Over the past two months, Andrew Friedman has made two trades we are not accustomed to as Rays fans: trading away young arms with high upside, or what you might call pitching depth.
January 22: The Tampa Bay Rays acquire infielder Logan Forsythe, right-handed pitcher Brad Boxberger and three minor leaguers -- right-handed pitchers Matt Andriese and Matt Lollis and infielder Maxx Tissenbaum -- from the San Diego Padres for left-handed pitcher Alex Torres and minor league right-handed pitcher Jesse Hahn.
February 13: The Tampa Bay Rays acquire right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns from the Washington Nationals for catcher Jose Lobaton, and two minor leaguers -- left-handed pitcher Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson.
The first trade came somewhat unexpectedly. Jesse Hahn had just been ranked No. 6 by Baseball Prospectus and had the most electric arm in the farm system, and he was packaged off with the shockingly resurgent Alex Torres for an infield platoon bat and a slew of minor leaguers.
I would challenge that, packaged with the recent trade of Jose Lobaton and two prospects ranked No. 17 and 20 by Baseball America, these two trades give one another context.
Warning, the majority of what I'm about to write is subjective.
The following are the two recent trades by the front office overlayed, with years of control remaining or Baseball America's most recent prospect ranking in parentheses. I've also italicized the most recent trade.
|UTIL Logan Forsythe (4 yrs)
|C Jose Lobaton (4 yrs)
|RHRP Brad Boxberger (6 yrs)
|LHP Alex Torres (6 yrs)
|RHSP Nathan Karns (No. 9)
|RHP Jesse Hahn (No. 15)
|RHSP Matt Andriese (No. 15)
|LHP Felipe Rivero (No. 17)
|RHRP Matt Lollis
|OF Drew Vettleson (No. 20)
|2B/C Maxx Tissenbaum
Identifying which trade is which makes for two seemingly uneven trades, but we can break the players exchanged into categories to see how the Rays generally upgraded through these moves:
The Bench Player: The Rays traded a bench bat with four years of control remaining from a position of surplus, for a bench bat with four years of control that should platoon in a very productive way from multiple defensive positions.
The Reliever: The Rays flipped a relief pitcher that has ranked between high and low points of 6th and 32nd in his farm system for a relief pitcher that has ranked between 9th and 18th.
The Electric Arm: The Rays sent off a high upside starter drafted out of college with two plus pitches and a recent injury history, for a high upside starter drafted out of college with two plus pitches and an older injury history.
The Safer Arm: The Rays exchanged a Double-A pitching prospect projected for the bullpen, for a Triple-A pitching prospect projected to the starting rotation.
The Fringe Prospects: Finally, the Rays gave away a former first round supplemental draft pick that had disappointed last season by not showing progress in power from the corner outfield, for a pitching project that fell from being ranked the 5th best prospect in his farm to converting to relief in the minors, and a switch hitting infielder converting to catcher in A-ball.
Everything preceding the final 'category' was a near even swap from a descriptive standpoint, with some places I might even say the Rays came out ahead.
Just last week, the Royals were unable to trade Emilio Bonifacio and he passed through waivers after a salary crunch. The Rays were in a more dire situation and had no place for Lobaton on the roster, but Friedman returned value for him. Who replaced him on the bench should prove to be extremely helpful.
The Bench Players
We'll always love him, but the Rays didn't need a third catcher that couldn't be optioned, they needed a right-handed bat off the bench to effectively share duties with Matt Joyce in the Designated Hitter revolving door -- and if they were lucky, it might be a guy who can play the field.
For a while, it looked like the answer might be Jayson Nix, signed on a minor league deal with a meager projection, but the Alex Torres trade landed a long-sought-after player in Forsythe.
Even though Lobaton is a switch hitter, Nix was the answer before Forsythe's acquisition. Where Nix has a higher rate of stolen bases, Forsythe has the pop -- most notably, a 187 wRC+ vLHP in 2012 before last season was mired by injury (sore right knee and right foot plantar fasciitis -- both injuries would recur throughout the season).
At the simplest level of projection, Forsythe should contribute more than two wins of value over Lobaton through the next four seasons, if you believe in Oliver, and that's not taking into account Maddon's savvy managing.
Alex Torres was once a Top-5 pitching prospect that lost everything to his game, went back to his college coach, and then broke into the majors with a startling good performance. Recently converted from starting, pitching in succession seemed to hurt his performance in later trips to the mound, but he was our lights out little lefty. In winter ball he returned to starting, which to me was a sign that he didn't enjoy relieving and raised the red flag of regression. Committing to different off-season styles for working out are not a positive.
Brad Boxberger is not necessarily a safer bet, but he may be more reliable. Torres should do well in Petco, the Rays should do well with Boxberger and his many options. Performance will not be dramatically different, at most half a win per season between the two players at current pace, and the Rays had less need of Torres's high leverage arm with the many former-closer acquisitions this off-season. The bullpen is a place of depth for the Rays, and the team sold high on Torres to buy low on Forsythe. Hard to complain.
Between the five ranked prospects changing hands, only one is not expected to make the majors: Vettleson. If we're being realistic about prospect floors, he could forever be a Quad-A player with a few skills but never enough. He's not guaranteed to be a fourth outfielder in the mold of a better Guyer, which is the slightly optimistic projection after his power-sapped 2013. Perhaps leaving the FSL will help his bat, and perhaps batting at the next level will let everything click. But the Rays sold low, and that might be a good indicator of their expectations of his play.
Additionally, all of the arms listed above are at risk to be relegated to relief duty -- Karns for his lack of a third pitch, Andriese for the Rays lack of a place in the rotation, Hahn due to injury, Rivero due to projection -- however, the Rays hold the two less-risky arms of the bunch, and that's worth something.
Elsewhere, there are two question marks the Rays pried away from the Padres: Tissenbaum, a skilled switch hitter that is converting to catcher, and Matt Lollis, a project in the mold of Mike Montgomery. Both are a roll of the dice and sweeten the deal.
Much of this comes down to your faith in Hahn and Vettleson to over come their odds and be the great player they are or once were expected to be, but the Rays had good reason to abandon ship on both. Not to mention the possibility of Alex Torres coming back to earth, and the necessity of trading Lobaton.
The Rays are better today than they were before these two trades, filling the 25th man position with the proper player and maintaining depth with possibly safer bets: Karns instead of Hahn, Boxberger instead of Torres, and Andriese instead of Rivero.
It's hard to not love what Friedman has done this off-season.