With the Phillies’ acquisition of Clay Bucholz, one more pitcher has been traded while the Rays continue to sit on their store of starters. Among them is lefty Drew Smyly who joined the team in the 2014 trade that sent Ace David Price to the Tigers.
Smyly’s tenure in Tampa has been a roller coaster thus far. In his first 19 starts, he was nothing short of dominant, sporting a 2.52 ERA and a 9.52 K/9. A partially torn labrum forced him to miss most of 2015. He came back in 2016 to a career worst 4.88 ERA (4.49 FIP).
Despite the struggles, there’s reason for optimism. Those numbers were inflated by an abnormally high 12.7% HR/FB and a strand rate about 7% below his career numbers, so considerable positive regression is possible. He is, however, expensive by Rays standards, with a projected $6.9 million arbitration salary that would be just over 10% of the teams expected payroll. That is probably more than the front office wants to gamble on a likely back of the rotation starter.
Bradley Neveu advocated last month for a move to the bullpen for Smyly, a role he thrived in for Detroit in 2013 when he finished as a top ten reliever with just under 2 WAR. While that’s an option worth considering, the team would likely balk at paying a non-closer that type of money even if it’s the market price.
Smyly’s Trade Value
There’s not really a perfect comparison for determining Smyly’s trade value; however, this offseason’s deals can give us a guide for exploring some potential package.
First of all, a team has to be willing to take on Smyly’s roughly $7 million for this season (and possibly more next season) without giving much salary back to the Rays, so the Bucholz trade that was really a $13.5 million salary dump is probably a good first step to establishing a floor. If you also consider that Smyly has past major league success and more upside than some of the other guys recently dealt (e.g. Chris Heston), you can assume he’ll likely land more than the unheralded prospects they did.
As far as a ceiling is concerned, Smyly has potential to bounce back but perhaps not as much as Jaime Garcia, who was recently traded for three of the Braves top thirty prospects, or teammate Alex Cobb (who is on the market as well), so they are probably a good ceiling for establishing Smyly’s trade value.
With those trades and rumors serving as a guideline, it makes sense that Smyly could land a few mid level prospects or maybe one solid but not spectacular prospect in return.
Possible Trades Packages
Seattle Mariners: OF Mitch Haniger (Mariners #8)
As Seattle seeks to rebuild their rotation behind King Felix, they are frequently linked to the bevy of Rays’ pitchers on the block. Acquiring Drew Smyly would enable them to shift Ariel Miranda to the bullpen while taking a chance on flyball-heavy pitcher who could benefit from a move to the one of the few ballparks more pitcher friendly than Tropicana Field.
Seth Smith’s name has been floated as a possible trade match with the Rays, but he struggles to hit southpaws and is more expensive than Smyly. Instead, the recently acquired Mitch Haniger fills a number of Tampa Bay’s needs. He is capable of playing any of the three outfield spots; he mashes lefties (+1.100 OPS between AA & AAA); and he is by all accounts ready to step up to the big leagues in 2017. The biggest question is whether the Mariners’ GM, Jerry Dipoto, would be willing to part with Haniger after just landing him, along with Jean Segura, in the Taijuan Walker trade.
Houston Astros: RHP Riley Ferrell (Astros #16) & 3B J.D. Davis (#11)
The Astros have been one of the more aggressive teams this off season, already landing Carlos Beltran, Nori Aoki, and Brian McCann, but they’re still desperately in need of an upgrade at the back of their rotation. They were discouraged by the White Sox price demands for Jose Quintana, but lack the funds to acquire an expensive arm. Drew Smyly might be a good fit for their budget and their rotation.
In this deal, the Rays receive RHP Riley Ferrell and third baseman J.D. Davis. Ferrell has two plus pitches in a slider and a fastball that sits in the mid to upper 90’s. If he can learn to harness his repertoire (Grade 40 Control), he has the chance to be a high pressure reliever as soon as the upcoming summer.
J.D. Davis’ name may sound familiar to Tampa Bay fans since the team selected him in the fifth round of 2011 draft, but they were never able to reach an agreement. He elected to play college ball and three years later, the Astros were enamored with his power potential and selected him two rounds earlier than the Rays had. Davis showcased that power by cranking out 23 homers at AA Corpus Christi and even with a strikeout rate in the higher 20’s, he put up a strong .363 wOBA to prove he’s more than a one trick pony. Because of his limited range at third, Davis is more apt to be a first baseman or designated hitter in the long run, but his offensive potential should get him to the major leagues.
Chicago Cubs: OF Donnie Dewees ( Cubs #11), & LHP Carson Sands (#24)
After Jason Hammel’s departure, the Cubbies signed two lefty relievers to allow former Tampa Bay Ray Mike Montgomery to slide into his rotation spot. Once the top lefty pitching prospect in the game, Montgomery has never lived up to the hype as a starting pitcher, so it remains to be seen if he can thrive in that role. Drew Smyly could be the Cubs’ back-up plan.
Tampa Bay would receive outfielder Donnie Dewees and LHP Carson Sands. The former is a talented bat with the potential to be a .280, 15 HR, and 30 SB player in the major leagues; if there wasn’t a glut of outfielders ahead of him in the Cubs farm system, he’d be ranked much higher with that projection. Although he has yet to play above high A, there’s optimism that his bat can put him on a fast track to the majors next season.
Sands is not a particularly heralded prospect, but he’s got three average offerings with the potential to stick in a major league rotation. He struggled to the tune of a 4.73 FIP in his first taste at High A but kept the ball in the park allowing only a mere 5 homers in 44 career starts.
Pittsburgh: 2B/OF Alen Hanson (Pirates #13) & LHP Steven Brault (#14)
Pittsburgh is another team that continues to be linked to Tampa Bay’s pitchers. After weeks of negotiation, Pittsburgh has failed to agree to terms with Ivan Nova, so they be more pressed to make a move for someone like Smyly. Smyly’s homerun tendencies make him a good fit for PNC Park, which has the 2nd lowest home run factor for right handed hitters over the previous three seasons and ridiculously challenging 25 foot fence across right field.
As I mentioned in the Alex Cobb piece, Alen Hanson should be a prime target for the Rays; he’s fallen out of favor with the Bucs but still possesses the tools to succeed offensively and the defensive versatility to make an immediate impact as a utility player in the majors.
Steven Brault wouldn’t be a considered a flashy addition; however, he demonstrated the ability to be quality organizational depth with a chance at holding down a regular spot in someone’s rotation. Last season, he put up a solid 3.59 FIP at AAA Indianapolis, which earned him a couple of opportunities in the revolving door of a rotation for the Bucs. His arsenal is pretty average, but he’s got plenty of cheap team control and a couple of minor league options left.
In the end, it’ll all likely come down to the money---Smyly has all sorts of upside, but it’s hard to imagine Cobb’s $4 million and Smyly’s $6.9 million both being on the team’s payroll upcoming season.
Smyly ought to be worth at least a few ranked prospects from teams that will value his ability to add quality in the middle or back of a rotation.