Editor's Note: Consider this your official announcement that the DRB Fanpost Competition will run through the trade deadline. This is great! Give it a read. - DR
After all, a probable impossibility is preferable to an improbable possibility
The Rays 2015 World Series Chances are as Unlikely as ‘The Donald’ Winning the White House:
I will begin with some enormous and rather obvious caveats. This is likely around a 500 team, for a host of injury and under-performance reasons that others have enumerated in detail. The Rays expected win projection for the rest of the reason just dipped below 80.
Second, this team is 7.5 games back. And buyer beware: relatively speaking, under-performing / surmountable division rivals combined with the recent memory of improbable late-season surges seems to present a psychological opportunity for the Rays as they regain valuable pieces from the DL.
But if I’m a betting man, which I am on occasion, a cold hard look at Fangraphs current playoff expectancy projections produces a rather grim outlook:
Overall Playoff Odds: 12.8%
Wild Card: 10.5%
Winning Division: 2.3%
Making it to the WS: 1.5%
Compare this then to our similarly situated division rivals for the WC slot, in particular the northern boys with the big bats who just added, when healthy, a former MVP who plays a premium position:
Overall Playoff Odds: 41.8%
Wild Card: 31.2%
Winning Division: 10.6%
Making it to the WS: 7.7%
It becomes clear rather quickly that our risk averse front office is truly unlikely to make a significant deadline addition(s). And rightly so, I think most of us would agree.
But If We Did Buy, What do we Need?
As Stu and others in the front office have stated repeatedly, they don’t view the deadline in a binary way, as pure buyers or pure sellers. Additionally, I was intrigued by the recent post highlighting the case for Daniel Norris, and it got me thinking about other possibilities. Always looking for the extra 2.5%, just for fun, let’s assume the Rays identify an imbalance in valuations, or a timing weakness with other ball clubs, and want to make a move. What could that look like?
Let’s also assume one final caveat: the area of the most need is offensive production. The last Tank posting artfully outlined the degree to which the Rays 2015 offensive production is down pretty much across the board compared to 2013 and 2014, which is truly saying something. And while further run prevention additions could improve things slightly on the margins, the real room for significant growth sufficient to get the team into miraculous 2015 contention likely needs to come from the offensive side.
So. With our convenient assumptions tidily in hand, let’s take a look at what the Rays need the most by embarking on a fun-filled tour of sub-par production by position, as compared with everyone else. Because at this stage of the season, making the playoffs isn’t about how good your team is in a vacuum, but specifically how well you stack up against your competitors for division and wild card slots. Let’s take a look:
Catcher wRC+ for 2015:
Rest of AL East Average: 89.75
AL Average: 81.5
MLB Average: 84.7
Verdict: Is there anything positive to say here? How about the consolation that the Ms are even worse a vomit-inducing 39 wRC+ from the backstop. Rest of the AL East = above average. Rays = second worst in baseball. But we all know this. Meanwhile the A’s sit at third (129) thanks to all the catchers we have given them in exchange for a warm bucket of spit.
1B wRC+ for 2015:
Rest of AL East Average: 110.5
AL Average: 106.7
MLB Average: 112
Verdict: Yes, Loney was injured and we don’t groom/acquire traditional power bats, but still this is too painful to analyze in detail. Especially the gulf between the lowest (Rays) and the highest (D-Backs) at 178, for a staggering differential of 118. If Goldy played for NY he would be one of the top faces in the sport.
2B wRC+ for 2015:
Rest of AL East Average: 92
AL Average: 97
MLB Average: 94.1
Verdict: Nothing to see here, 2015 breakout Forsythe is Zobo 2.0 leading the way for the AL East and much of the league. The joke is on you San Diego! [quietly knocks on wood with fingers crossed]
SS wRC+ for 2015:
Rest of AL East Average: 78.75
AL Average: 81.3
MLB Average: 82.1
Verdict: Despite the Asdrubal injury, looks like we are muddling through just fine. Hats off to Beckham for adequately filling in at times. Also of note is the Os abysmal 56 and the oft injured Reyes contributing a lowly 78 for the Jays, the exact same 78 as the light hitting and far cheap Gregorious is putting up for the Yanks.
