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Are the Rays and White Sox a match as trade partners?

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Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

For a good portion of the off season, the Rays and Cubs were rumoured to be working on a trade. The two teams never came to terms on a deal, and it's possible that the North Siders are content with the additions of Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, and Jason Heyward as their major coups of their off season.

What seems to have happened through those trade talks, however, is an ignited interest on the South side from the White Sox who have intriguing pieces to include in any deal. As Bruce Levine recently reported:

"The Tampa Bay Rays seem to be the target for many conversations between numerous clubs, including the White Sox and the Cubs. More than 10 clubs have asked Tampa about the availability of its young pitching."

That puts the Rays in a fairly powerful position, holding what a reported ten teams are looking for in trade. He notes that Jake Odorizzi hails from Illinois and that both he and Desmond Jennings could be attractive targets for the White Sox this off season. Their GM, Rick Hahn, is quoted as stating "the season has not started yet, we are still a work in progress".

White Sox Situation

Roster Changes:

Although much of MLB is concentrated on battles in the American League East and West, the Central division includes some of the best teams in MLB. The reigning Champion Royals and the reloaded Tigers represent impressive teams the White Sox would need to beat in order to earn a playoff spot, unless the second Wild Card team also comes from the Central division. In that case, they would still need to beat the Indians and Twins, something not easily done by a team that won only 76 games in 2015.

With this in mind, the White Sox added some key pieced this off season, including Todd Frazier at the hot corner, Brett Lawrie at 2B, and both Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro behind the plate. All four deepen a roster at key positions and support what should be a much improved offensive team.

It's likely that SS prospect Tim Anderson will join them in the infield and will add a youthful spirit to what is a team now filled with experience and veterans, although Ian Desmond remains an outside possibility.

The area that has been left untouched, to this point, in the off season is the rotation which boasts Chris Sale and Jose Quintana at the top, and includes Carlos Rodon, John Danks, and Erik Johnson. This is where the link to the Rays begins, as many expect the White Sox to aggressively seek to add pitching depth and possibly seek a starter that would slot in between those two tiers of starters.

Options and the Investment

So why link the Rays to the White Sox if someone like Yovani Gallardo, who could easily slot in as a quality number three starter, is still on the free agent market? Particularly when the White Sox are one of the ten teams that have their first round draft pick in the 2016 MLB draft protected?

One word: Money.

On the financial front, the White Sox are at the top of their budget with over $114 million already spoken for and more to come. The highest budget the White Sox have ever operated with was approximately $127 million in 2011. Since then, the range has been from $90 million to $118 million.

With no assurances that spending the money above-and-beyond anything they've ever spent will bring the playoffs to the South side of Chicago, and with such tremendous opponents to contend with, it seems more likely that they seek a more cost-effective route of improving their team, something they've never shied away from in the past.

One thing we can deduce from their actions is that they likely didn't sign David Robertson to a 4-year $46 million contract just to sit out the playoffs for that length of time. The more likely scenario is that they love the core they have in-house and they want to take a shot at winning it all in 2016.

In looking through the White Sox roster, there's a good argument to be made that there are three glaring areas of need. In no order of importance, they are: starting pitching depth, a fourth outfielder, and a short-stop.

On the last point, there's a good chance they don't want to block their top prospect - Tim Anderson - and that they'll use what they have in-house to make due until he's ready for a call up, or from the beginning of the season. With this in mind, it leaves a starter and a fourth outfielder as the most glaring opportunities for improvement, and coincidentally, something the Rays may be able to offer.

Rays Pieces the White Sox Could Target

Pitching:

Some of the pieces the White Sox could target in trade with the Rays are fairly obvious and have been mentioned again-and-again this off season. Jake Odorizzi, who the Rays have been reportedly attempting to extend, is one candidate, and Alex Cobb who is returning from injury and is unlikely to be ready before mid-summer is another. Both offer top three caliber pitching.

