A majority of focus from the Aubrey Huff trade has been centered on Ben Zobrist for the past year and a half, and rightfully so. His hard swinging, OBP machine, super-utility man routine took baseball by storm in 2009; even going as far as getting him more than the token MVP vote (8th place!). If Zobrist comes anywhere close to duplicating his 2009 numbers in the team-controlled seasons left on his contract then that will go down as one of the bigger trade coups in recent memory. Getting lost in all of the Zobrist hoopla is the other player involved in that trade, Mitch Talbot.
When the deal took place it was Talbot, not the light hitting shortstop Zobrist, who was the more prized ‘get’. Here are Talbot's FIPs for each season in the Rays' minor league system:
The numbers are pretty good, but in an organization that was/is as pitching rich as the Rays there was never room for him. He wasn’t polished enough to earn a shot with the 2007 rotation, 2008 saw the additions of Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine to fill two vacancies, while David Price, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Davis filled the voids in 2009. The 2010 rotation looks to be the Rays strongest yet. In another organization with less pitching depth Talbot would surely have been given a substantial shot in the Major Leagues by now.
With Spring Training approaching faster and faster the annual rosterbation games that we all play begin to creep up. What free agents are signed? Who gets traded? Who makes it? Who doesn’t? In the case of Mitch Talbot, unfortunately the answer appears to be the latter. Talbot is out of options, and will need to make the 25 man roster to avoid being put on waivers, where he would be plucked off rather quickly. He’s not making the rotation, so we can skip that and move to the bullpen. Since it appears the Rays will go with a four man bench that leaves them with a seven man bullpen. Let’s take a look at the candidates:
The first four are virtual locks. Cormier is arb1 eligible, so theoretically they could non-tender him, but he’s not likely to get a big raise in arb anyway (h/t Tommy). There are some reverse split guys in that grouping, but Joe Maddon enjoys his LOOGYs, making R.J. Swindle or Brian Shouse (should he accept arbitration) prime candidates for that role. After that you have five pitchers for two spots, and with Sonnanstine, Chavez, and Thayer having options remaining it makes Talbot look that much less attractive. That’s without bringing into the equation the high likelihood of the Rays signing one or more free agent relievers, which they’re wont to do.
If you add all of that up, barring some major injury, the forecast for Talbot being in a Rays’ uniform next season looks grim at best. The team was in a similar situation last off-season with Jason Hammel, and ended up trading him to Colorado where he turned in a pretty decent season. I would imagine Talbot will have the same fate. Where Talbot and Hammel differ is their MLB experience. At the time Hammel was dealt he had served over a year at the Major League level; Talbot has about ten innings. Even though they’ll have no leverage, the front office will not let an asset walk away for nothing. They don’t have that luxury. They’ll move him for a low to mid-level prospect who will provide more organizational depth. Then Talbot will merely be an answer to a trivia question, the "other guy" in the Aubrey Huff trade, a feint memory to most Rays fans. I always liked Talbot and believe he still has a future in the league somewhere; that somewhere just doesn't appear to be here.