In part one of the GM evaluation series I've embarked upon this week, we examined what Matt Silverman did to clear the table of 2014's leftovers, and I could have said more.
Silverman was forced into the GM position when Gerry Hunsicker and Andrew Friedman left the franchise the three had overhauled together a decade ago. Then the long-time manager of the baseball team departed as well. It was one man left holding the bag, and that included a few pretty hefty contracts.
Overall, I found that Silverman did well to clear salary and allowed the Rays to be better positioned to succeed in 2015 and beyond by setting the table for the 2014 off-season. The individual moves overseen by Matt Silverman to prepare for the 2015 season are what follows, with quick takes on each deal.
In part three, I will examine the moves made within the 2015 season itself, and there I'll offer a final evaluation of what I think Silverman has done up to this point -- but first, in order to truly appreciate all the moves within Silverman's purview, we need to rewind to the 2014 trade deadline for a very important deal:
Rays trade SP David Price for LHP Drew Smyly, SS Nick Franklin, and SS Willy Adames
Receiving a proxy for David Price and depth at short, this deal was the first in an attempt to add high-ceiling talent to the rotation, and accomplished that with Top-50 talent Willy Adames. Wrapping up a solid season in High-A, he's a few years out but was a key piece in the last major deal made under Andrew Friedman's tenure. Based on video evidence at the time from Sun Sports, however, that deal included heavy involvement from Silverman as well.
David Price's trade was painful for the fanbase, with his salary untenable for the franchise. It begs the question of just how much the Rays can compete at the highest level without their best players, as Price is now leading the division rival Blue Jays into the post-season, but that's a reality Silverman must guide the franchise through. Ditching the salary and bringing back high ceiling talent is the best approach.
~~~2014 OFF-SEASON BEGINS~~~
Rays trade LHP Cesar Ramos for RHP Mark Sappington
A player whose salary prices him out of usefulness in the midst of extreme depth gets dealt. No surprise there. Sappington has a big enough arm to make this a fun deal, even though the young gun may never don a Rays jersey.
On the bright side, Sappington seems to be a legitimately great person. Beyond being a great interview, he was also the recipient of the Rays' minor league community involvement award this year.
Rays trade RHP Jeremy Hellickson for SS Andrew Velazquez and OF Justin Williams
Now this is a quality Rays trade. The team returned two young pieces that immediately slotted into the franchise Top-20 while removing a more veteran (re: expensive) arm. Helly was also a ticking time bomb, with anyone who watched him the previous season knowing his FIP-beating days were probably behind him.
Rays trade RHP Joel Peralta and LHP Adam Liberatore for RHP Jose Dominguez and RHP Greg Harris
This trade at the time was a swap of depth. The Rays felt they had enough to stock the bullpen, so Peralta and Liberatore were flipped for Dominguez (who touched 100 MPH) and far off Harris. It was the first deal made by Andrew Friedman upon his arrival in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately Dominguez would arrive hurt. His debut saw him light up the gun at only 93 MPH, and the Rays didn't get as much as they bargained for, but the off-loading of Peralta's salary was a plus.
Rays release C Jose Molina, sign C Bobby Wilson to minor league deal
Molina gave the Rays an historically bad season in the batter's box and would need knee surgery, likely ending his career. The roster spot was worth the money divulged, though the Rays would fail to protect C Oscar Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft.
Rays trade UTIL Sean Rodriguez for RHP Buddy Borden
Quite a useful player edging into the too-expensive-for-his-role territory, the Rays returned a young prospect who went on to throw a perfect game in the minors. Will that translate to higher levels? Probably too soon to get your hopes up, but that's a vote of confidence in the return.
Rays hire Kevin Cash as manager
This hiring was particularly noteworthy, in that the feel good aspects of a local boy and former Devil Rays catcher growing into the youngest manager in baseball could not overshadow how he'd never managed a game before. Smart, quiet, a player's coach, a respected evaluator of talent, and a man with a knack for player development, it was also safe to say that he was comfortable with whatever advanced metrics the Rays might look to employ.