The price on Odorizzi and Cobb would - and should - be fairly steep; therefore, if the price is found to be too steep for the White Sox, they could target Drew Smyly instead. Although his recovery from a torn labrum may turn off teams searching for pitching help, that injury was likely old and he's still quite young. What may make him less attractive is the fact that the White Sox rotation already boasts 4 LHP, making a RHP a more likely target. The same thought process rules out Matt Moore.

Erasmo Ramirez could be a target, but he is not yet to the caliber of Odorizzi or Cobb, so the return would match the value. With Ramirez, the Rays would be dealing a cost-conrolled pitcher who ate up huge innings last year with outstanding results, something that many didn't expect from him prior to 2015. Seeing it happen again would increase his trade value, but for now teams may believe it was a one year event.

With this in mind, let's assume for argument's sake that Odorizzi or Cobb would be the targets.

Fourth outfielder / outfield depth:

On the outfield side of things, the Rays have two pieces that would significantly increase the quality of the depth they have to work with on the South side of Chicago. It's not all about Jennings, the only outfielder mentioned in Levine's piece.

Brandon Guyer managed 31 extra base hits last season in limited playing time (332 AB) and chipped in with 10 SB. He only struck out 15.8% of the time, managed a .146 ISO, a .342 wOBA, 121 wRC+ and an impressive 2.4 WAR. That has to carry some enticing trade value, particularly when he only costs $1.185 million this year and is under control for two more seasons.

Desmond Jennings may not have had his best season to date in 2015, far from it, but as recently as 2013 he put up numbers that match up almost identically with Dexter Fowler's. That, the fact that he slots in well at the top of the lineup, and his ability to play all over the outfield should create some interest. He is not too expensive at $3.3 million, and if he builds up his value and the White Sox are still out of the playoff hunt, he could become a valuable trade chip with one more year of control.

While normally it would make sense to include someone like Mikie Mahtook or Logan Morrison in the conversation because they can each play the outfield, each has reason to not be included.

Mahtook is the kind of controlled cost the Rays seek, not trade, and his defense is quite valuable. As for the left handed Morrison, he's on the wrong side of the platoon need, and with both Adam Laroche and Jose Abreu on the roster, it seems unlikely that the White Sox would trade for Morrison without having a clear spot to play against right handed pitching.

With this in mind, we'll assume for argument's sake that Guyer or Jennings would be the target.

White Sox Pieces the Rays Could Target

For Rays fans, this is where the intriguing part begins. After all, if you're giving up a combination of Odorizzi or Cobb and Guyer or Jennings, the returns should understandably be substantial.

Depending on the combination, the number of the players listed below included would change and match the talent and risk being traded. Below are ten possible targets which may be intriguing to the Rays, in no order of preference or likeliness of being included in any deal.

SS Tim Anderson: Although he seems like an ideal target due to his outstanding talents, he may not be the focus for the Rays. With Daniel Robertson, Willy Adames, and Adrian Rondon coming up the ranks, the Rays may opt to throw a wider net that will focus on pitching talent and power, something they have a hard time developing in the minors. Since Anderson's power is rated at 45 overall, I'd expect the Rays would target the next person instead. If Anderson is available, you take the best value, but it's possible the Rays would rather match up elsewhere.

RHP Carson Fulmer: The talented 22-year-old RHP was selected 8th overall in the 2015 draft and would represent quite a significant return. Some have pegged his arrival in MLB to possibly occur as early as 2016 despite only pitching up to HiA last year. While that timeline is aggressive, the talent is there and he's expected to become either a front-line starter or a closer. Listed as the 2nd best White Sox prospect, he seems likely to be the focus or any return for the Rays if they include Odorizzi or Cobb in trade.

RHP Spencer Adams: A 19-year-old who just completed 129.1 IP in 2015, Adams may be a significant target as well. He has a build that projects to be able to endure 200 inning seasons, is building a four pitch arsenal that should ensure he remains a starter, and he carries less risk than most pitchers his age. Rated 3rd in the White Sox system, he could be the main piece as well.

