Trades Tampa Bay Rays Should Already Be Thinking About
The Tampa Bay Rays' 2014 season has not gone according to plan.
As mid-May approaches, the Rays find themselves in last place in the American League East with three of their five starting pitchers on the disabled list.
At the beginning of spring training, pitchers Jake Odorizzi, Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard were all competing for the Rays fifth starter spot in the rotation. Today, all three are in the rotation. In other words, the team’s third-through-fifth starters are truly their sixth-through-eighth options.
That is certainly not good for a team that has postseason ambitions.
If this season continues to take a downward trend the team will need to begin preparations for 2015 and beyond.
A large part of the future planning will involve the composition of the roster—deciding which players to keep and which players to let go. Planning for beyond this season is neither an easy process nor a fast process.
One way the Rays can keep the roster competitive is by making trades. By exchanging current players for future prospects, they can keep a pipeline of players that are young and affordable.
Here is a look at three trades the Rays should already be thinking about.
All statistics and salary information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Matt Joyce has been splitting his time this season between designated hitter and the outfield. His playing time is limited due to his inability to find success against left-handed pitchers.
Over his career Joyce has a .188/.262/.312 line against lefties compared to a .263/.358/.480 line against right-handed pitchers. This season, he is batting .319/.424/.495 with three home runs against righties. After 10 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers this year, he is still searching for his first hit.
Joyce may not garner a lot of interest by himself, though he could be packaged in a deal with another player. His ability to hit for power and play sound defense in the outfield could be the missing piece for a team.
He is still arbitration-eligible for the 2015 season and will become a free agent in 2016.
Jeremy Hellickson presents an interesting challenge for the Tampa Bay Rays. He is currently on the disabled list recovering from elbow surgery and is expected to return to the lineup in June.
His career with the Rays started off very promising. He won the American League Rookie of the Year in 2011 and followed that up with an AL Gold Glove Award in 2012.
In 2013, he had a very disappointing regression for the Rays. He played in 32 games (31 starts) and finished with a 5.17 ERA while allowing 185 hits and 100 earned runs, all career highs. In contrast, he only allowed 137 earned runs in the first 64 games of his MLB career.
Following the 2012 season, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports speculated that Hellickson would be moved instead of James Shields. Shields ultimately went to the Kansas City Royals in the deal that returned Wil Myers.
Part of the speculation was due to the fact that Hellickson is represented by Scott Boras. It is difficult to envision a scenario where the Rays will be able to sign him to a long-term deal similar to pitchers Matt Moore and Chris Archer.
If Hellickson can bounce back to his previous form, he could become a very valuable trade commodity. He will be arbitration-eligible through 2016 before becoming a free agent in 2017. Typically, the Rays have moved pitchers including Matt Garza and James Shields while they have two years remaining on their contract, with David Price as the exception.
It was surprising that the Tampa Bay Rays retained David Price for the 2014 season. Keeping their ace broke the trend of the team trading away young pitchers with two years remaining of team control in exchange for prospects.
With the anticipated roster it made sense to keep Price, since the team has the potential to contend for the division and ultimately a World Series. However, if the team cannot play its way out of the AL East cellar, it may behoove the Rays to begin to check what interest exists for their former Cy Young Award winner.
The Rays cannot afford to play Price until his contract expires at the end of the 2015 season. He will be too expensive to re-sign at that point. They could potentially receive a compensatory draft pick for losing him, but that would not be enough.
The Rays' farm system is depleted, and they no longer have pitchers waiting who can develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter. In order to sustain success, they will need to trade for top prospects from another team. In order to accomplish this, they will likely need to trade Price.
It is a tough reality, but it's a process they must begin to realistically consider.