There's been plenty of chatter this off-season that Jake McGee is the next Rays player on his way out the door, but a considerable question is why?
Jake McGee, even with the presence of Brad Boxberger, has been far and away the Rays' best reliever over the last two seasons. He's projected to make less than $5 million next season and has two years of control remaining on his rookie contract.
Clockhands has been so good that he's rivaled the sort of numbers the baseball world has seen from a declining(ish) Craig Kimbrel, if there is such a thing.
You would think in this division the Rays would want to hold on to all the premium talent they can, but he's for sale?
rays also continue to talk to teams about lefty reliever jake mcgee, who gets pricey for them. he'd fit dodgers (& others)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 17, 2015
Of course he is, but the answer is about more than how "pricey" his contract might be.
The Rays would be glad to off-load $5m from their books -- that's true every day of the week and twice on Sunday. It's the penalty of being a small market club with a disadvantaged television contract (despite incredible television ratings), and few gate receipts to lean on.
But if there were a dollar focus to trading Jake McGee, it would be about how the Rays could better allocate that salary. The club comfortably operates between $60-70m, and anything above that amount is "uncomfortable" for the ownership group. More money is coming down the pike in increased national television deals, but the Rays will continue to be toward the bottom three in payroll for the foreseeable future.
However, this is not a team with a complete inability to spend. James Loney will earn $8M this season, concluding a three year deal that marked the largest FA signing in franchise history, and beyond that, the Rays paid Jose Molina and Grant Balfour more than $10m combined to not play for the team in 2015. Money gets thrown around and re-allocated to put the best possible product on the field.
Moving the salary of Jake McGee or, more likely this off-season, James Loney is a consideration in the hunt for more value and more financial flexibility, but it is by no means the motivating factor.
The are two much stronger reasons for McGee to be on the trade block:
He's a big lefty with plenty of injury risk. McGee only made 39 appearances last season, and he took two trips to the disabled list.
Elbow discomfort revealed bone spurs that required surgery last off-season, and resulted in McGee not making his debut until May 17th as the Rays struggled through several injuries to start the season.
Then, when the Rays were just three games back of the playoffs, a new injury arose in the form of a meniscus tear. Entering his age-30 season, McGee is leaving his "baseball prime" and is increasing his risk of injury.
Furthermore, while this could have been because of time lost to the other injuries, we saw the dreaded velocity dip from McGee in his last couple starts of 2015. McGee had not tired in any year dating back through 2010.
But the biggest reason is the same reason the Rays traded James Shields and David Price two years out from free agency. It wasn't their contracts, though that was certainly a consideration. It was about selling high, for the most value possible.
The Rays don't have the luxury of spending wildly on the free agent market to cover up their problems, let alone spending on the free agent market to cover up previous contract blunders (David Price replacing Rick Porcello as the ace in Boston comes to mind).
Top relievers are being traded for massive returns this off-season, as we've seen with Craig Kimbrel in November, and with Ken Giles just this week. Both were sent to forward-thinking teams who saw the services of one bullpen ace as far more valuable than several highly rated prospects.
When you consider the returns, it's easy to see the value to the Rays, who cannot rely on finances to acquire their next generation of talent. The Jake McGee dilemma is as simple as that.
After all, the Rays have multiple relievers with high ceilings on their roster, a luxury most franchises cannot boast, and a history of successfully developing bullpen arms. Turning the best, but also more expensive and more risky, of their relievers into a very necessary injection of talent is the only luxury the Rays can afford.