After playing for the Rays in 2005, he went on to play third catcher for the 2007 Red Sox and 2009 Yankees, earning two World Series rings. He could not break into the majors in 2010 with the Rangers, so he retired to become a scout with the team that first signed him: the Blue Jays. A year later, his old coach Terry Francona brought him on to be a bullpen coach with the Cleveland Indians, where he worked with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, to name a couple key pitchers. He was a finalist for the Rangers manager position earlier in the 2014 off-season and offered the bench coach job, but declined -- to the Rays' benefit.
Since joining the Rays, the unknown quantity proved to be a manager with a quick hook from the dugout and one with full support of ownership and the front office. His five year deal to manage the Rays has not one been called into questions, though he continues to "learn on the job."
Tampa Bay Rays / Skip Milos
Rays trade OF Matt Joyce for RHP Kevin Jepsen
This was an incredible trade by Silverman, as it's not clear the Rays had much leverage in dealing Joyce. The anticipated... bench player? Designated hitter? Either way, he went to the Angels for a high leverage arm that helped the Rays immensely in the first half and netted two quality prospects at the trade deadline. More on that in the next part, but it's hard to say this trade was anything other than a big win for Silverman.
Rays promote Rocco Baldelli and Charlie Montoyo to MLB coaching staff
When the Rays named Rocco Baldelli and Charlie Montoyo to MLB coaching staff, two ripple effects were felt in the organization.
The first was that it brought an experienced manager to the staff in Charlie Montoyo, the long-time coach of the Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls, alongside long-time third base coach Tom Foley (now bench manager), in direct support of Cash.
This was a critical add to help guide Kevin Cash's leadership decisions as a rookie manager, and provided the added benefit of a Spanish speaking voice to the team's management. I believe that much of Kevin Cash's success in the clubhouse came not only from his own experience, but through the support of Foley, Montoyo, and the other coaching mainstays Hickey and Shelton, but only one of those names held the role of manager before joining the Rays staff.
The second is that it removed a valuable voice (Rocco Baldelli) from the front office.
Playing a utility role to all facets of the front office under Andrew Friedman, new VP Matt Silverman was on the record of calling Baldelli an invaluable part of the organization. This did not bring into question Baldelli's new role as first base coach, it was a logical add for an intelligent man and beloved former Rays player.
Part 1: Rays trade OF Wil Myers, C Ryan Hanigan, LHP Jose Castillo and RHP Gerardo Reyes for C Rene Rivera, RHP Burch Smith, 1B Jake Bauers, SS Trea Turner, and RHP Joe Ross
Goodness gracious did the Padres give up a lot: Rivera was heralded and coming off a career year, Smith had the stuff to pitch in the majors, Bauers was 19 year's young and out-of-mold for his position but promising, Trea Turner was a top draft pick, Ross was another arm close to the majors and likely to get there.
The latter two would be immediately flipped to the Nationals (see below), but this looks like a kings ransom for the injured Wil Myers and the respected Ryan Hanigan, Mr. Glass himself. The Padres deployed Myers in center field until he broke his wrist, and Hangian was flipped for Will Middlebrooks, as wash of a deal.
The Rays in turn got pluses and minuses. Rivera's glove lived up to the reputation, but his bat turned into Jose Molina 2.0, embarrassingly so; Smith needed Tommy John, and Bauers rocked the minors as a 19-year old in Double-A. The other two netted Steven Souza Jr., take that as you will. The story is unfinished.
Part 2: Rays trade SS Trea Turner and RHP Joe Ross for OF Steven Souza Jr. and LHP Travis Ott
Here's the tricky part of the three team deal. Given the extreme pitching depth the Rays felt they had in the rotation, and the high-ceiling short stop already acquired in Adames, it's easy to see how Silverman saw the hole left by Wil Myers to be more pressing. The problem would be how much the Rays got in return for Turner and Ross.
