Tommy Pham trade is a win on paper, but does that matter?
By Austin Reimann
On paper the Tampa Bay Rays recent trade involving Tommy Pham and Hunter Renfroe looks like a win… But its what isn’t measured on paper that could hurt the Rays in 2020…
Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays flipped Tommy Pham, an aging outfielder with only two years of team control remaining, for a younger outfielder with more pop and four years of control along with a top-100 prospect and a PTBNL. Yes, this is what the Rays do and have done for years now and as a result they have won 90 games in back to back seasons. And yes, we probably should have expected this to happen.
So, if this is what the Rays have done in recent history and as a result are now in a position to reach October in 2020 for the second time in as many years, why would we question them?
In 2014, they traded David Price. In 2016, they traded away Matt Moore and Drew Smyly. The following year, they traded away Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson, and Steven Souza Jr. and still won 80 games. In 2018, they traded away C.J. Cron, Mallex Smith, and Jake Bauers. Now, they have moved Pham.
Each season following a retooling of the roster, the Rays have won more games. Each offseason they have infused the roster with youth and their organization with talent. It has worked up to this point, why wouldn’t it keep working? The Rays are an analytical club and their decisions are driven by data. If the data says this is the right move, then why doubt it?
The difference is that in all of the previous off-seasons during which they shipped off well-liked, productive leaders in the clubhouse, the Rays weren’t in a position to play in October the following season. After winning 96 games last season and making it to Game 5 of the ALDS, the Rays’ aspirations are the Fall Classic, not merely to marginally improve their record and their organizational talent.
But, you don’t get to the fall classic by trading away players like Tommy Pham. A decision that was driven by the data including years of control, future production, age, etc. ignores what the data can’t measure, the intangibles that a player like Pham brings to the table.
The front office can’t measure his value and presence in the locker room. They can’t measure the value of his experience as a veteran on the team. They can’t measure the effect that his drive has on his teammates throughout the course of a grueling 162 game season. The only thing they can measure are results and the results when Tommy Pham was on the field for the Rays speak volumes.
In the season and a half that he wore a Rays uniform, when he made an appearance the Rays went 112-72, good for a .609 winning percentage. Sure, 2020 would have been his age-32 season and he was projected to make 8.5M and roughly 11.5M the following year, but you simply can’t ignore what he brought to the table.
As I alluded to previously, the difference this year as opposed to years prior is that the Rays are in a position to win now. They weren’t in a position to win when they traded away Evan Longoria and Jake Odorizzi. They weren’t in a position to win now when they traded away Mallex Smith and Jake Bauers. But, when they traded away Tommy Pham just a few days ago, they were in a position to win.
The model makes total and complete sense when you aren’t in a position to win the following year. The model is one that all rebuilding teams should follow and the results prove that. But, maybe the model isn’t right for a team that just won 96 games and was a game away from the ALCS.
That isn’t for me to decide, instead its for the front office to decide and they evidently decided to follow the model once again. I’m just not so sure that I completely agree with this move. Like I said, on paper it makes sense, but baseball isn’t played on paper.
And on paper the 2020 Rays lost a step in the on-base and average departments. They may have gained an edge in the team-control, defense, and power departments, but to what end? Off-paper, in the clubhouse they lost a step, they lost an edge and while that can’t necessarily be measured, it is invaluable.
Blake Snell’s obvious disappointment and “Slapdick Prospect” comment tells you all need to know about Pham’s immeasurable value to the team. In Pham, the Rays lost a leader, a player who led by example, and someone who has been there and done that. They may have gained two more years of control and another highly touted prospect, but with a chance to win in 2020, was it worth it?
I trust this front office and have since day one, but no front office is perfect and this decision, while a win on paper, is deserving of further discussion. Until this offseason is complete and the Opening Day roster is set, this trade will be a point of discussion because they have some more work to do to fill the void left by Pham.