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Evaluating Jake McGee's trade value: The Rays want to win now

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The Rays went after present value in the Jake McGee trade

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There have now been four high profile relief pitchers moved this off-season. Now that McGee has been traded to the Rockies, he joins Craig Kimbrel, Ken Giles, and Aroldis Chapman as premier bullpen arms on the move.

All four had varying levels of team control and cost, but all have been elite relievers. Here are their numbers from the past two years.

Aroldis Chapman 120.1 46.3% 11.9% 5.3% 1.80 1.47 1.64 84.2% 69 5.2
Jake McGee 108.2 32.8% 5.7% 4.5% 2.07 1.94 2.05 80.0% 25 3.7
Craig Kimbrel 121.0 37.7% 9.9% 9.4% 2.08 2.25 2.08 81.1% 86 3.7
Ken Giles 115.2 32.5% 7.8% 3.1% 1.56 1.82 2.32 77.9% 16 3.7

As you can see above, Jake McGee compares well to the other elite relievers dealt this off-season. So did he return as much?

Weighing the returns

The returns varied largely in public perception based on factors outside of performance on the field.

Craig Kimbrel

On November 13, the Padres made a mega deal sending Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for SS Javier Guerra, CF Manuel Margot, LHP Logan Allen, and 2B Carlos Asuaje. The Padres made this move to help their team for the future, acquiring four minor leaguers.

Margot (#14 Baseball Prospectus Top 101) and Guerra (#56) were the two biggest prizes in this return for one of the premier closers who had two years and $25MM remaining with a team option for an additional $12MM.

Ken Giles

On December 10, the Astros acquired the young hard throwing reliever in Ken Giles along with IF Jonathan Arauz from the Phillies for RHP Vincent Velasquez, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, RHP Thomas Eshelman, RHP Mark Appel, and RHP Harold Arauz.

The Phillies acquired a group of pitchers to help their rotation. Vincent Velasquez had a successful rookie year, but it remains to be seen whether his future is in the rotation or in the bullpen. He will have his chance to prove that he can be a starter with Philadelphia. Mark Appel is the second major piece of this deal as a former number one overall selection for the Astros. He made the BP Top 101 at number 64. There is a lot of risk in their return, but the Phillies are in a position to take on this risk.

Ken Giles has five years of team control remaining with two coming at league minimum prices before qualifying for arbitration. This makes his surplus value the highest of all four traded, but the return was similar to the Padres haul in sending Kimbrel to Boston.

Aroldis Chapman

Shortly after it was rumored that a deal that would send Aroldis Chapman to the Dodgers, reports of an alleged domestic violence incident surfaced that caused the Dodgers to pull out of the deal at the time. The Yankees stepped in and finalized a deal, sending RHP Caleb Cotham, 3B Eric Jagielo, RHP Rookie Davis, and 2B Tony Renda to the Reds to acquire Chapman.

The Reds received more quantity than anything resembling quality for their relief ace, who had one year remaining of arbitration in which he will receive either $9MM or $13MM. This return feels light for one of the most dominating relief pitchers ever, but the market for their once-valued piece seems to have been wrecked by the off-the-field incident.

How the Jake McGee return compares

Yesterday the Rays completed the trade sending LHP Jake McGee and RHP German Marquez to the Rockies for OF Corey Dickerson and minor league 3B Kevin Padlo.

Dickerson fills the need for a left-handed hitting outfielder that has four years of control with 2016 coming at league minimum. Dickerson doesn't come without warts, in the form of a low walk rate and a slightly above-average strikeout rate, but he does damage when he is able to put the ball in play. Dickerson is coming off an injury-riddled year in which he was still able to put up a .304/.333/.536 119 wrC+ line (undoubtedly aided by his .367 BABIP).

Shortly after word of the deal leaked, Dan Szymborski posted his ZIPS projection for Dickerson as a Ray. ZIPS projects Dickerson for a .260/.311/.463 114 wRC+ line. If you are able use him as platoon left fielder or a designated hitter he should be able to put up the required offense to be a 2 WAR player, and would be useful to the Rays, especially at the discounted prices afforded during his four years of team control.

Kevin Padlo is a 19 year-old third base prospect that absolutely raked in A- to the tune of .294/.404/.502 159 wRC+. He  has shown good plate discipline by posting 14.6% BB and 20.1% K rates. He has good power with a 9 HRs and .208 iso over 308 PA to go with good speed (he stole 33 of 38 bases). He appears on Katoh's top 100 prospects list at #81. He struggled last season after being aggressively promoted, but then continued hitting after he was sent back down to A-.

Jake McGee has two years of team control remaining and will make $4.8MM in 2016, and is coming off a year that saw him limited to 37.1 innings. Going along with McGee is Marquez who has potential, but with 40-man roster space, his usefulness was likely as a trade chip. Most saw him in the 11-20 prospect range within the Rays system. Some, like Mat Germain, then at Rays Colored Glasses, think more highly of German, having him ranked the eighth best Rays prospect.


Jake McGee's value was a blend of team control and affordability compared to those of Kimbrel and Chapman. While the pieces might not have the highly variable outcomes associated with top prospects in the Kimbrel and Giles trades, the Rays acquired a current MLB player with more years of control than they gave up.

It is difficult to make up for the loss of a consistently elite reliever, but the Rays should be able to manage. The $4.3MM in savings could help to cover any loss to the 2016 Rays as they filled a need to increase their offense against right-handed pitchers.

I like this deal for the Rays and feel they received an equitable return while still keeping their eye towards being a competitive team in 2016. In addition, the Rays were able to swap a minor league asset on their 40-man roster (German) for a prospect who does not yet need to be added to the 40-man (Padlo). This allows the Rays to announce the Steve Pearce signing without losing any of their current players. The Rays bypassed quantity to target specific upgrades to their roster and in that effort I believe they have succeeded.