3B wRC+ for 2015:
Rest of AL East Average: 116.25
AL Average: 100.4
MLB Average: 102.9
Verdict: the amount of analysis on Longo’s decline (done by writers far better than me) is higher than the U.S. incarceration rate compared to other developed countries. Ouch. That said, he’s still higher than the AL and MLB averages. The trouble is that our chief wild card rivals have Machado and Donaldson.
OF wRC+ for 2015:
Rest of AL East Average: 102.5
AL Average: 102.8
MLB Average: 102.9
Verdict: Those who wanted to move DeJesus in the off-season for the right price after we acquired Souza, myself included, sure are glad the Rays front office is smarter than us. Combined with KK’s breakout year, complimented by decent contributions from Souza and Guyer, the Rays OF isn’t lighting the world on fire, but it’s right about where everyone else is. No burning need for an upgrade here.
DH wRC+ for 2015:
Rest of AL East Average: 124.5
AL Average: 111.9
Verdict: Thanks to better than expected, though short term, contributions from Butler and Grady, along with solid production from DeJesus the Rays are league average. But once again, our rivals are enjoying the best production at DH from anyone in the league headlined by ageless wonders A-Rod (Yanks lead MLB at 151 for the DH) and Papi. Combine those two with whatever monster bat the Jays decide to slot at DH that day, and even the Os are posting a healthy 114.
And in Other News, the Sky is Still Blue
Another season, another result of disappointing production from 1B and Catcher. I’ll just go flip on over to the Travel Channel and brush up on my vapid platitudes by listening to that Captain Obvious guy from the Hotels.com commercials. Wow that over-water bungalow in Fiji looks super sweet, even that ambiguously multiracial tactically assembled stock photo family seems super excited about it. Now I want to go to Fiji, how much is left on my United Mileage Plus Awards card credit limit? You only live once right?!? But alas, I digress. On purpose. Because anything is better than talking about the Rays offensive production from the catcher and 1B slots.
[Shakes off the sadness, Taylor Swift style]. Anyhooo, back to our improbable scenario where the Rays are buyers. How shall we improve those black holes?
Warning, another caveat ahead. I know I know, I ran through my allotment in the beginning under this loony "rays as buyers" scenario, but I just went ahead and traded some international bonus pool money in my other fantasy league to get one last caveat (yeah our league is into complex rules, what’s it to you fella??)
Here is the actual caveat: Since we are already assuming an improbable scenario where the Rays are buyers, let’s also assume they are looking to be bold by adding significant pieces that have the potential for longer term value as well. This is bold by Rays standards, not the kind of stupid bold that sells the farm for a short term rental of a bat like Justin Upton.
Top 3 Young MLB Targets at Catcher
Andrew Susac: He ranks at the top of the Giants system with potential MLB upside of a 270/350/450 slash with 15-20 HRs from behind the plate. Wouldn’t that be nice? A normal team wouldn’t even consider moving such an asset, but a normal team doesn’t have the beloved future face of MLB relegating him to backup status for the next 5 years. Sabean is a savvy GM and will ask for a significant price, but he also finds himself in contention once again with a roster that is rapidly aging and lacks quality pitching aside from MadBum. Considering that Susac already has over 200 MLB plate appearances, he’s low risk enough to warrant a significant investment. Plus, nabbing him from SF would sort of ease the pain of the Rays missing on Buster back in 08.
Kevin Plawecki: Plawecki is in a similar situation to Susac, since Plawecki is blocked by Travis d’Arnaud who the Mets consider to be a cornerstone of their young talented team. Again like Susac, top prospect Plawecki profiles with above average power at a premium position ascending rapidly through the minors on a club that’s contending this year and looking to improve right now. The price may be steep, but his MLB numbers so far are nothing flashy (232/280/305) in 200 ABs, so it wouldn’t take nearly as much to pry him loose.
