With the winter meetings soon to begin, trade rumors are heating up, and two of the names likely to be bandied about are already being bandied about. The Houston Astros are discussing trade possibilities for Tampa Bay's two best relievers, Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger, according to Jerry Crasnick of Baseball America and ESPN.com.
The difficulty in this situation is obvious—Tampa Bay also likes relievers with control years—but every player has a price, so let's look at what each reliever might command.
We've already profiled McGee as a trade piece this offseason. In short, McGee is one of the top receivers in the game, and, with two arbitration years left on his contract, he should only be traded for an exceptionally large haul.
It's important to remember that the purpose of running a baseball team is not to accumulate value but to win baseball games, and McGee is still very much a piece that the Rays can afford and that can still win them baseball games.
It won't command a trade package as large as that of Craig Kimbrel just did, but it shouldn't be that much smaller, either.
In a poll at the end of that previous article, a very small majority of readers said that if the Rays are offered a packaged centered around a top-100 prospect, Matt Silverman should say yes.
I think that's about right.
Boxberger is more difficult to figure. Among the best relievers in baseball during the 2014 season, Boxy struggled in 2015 to the tune of a 3.71 ERA, a 4.26 FIP, six blown saves, and ten losses. On the other hand, he's under team control for the next four seasons, so if he and McGee were to perform at a similar level going forward, Boxberger's value would be much higher.
During the season, Jared wrote about Boxberger's struggles, and it really seemed to come down to a loss of command within the zone.
What works against this trade is the fact that the Rays and the Astros are two teams working under a similar idea of what constitutes value. Additionally, they're two teams with large analysis departments who are relatively focused on sabermetrics and who seem to have demonstrated an ability to transform that focus into quality pitching coaching.
What works for this trade is just how wide the variance in Brad Boxberger's future performance could be. If the Astros think they can get a higher level of production out of The Box over the next four years than the Rays do, it would be an easy trade for both sides to make.
The Rays and Astros already paired to send Hank Conger to the Rays last night, which is either happenstance, or the source of the "Rays and Astros talking" rumors.
Adding to the narrative, the Rays have Bobby Heck on staff, the former Asst. GM of Houston before the new regime took over in 2012. He could have a familiarity with several prospects who are just now reaching the major league level, although he's been out of that organization for many years now.
But the key relationship here is that the Astros and Rays are both forward thinking.
Any missteps in perception around Box's value should be smoothed over. His peripherals, en route to AL leading saves tallies, were not great. The year before he shut the world down in mere high leverage relief. He's a good pitcher, but he''s not as easy to quantify as, say, Craig Kimbrel.
If the Rays are hard set on dealing from the bullpen, talking to the Astros is probably wise, but I'd still rather field the competitive bullpen.