The trade of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics has been finalized, according to that team's twitter account, and the haul is underwhelming.
Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) January 10, 2015
When the going rate for one season of Howie Kendrick -- a slightly worse player than Ben Zobrist, who can only man one position defensively -- is a top twenty pitching prospect, expectations loomed large for what the deal could bring. Combined with Yunel Escobar, expectations could have been even larger.
I'll break down what was received here, then Ian will follow with a breakdown of value.
A man of many hairstyles, John Jaso returns to the team that drafted him. Slotted to make ~$3.3 million next season in his final year of control, Jaso is not much cheaper than Yunel Escobar would have been next season, so this is not a salary dump maneuver.
Since he was traded by the Rays for a caustic reliever who never materialized, Jaso went on to post wOBA seasons of .372, .345, and .339, playing for the Mariners and Athletics. His catching ability is not up to snuff for what the Rays tend to value, which makes his re-acquisition even curiouser.
Just got off the phone with John Jaso. He's happy to come back to the #Rays: "I'm super excited about it. I'm stoked."— Matt Baker (@MBakerTBTimes) January 10, 2015
As the roster is currently constructed, Jaso should shuffle between Designated Hitter and Catcher next season, sharing playing time with Rene Rivera and David DeJesus.
On offense, Jaso's bat will hopefully cancel out some of the loss of Zobrist. Over his last three years away from Tropicana Field, Jaso has averaged a 129 wRC+, topping out with a 143 wRC+ in 2012. Should he be able to keep his in-play batting average at the same level it's been, the Rays have a nice piece against right handed pitching.
The trick will be for Jaso to stay healthy. Concussions sidelined him in each of the last two seasons, as did his knee and lower back in 2014. Sticking to DH duty should help that cause.
The top prospect in the A's system files into the complicated Rays infield depth, joining a slew of infield prospects who don't seem to have a true position. Entering his age-21 season, this 2012 first round draft pick batted .310/.402/.471 with a .389 wOBA and 132 wRC+ at High-A Stockton as the team's shortstop.
Robertson has an excellent arm, and according to reports his bat projects to the major league level, but his movement in the field does not. It's more than likely he will transition to second or third, based on how his mobility and power develop. On the plus side, this gives the Rays a create-your-own aspect to the player.
MLB.com ranks Robertson at No. 85 on the Top-100, but Baseball America is a bit higher:
Daniel Robertson is a strong get for the Rays. Big OBP potential in the middle infield. He's my No. 39 prospect in the Prospect Handbook.— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) January 10, 2015
This success of this trade will hinge on how well Robertson performs. Keith Law offered that Robertson is likely the Rays' second baseman of the future, a boding statement for the players ahead of Robertson in depth: Nick Franklin and Ryan Brett.
GM Matt Silverman might agree. Speaking to the media, he reminded all who would listen that the Rays are not only in a position where they need to trade valuable veterans whenever possible, but that it was a similar scenario that acquired Ben Zobrist in the then-underwhelming Aubrey Huff trade.
"Robertson is the lead piece in this transaction," Silverman said. "It takes a large trade like this for us to able to acquire someone of his talents."
Robertson becomes the highest ranked prospect in the Rays system, though maybe not the best regarded, as seen in this take from Fangraphs' prospect luminary:
Writing up Powell/Robertson now, but preview of edited Rays list: 1) Adames 2) O'Conner 3) Souza 4) Robertson 5) Colome.— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) January 10, 2015
Here's video of Robertson's swing from Fangraphs:
Boog Powell + $1.5 Million
Herschel Mack Powell, the youngest of the Rays haul, posed some outrageous numbers last year, particularly if OBP is your thing - he scored a .451 over 83 games across two levels before doing a very typical Rays thing.
Boog Powell, traded to the #rays, was Midwest League All Star MVP last season before receiving 50 Game suspension for amphetamines.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 10, 2015
Powell should return to Class-A+ next season, joining Port Charlotte. From a ranking perspective he's in consideration for the players Top-30 in the system.
The on base fiend has never had a walk rate below 11.5% at any stop in the minors, and last year featured a career low 5.8% strikeout rate in his 69 plate appearances. Small sample size disclaimers apply. A recent adjustment to his swing added a bit more pop than he'd seen previously, but we'll have to see how Powell continues to develop. As of now he's not a power hitter in the slightest.
Here's Powell's tape, courtesy of Fangraphs:
In the aforementioned conference call with the media, Silverman talked up the young outfielder's game:
"He’s a speedy outfielder with an interesting bat profile, and one that we hope can develop a little bit more power. It’s a profile that is uncommon, but one that can often find success at the Major League level," said Silverman. "He’s not going to overwhelm you in the stat box, but his value shows up in many different ways."
His value shows up in many different ways. His value also wasn't enough.
The cash is attached to Powell in the heading above for good reason. The teams were apparently hung up on the value of the piece complimenting Robertson, so it was cash that greased the transaction.
That hurts to read. We like to measure value in dollars, and in this scenario the Rays appear to have closed a perceived gap in value not by getting a better deal, but by cancelling the difference in dollars. From an industry perspective that's a small amount of money, but not when both teams are small market and budget strapped.
There's two very different ways to look at this trade, and both depend on how you consider the players the Rays gave up. On the one hand, the team is shipping out one of the most valuable second basemen in all of baseball with one year left on an affordable contract, along with the only true short stop on the roster who was likewise signed to a very reasonable multi-year deal.
On the other hand, the Rays are shipping out an 34 year old utility player who's known nothing but astroturf for most of his career, and a short stop coming off an uninspiring season who's stuck to a contract at rates the Rays might rather not consider affordable. Either way, the new real is the pieces they gathered.
Ian will have more on that in a moment.