Wilin Rosario: Rosario’s case is a bit different from the first two, since he has more experience and also doesn’t have the defensive chops to be the primary catcher. However, a time share mostly at DH and catching 1-2 games a week is a reasonable possibility. Rosario has significant splits, but in general he can crush lefties to the tune of a 950 OPS. He only received $2.8m in Arbitration this year and hasn’t had enough playing time to require a large raise in 2016, so Rosario could certainly provide power upside at a pretty affordable cost in an AL park where he can get consistent ABs as a DH. And considering that the Rockies are looking to do full tilt rebuild and unload wherever they can, now could be the time to strike.
Obtainable High Minor League Catchers with Upside
Austin Barnes: It might be a tall order to pry him away from Friedman in LA, but Austin Barnes is one of my favorite lesser known prospects who is overlooked because of his 5’9" frame. Despite this, he has produced all sorts of things the Rays prioritize: truly outstanding plate discipline in the minors with a K rate under 11% and a walk rate between 11-14%; defensive athleticism and versatility to also play second and third, and a little speed with 18 stolen bases over his last 600 MiLB ABs. The bat profiles well for a catcher, with a 157 wRC+ in AA and a 132 wRC+ in AAA slugging 507 and 484 respectively. So why would Friedman part with such a valuable asset? Because his team is also a contender and Barnes is blocked by all-star Yasmani Grandal, who Friedman liked so much he was willing to give up Matt Kemp. I see Barnes as a high floor catcher who is unlikely to ever be elite, but certainly could be an upgrade for the Rays if O'Connor doesn't pan out.
Steve Clevenger: Clevenger is a little different than Barnes, and is more of a late bloomer. Though already 29, over the last two years he has crushed AAA pitching in the O's system with excellent plate discipline backing up a 111 and 136 wRC+ in 2014 and 2015. And though Matt Wieters may leave in free agency, the Os seem to like Caleb Joseph. Thus, it makes little sense to let a talented 29 year old languish in AAA when you team is trying to contend. While a large swap for existing MLB players seems unlikely within the division for two contending teams, trading minor leaguers like Clevenger could certainly be worked out.
Jorge Alfaro: A name almost everyone is familiar with, Alfaro will most likely be priced too high. However, his numbers have dipped a little bit in 2015, while his peripherals have also worsened to a 30% k rate and under 5% walk rate as he sees better quality pitching in AA. So perhaps there is an opportunity to buy low on a catcher who boasts a 65 raw power mark. Coupled this with the fact that the Rangers performed better than expected this year, but are still a mess with numerous long-term needs up and down their roster the Rays could help fill.
Top 3 MLB Targets at 1B/DH
Adam Lind: Lind doesn’t excite the average fan, but he is the type of player the Rays target, namely someone who is affordable, underrated and effective. Averaging 118 wRC+ and hitting 20+ HRs in 4 of his past 6 seasons, Lind is playing for a non-contender looking to trade him with an affordable $8m team option next year attached. Bottom line: I think he will outperform Loney, who the Rays should consider moving if possible since a guy who is below or just at replacement level isn’t worth $8m for the Rays, and so Lind is worth exploring.
Jon Singleton: Singleton was a former top 50 prospect who has a contract that makes small market teams drool. 5 years, $10m through 2018 for a power hitting 1B. Plus team options for $2.5 in 19, $5 in 20 and $13m in 2021. Yes please. But can he hit consistently in The Show? 2014 was a rough rookie year with an astronomical K rate that makes Souza blush, so he started this year in AAA where in 300 ABs he dropped his K rate by 17%, slugged 553 launching 17 HRs good for a wRC+ of 148. He has less than 50 ABs right now in the majors for 2015, so we won’t know for a little while longer if he can stick, but certainly the upside is tantalizing. So why would the analytically driven Stros front office move such a cheap asset? Well, he’s still blocked by off-season addition Evan Gattis at DH and fellow slugger Chris Carter at 1B. This team wants to win NOW, and is rumored to be making a big push sell the farm for Hammels. Singleton would be the definition of a high risk high reward acquisition, though his contract is small enough that the risk may be worth it.
