If the Rays do indeed trade one of their starting pitchers, most likely Smyly or Odorizzi, then bringing in a high-risk, high-reward pitcher like Tyson Ross could be a beneficial gamble.
Ross was non-tendered this offseason by the San Diego Padres. MLBTR projected Ross to make $9.6 million in his last year of arbitration which proved to be more than San Diego wanted to pay for a pitcher who is still recovering from a shoulder injury that limited him to one start in 2016.
According to Twitter, Ross is still seeking a $9-11 million dollar pact which could price him out of the Rays comfort level, especially considering his injury; however, if Odorizzi or Smyly do get traded, the Rays could theoretically reallocate funds toward a Ross deal.
High Risk, High Reward
If he can successfully return from thoracic outlet surgery, Ross offers ace potential. From 2014-2015 he produced a 3.11 FIP and 7.6 WAR over 391.2 innings. During those seasons he struck out 9.35 per nine innings and created a lot of ground balls with a 59.2 GB%, which trailed only Dallas Keuchel's 62.6% as the highest among qualified pitchers.
If Ross plays that well once he returns, then he will be a steal at $9 million, possibly even less. If he falters, however, it would be a lot of money lost on a player who doesn't produce.
The scenario where Ross doesn't return to form and just ends up costing 11 million is very daunting for a small market club like the Rays. It's more likely that Ross signs with a big market club with a little bit more wiggle room in the payroll department. He isn’t guaranteed to be fully recovered by the time the season starts and therefore offers additional risk as far as playing time goes.
Why Do It?
Firstly, with all of the trade rumors that have been swirling around the Rays’ starting pitchers for the last two seasons it seems more probable than ever that a deal is finally struck. The Rays have depth in the form of Matt Andriese, Erasmo Ramirez, and Chase Whitley, but adding Ross gives the team a high upside option to pair alongside Chris Archer at the top of the rotation. The team would keep their depth when injuries occur just that: depth. This would further enable the club to utilize Ramirez, Andriese, and Whitley as swingmen or bullpen arms as well.
There has been no indication that the Rays want to retool or rebuild the team, and signing Ross would continue to show the team’s dedication to winning now. The Wilson Ramos acquisition proves the direction the team is taking is one that envisions a very competitive 2017 season.
If Ross can provide 2-3 wins of value, and we add in any MLB ready value gained from the pieces the Rays obtain in any trade, then I believe that the final product would have a higher chance of success than the current team.
If everything turns out like last season, though, another benefit will be in his possible trade value. When the Padres made Ross available back in 2015, there was a ton of interest surrounding the 29-year old right hander. If he performs well, and the Rays don’t, Ross could once again be dangled on the trade market.
If The Rays end up trading one of their starting pitchers this off-season, they should also attempt to entice Ross on a one-year incentive-laden deal. If he returns to form the rotation will be better because of the 1-2 punch of Archer and Ross. If he fails to perform at such a high level or doesn’t perform at all, then the Rays lose cash they rarely spend.
The Rays are a small market team and can’t afford to add elite talent at market prices; therefore, adding Ross — an elite level talent — for a low level cost is the exact move the Rays should be making, and mirrors the deal they’ve already struck this season with Wilson Ramos.
Currently injured elite talent is what the Rays have to pursue if they truly want to contend.