next trade may be for the Cardinal’s Jose Martinez. Martinez, like Diaz can flat out hit and is luckily lacking a place to play with the Cards recent blockbuster for Goldschmidt.
The Rays could trade for Martinez who is an above average hitter with a career OPS+ of 128 across 915 at bats. Martinez would slot perfectly at first base, the only concern is his defense, he could also be a DH.
Question #3: Will Nate Lowe’s journey to the show be accelerated?
Nate Lowe surged through the minor league ranks last year hitting 27 bombs across three levels (Adv A, AA, AAA). He likely will begin the season in AAA, but with Bauers gone, his time in Durham may be short-lived, especially if they do not add Martinez.
Question #4: Will Robertson and Choi form a new platoon at first?
Previously mentioned, a platoon of Daniel Robertson and Ji-Man Choi could be a real possibility come opening day in 2019 even if they do trade for Martinez, who could DH. Robertson and Choi could split time based on the daily pitching matchups.
Question #5 (Last one): Does this end the Cruz discussion or further fuel the fire?
We know that the Rays value versatility and they proved just that with the acquisition of Yandy Diaz. He has the ability to play numerous positions unlike Nelson Cruz who would solely be a DH. With this in mind, will their final acquisition be Martinez instead of Cruz valuing Martinez’s value to hit and defend, albeit poorly.
On the flip side, if Diaz moves to third, Duffy is traded away, and Robertson and Choi platoon at first… there is room to sign Cruz.
I’m not sure if this recent trade by the Rays will lessen the talk surrounding Nelson Cruz or further fuel the fire, but a lot of it hinges on where the Rays plan on Diaz playing.
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All in all, I like the trade by the Rays and I have learned to trust Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom when it comes to these matters.
In the coming days I will write a “Getting to know” about Cole Sulser, the newest Rays prospect. Yandy Diaz could prove to be a pivotal piece of the Rays future, and I am very excited to see him take the field on a daily basis in 2019.