Carlos Santana: The Indians are a small market team like the Rays, and are completely out of contention. Santana only has one more guaranteed year on his deal at $8.5 for 2016 plus a $12m option in 17. The time to move him for value may be now if the Indians don’t think their current crew will be able to keep up next year in the central. With Asdrubal’s salary coming off the books next year, the Rays could swing $8.5m for a player that can play 1b, DH, and perhaps serve as a backup catcher in an emergency, though his defense leaves something to be desired to put it mildly. The primary impediment would be the cost required to obtain him, which i imagine would be large.
Obtainable High Minor League 1B/DH with Upside
Josh Bell: He’s a top 50 prospect for a reason. 310/381/431 slash in AA good for a 133 wRC+. Stands 6’4" but only 195 at age 22 so he has some room to grow, which makes me hopeful that the underlying power will begin to materialize more as he moves up in the system. Also note that the Rays would love his excellent plate discipline for a young hitter, with only a 11.7% K rate in 411 ABs, though that may change once he sees better quality breaking stuff in AAA and MLB. Bell can also play OF which is a plus. In general I’m not really looking at top 50 prospects (though he just creeps in via the mid-season updated list on Baseball America) as the cost to acquire would likely be too high. But the Pirates are contenders now whose system is so loaded with talent in Glasnow, Tailon, Meadows, and McGuire that they could stomach losing Bell if it meant a helpful upgrade to their MLB roster.
Adam Duvall: Hitting 279/322/542 in 425 AAA appearances, Duvall has been good for a 122 wRC+ and a whopping 25 HRs, bearing in mind that these are PCL numbers. His defense would be a step down from Loney, so he might need to share time at DH. But the potential is there if the Ray can teach him to be a better defender. As for a swap, I hear the Giants are looking for quality bullpen pieces and he’s down far enough on their prospect list that there is a potential deal to be had for someone like Jepsen.
Jesus Montero: I know what you are thinking in terms of prior MLB production and off the field issues, but check out his triple slash in 400 AAA at-bats this year: 338/380/529 good for a 140 wRC+ and 15 HRs. The M’s are eager to move on from Montero so I imagine he could be plucked for a bargain price. Can't get much worse than Kraus as your backup.
Cody Decker: This is the story of another late bloomer like Souza. A guy who hits for enormous power, strikes out a lot, and largely just has not been given a real chance at the MLB level. wOBA of 384, 366, and 386 over the last three years thanks to an ISO north of 250 and a total of 62 HRs since 2013. Simply put, at 5’11" 225lbs he could be a future DH stuck in an NL organization. However, the Padres have used him at 5 different positions (including relief pitcher) so Decker could also serve as a bench utility. The plate discipline would have to improve, but at 28 years old Decker can likely be obtained at a low price.
So I hope you have all enjoyed this whimsical thought experiment where the plucky mediocre 2015 Rays chose to be unlikely buyers, nabbing great assets for the long term! You might say, hey dude whose handle is no longer relevant for this team, there are a few mighty fine players on this list. So what would the rays have to give up?
The answer there good sir or madam, is hard to predict but most likely would be young pitching. Whether that’s future arms like Snell or Stanek, or more current arms like Andriese or Colome, it would likely need to be someone or multiple someones of real value. The Rays could also go the bold route of selling high on Boxberger, though the return would need to be someone truly significant like Susac or Santana. Arms come and go in our factory, and the risk for them is such that the only two I would be truly hesitant to move are Honeywell and Taylor G.
But please let me know what y’all think!