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The Rays, Alex Colomé, and the closer’s trade value

Is he worth more to the Rays in their bullpen or on the trade market?

Tampa Bay Rays v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Closers are overvalued, and have been for years, but this off season has featured some eye-popping reliever contracts. With Arodis Chapman receiving a 5 year, $86 million contract from the Yankees and Kenley Jansen getting a 5 year, $80 million contract with an opt out after three years from the Dodgers (and reportedly turning down an even more lucrative offer) the market for relievers has now entered “irrational exuberance” territory.

This makes it more likely that teams seeking high leverage relief help will turn to the trade market this off-season, and one of the best closers still out there is Alex Colomé.

Ken Rosenthal reported on Monday via Twitter that there are multiple clubs sniffing around the Rays’ closer, saying: “Sources: #Rays getting inquiries on Colome, but setting price they believe is appropriately high. Only slim chance to contend without him.”

Colomé’s value is based on numbers that put him in pretty elite company:

Alex Colomé 1.91 1.02 0.206 11.28 31.40% 2.92 0.28
Aroldis Chapman 1.55 0.86 0.157 13.97 40.50% 1.42 0.268
Andrew Miller 1.45 0.69 0.159 14.89 44.70% 1.68 0.256
Wade Davis 1.87 1.13 0.21 9.76 26.70% 2.29 0.3
Fransisco Rodriguez 3.24 1.13 0.211 8.02 22.10% 3.83 0.252
Kenley Jansen 1.83 0.67 0.147 13.63 41.40% 1.44 0.238

While he lags in K% and WHIP, he’s certainly not far off the leaders. He also suffered from a Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) that was much closer to league average than the others mentioned on this list, but the forward thinking front office will still recognize a strong performance. Among all pitchers, Colomé posted the 15th lowest DRA (2.45) in 2016.

Colomé is still near the start of his rookie contract. He will earn close to league minimum 2017 and then have three years of arbitration contracts, giving him far greater surplus value than anyone else of his caliber. That club control is something that teams covet, and boosts his trade value immensely.

So what might a Colomé trade look like?

While he might be closest in contract and profile to Houston closer Ken Giles, who was acquired last offseason, perhaps we can look to the July trades of Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman as a more recent guideline for the market.

Chapman and Miller are higher caliber players, so it’s not a perfect comparison. The Cubs got only half a season of Chapman, and Miller gets paid $9 million a year, but Colomé’s favorable contract could offset some of these performance differences.

When Chapman was traded to the Cubs, the Yankees received Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren, Billy McKinney, and Rashad Crawford in return. Torres, a shortstop, is rated as the 17th best prospect in the game, Billy McKinney is a high-level organizational prospect, and the other two are basically fillers.

When Miller was traded to the Indians, the Yankees received Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. Frazier, a slugging centerfielder, is rated as the 15th best prospect in the game, and the other three are essentially organizational depth with a non-zero chance of becoming something.

Judging by these trades, the Rays could probably get a prospect in the 25-30th best range along with some scratch-off ticket A-Ball pitchers for Colomé. Which is a bit different from the Ken Giles deal last December.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Vincent Velasquez
Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

The Giles trade brought the Phillies Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, Thomas Eshelman, Mark Appel, and Harold Arauz. Appel is a former first overall pick, but his career has gone somewhat sideways. Velasquez is an oft-injured starter who has the chance to be a very good contributor. Eshelman is a high-floor righty with control and command that is borderline elite. Oberholtzer is a finesse lefty; Arauz is a starter with a bat-missing fastball but a relatively low ceiling.

Admittedly, this is a much smaller package than those listed above, which indicates that the market is much more favorable for sellers this offseason and that the perceived value of closers themselves has skyrocketed as well.

Colomé would undoubtedly fetch prospects of higher quality, and that Rays may have an opportunity to sell their closer while his value is at an all-time high.

Who would be interested?

One team that may be interested is the Boston Red Sox. Boston’s general manager, Dave Dombrowski, loves trading for closers and is in command of a stocked farm. One player that would be of interest to Tampa Bay is curve-spinning lefty starter Jason Groome, rated 31st in the game. Of course, the Rays almost never trade within their division, so this scenario is unlikely.

Another team that could be inquiring on Colomé is the Houston Astros. They have been asking on multiple teams’ relievers, most recently Detroit’s Justin Wilson, and are looking to make a playoff run judging by their other acquisitions this offseason. They do not have a closer of the level of Colomé, and may try to tempt Tampa Bay with high-control power righty starter Francis Martes, rated 29th in the game.

A final team that may be in on the bidding for Colomé is the Cubs. They were by far the best team in baseball in 2016 and are looking to repeat in 2017. They look to be in good position to do so, retaining the entirety of their core and adding Wade Davis by dealing their fourth outfielder and landing Koji Uehara for a surprisingly low price. They are still in the market for another reliever, however, and if Colomé looks available to them, it is not inconceivable that they might try for him as part of a 2015 Royals-esque bullpen. Tampa Bay would be well within their rights to ask for OF Ian Happ, but Chicago is far more likely to deal Eloy Jimenez, a powerful corner outfielder with a plus arm and defense and speed that aren’t liabilities. He is rated as the 23rd best prospect in baseball.

Would the Rays have the motivation to make this move?

The bullpen was the biggest point of weakness for Tampa Bay in 2016. Trading the best player from the thinnest part of the club makes little sense unless a club is tearing down and rebuilding. There is no indication that the Rays are doing that, and the signing of Wilson Ramos indicates just the opposite: Tampa Bay is trying to become competitive.

This does not mean the closer will not be traded, something the Rays have done before. It means is that if he is traded, the return will be well worth the sting. Either way, Rays fans have plenty to look forward to in the return for Colomé or Colomé’s return in 2017.