At the time they were dealt, these two pieces already looked like Top-100 prospects that the Rays should covet, something Ott was not, and the jury divided on Souza. He has mammoth power, although a late bloomer, and a build like that of Matt Kemp. Souza was a fine acquisition, but my beef remains that Ott did not balance out the scales in potential.
Wrapping up a full year at Low-A, it seems Ott could ride a fastball and change to be a reliever, but Turner and Ross already proved to be major league worthy additions for the Nationals this season, and while Souza is quite the batting practice display, he was also quick to be injured this year.
Rays sign OF Joey Butler, 1B/3B Juan Francisco, 1B Allan Dykstra to minor league deals
Butler proved to be a necessary and prescient signing, peaking at the right time in the first half to fill in for Rays injuries. He would be figured out by pitchers, and his time would last too long as the Rays literally had no one else they deemed fit, but that's a more frustrating aspect given Francisco.
The slugging infielder Francisco would have had a big role with the Rays this season had he been patient. A roster jam led the Rays to ask him to accept a minor league assignment to begin the season, but Francisco would opt out and immediately sign to play in Asia. A mere three days later John Jaso would be lost for months after jamming his wrist and James Loney would have his first of three injuries. Francisco went on to play five games for the Yorimuri Giants.
Then there was Allan Dykstra, he of the Mets farm system who would get a brief shot at the majors in Francisco's stead. He wouldn't last long, though, despite nice numbers in Triple-A throughout his career.
Rays trade 2B Ben Zobrist and SS Yunel Escobar for DH John Jaso, SS Daniel Robertson, OF Boog Powell and cash
It's hard not to praise this deal, but only in light of the move that followed. The Rays were able to move Ben Zobrist -- an expiring contract, though it is heart-wrenching to simplify the Rays legend as such -- as well as an expensive piece of the puzzle in Escoba, for great value.
John Jaso's bat (on paper) was a great proxy for what Zobrist would have offered, and the additions of Robertson and Powell to the minor league system were a high ceiling prospect for the future, and a lotto ticket that continues to look like a top-20 piece in the organization. That's a win of a trade, particularly because the Rays were able to reallocate Zobrist's salary on a quality shortstop.
Rays sign SS Asdrubal Cabrera
In Asdrubal, the Rays not only got a former player from Cash's days in Cleveland, but a better glove than was expected, given his performance in 2014. His bat came alive in the second half for a strong performance as well. It was exactly the sort of contract this team needed to sign, though now you'd wish it was a two-year deal!
Cabrera would turn in his best season since 2012, including a 151 wRC+ in the second half. The Rays failing to find the post season was not his fault. He enters a second consecutive free agency as the best shortstop on the market. If the Rays can return him on another one-year deal, they should jump at the chance.
Rays sign RHP Ronald Belisario, 2B Alexi Casilla, SS Jake Elmore
Lumping together some April depth moves: Belisario was meh, Casilla opted out, Elmore stuck around and helped when the injuries piled up. None of them lived up to the impact of Will Rhymes.
Rays trade LHP Mike Montgomery for RHP Erasmo Ramirez
When the starting rotation began to fall apart, the Rays were able to send away a blue chip arm for a pitcher ready to start immediately. Montgomery needed more time, Ramirez in theory did not. While it took the new arm a few games to settle in to the new system, he's been one of the best starters on the team post-April. At publishing he owns a 3.65 ERA in 26 starts over 33 games, with 19.2% K and 6.1% BB. His 11 wins awarded trail only Archer's 12.
Montgomery went on to impress and then fizzle in Seattle, spot starting 16 games between June and August, ending with a 4.60 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 16.2% K and 9.4% BB.
~~~2015 SEASON BEGINS~~~
I have many more thoughts coming on the 2015 season, but first I'd like to ask you to pause and consider: was this a good off-season?