RF Micker Adolfo: If there's one tool the Rays have struggled to develop in their hitters, it's power. The 6'3" 200 lbs Adolfo brings loads of it with him and projects as a skilled and well-armed right-fielder. He has yet to play in full-season ball and has shown a propensity for striking out, but with his intriguing power and at least average defensive play he could be a good target for the Rays.

LHP Jordan Guerrero: The top LHP in their system, Guerrero is also close to the majors, possibly having an impact late in 2016 and most likely in 2017. The 21-year-old has an outstanding fastball and change up combination, but of which grade out as slightly above-average. He's one of my favorites to be included in any deal with the Rays, although the White Sox may want to retain him as insurance for their 2016 season.

RHP Chris Beck: He already has some MLB experience and could be ready to step into the rotation or bullpen to begin the 2016 season. Like Guerrero, his strengths are his fastball and change up. What he lacks in terms of helping the White Sox in a playoff run is the IP. He only threw 60 in 2015 due to a misplaced Ulnar Nerve that required surgery this off season but doesn't require a lengthy recovery period. Ready to roll by spring training, he'd be a solid addition to any trade.

2B Jake Peter: The Rays recently signed Logan Forsythe to an extension, but have to plan ahead for when he's no longer an affordable option for the team. Peter is noted for his hitting ability and could become one of the better hitters in the Rays system if acquired. He's made his league's post-season all-star team (PIO and CAR) in each of the last two seasons and at only 22, he could be ready for MLB play as early as 2017.

1B Corey Zangari: If the Rays are targeting power in return, they may be able to find it in Zangari who is rated at 60 on the 20/80 scouting scale. Previously a catcher, he made the switch to 1B in 2015. At only 18 years old and with some holes in his swing, he'll have to make adjustments to tap into his HR potential, but a bat with power like his could be just what the Rays are looking for if they trade one of their better arms.

LHP Brian Clark: This 22-year-old is sure to be a target the Rays may consider if they're looking to add someone they can envision helping their pen as early as 2016. Armed with a potent Slider and Fastball combination, he is particularly tough on LHB. With an ability to work down in the zone, he limits damage and only allowed 1 HR in all of 2015 through 89 IP. His Whip in 2015 also improved from 1.53 in the first half to 1.14 in the second half, showing intriguing progress and efficiency. With the Rays looking to add options in the pen after the departure of Jake McGee, he could be the perfect target.

RHP Luis Martinez: As with any return the Rays have managed in recent deals, they like to get at least one lower-in-the-minors player who has a good ceiling but carries risk. In a deal with the White Sox, that could be Martinez who has the size, 6'6" 190 lbs, and projection in tools to become a high-upside target. Word is that he hasn't thrown his change up much to this point, and that if it develops well enough, it could take him to another level. That's what makes this 21-year old Venezuelan an interesting target for the Rays.

There are ten of the options Rays fans should keep their eyes on if a trade is completed between these two clubs. I brought them up because the White Sox system hasn't always been associated with being a great one, so it's important to recognize that there is a lot of value there now, and that there's more than enough intrigue within the system for the Rays to consider in trade.

Closing Thoughts

It seems like the Rays have been rumored to be close to making a trade since the off season began.

With the Rays holding strength in areas the White Sox need help with, namely pitching and outfield depth, the possibility of a deal between the two franchises makes some sense. This article is not meant to imply that a deal will be struck or that I make the case that it should be struck. It simply points out that the needs are a match, and that the White Sox have enough in-house prospects to make a deal plausible.

Should the Rays strike a deal with either Odorizzi or Cobb heading out of town, the pitching depth in Tampa Bay will begin to weaken substantially. That would place more importance on some of their top prospects rising to the occasion when called upon, and on pitchers like Alex Colome being able to shift back into the rotation as needs arise. If the organization feels they are both able to do so while keeping the Rays within the playoff race, a trade with the White Sox is more likely.