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Revisiting The Wil Myers Trade

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How does the Myers/Souza trade look eighteen months later?

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I still remember how gutted I felt when I first read Wil Myers had been traded to the Padres. My frustration only grew once I realized how seemingly little the Rays received in return. At the time, Tampa Bay's haul in the three-team trade left many scratching their heads. Here's a recap of all the moving pieces:

Rays Received: Padres Received: Nationals Received:
LF Steven Souza Jr., WSH OF/1B Wil Myers, TB SS Trea Turner, SD
LHP Travis Ott, WSH C Ryan Hanigan, TB RHP Joe Ross, SD
C Rene Rivera, SD LHP Jose Castillo, TB
RHP Burch Smith, SD RHP Gerardo Reyes, TB
1B/OF Jake Bauers, SD

In what was something of a hopeful move for Tampa Bay, the Rays and Padres swapped starting catchers. The Rays were banking on Rene Rivera being the Rene Rivera of 2014, and not the player the world knew from 2004-2013. In spite of Rivera's Rays failings, it still functioned as a cost-cutting move. The Rays saved $2.3 million in 2015 by going with Rivera over Hanigan, and were no longer on the hook for the $3.7 million Hanigan would have been due this season.

The Rays also parted with two young arms, Castillo and Reyes. Castillo is noteworthy as he was regarded as the sixth-best international prospect when he was signed out of Venezuela for $1.55 million as a 16-year old in 2012. He has yet to feature in 2016, and doesn't rank in the Padres top-20 prospects.  Reyes, an undersized right-hander signed out of Mexico, didn't pitch in 2015, and is currently a reliever for the Padres' Midwest League affiliate.

Trade Rationale

Before a deeper look at the main pieces of the trade, let's back up to consider why Myers was on the trading block in the first place.

He came to the Rays as the centerpiece of the James Shields trade and promptly went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year award, despite not being called up until mid-June. He finished his stellar 2013 debut season with a .357 wOBA/129 wRC+.  At the time of the trade, most observers saw the Rays as the clear winners in that deal, as Myers was heralded as the strong bat the team had been seeking, seemingly, forever.

But Myers's sophomore year was an injury-shortened disappointment. His ISO fell almost 100 points from 2013 to .098, and his wOBA/wRC+ dropped to .275/77 respectively. Still, a sophomore slump associated with an injury would hardly seem to justify giving up an a guy considered to be a top young talent. Why trade him then?

Perhaps the Rays were concerned about his ailing wrist. Or maybe they were worried his 2013 season was a reflection of an unsustainable .362 BABIP.

Perhaps the Rays had soured on Myers for concerns about character. To some, his fate was sealed when he was one of the few Rays players to refuse to shave his head for charity during spring training. Also cringe-worthy is the story of Myers arguing with George Brett about how to apply pine tar to his bat.

Trade Results:  Winners, losers, and second thoughts

Now, with a bit of hindsight, were the Rays smart to give up on Myers so early, and have they received sufficient return?

Myers has did little in 2015 to cause regret among Rays fans.  He missed parts of 2015 with a recurring wrist injury, accumulating just 253 plate appearances. He did have some offensive success when he played - his ISO jumped back up to .173 and his wOBA rose to .334. His inability to stay on the field has been worrying for the Padres, however. He's yet to accumulate 400 plate appearances in a season.

Another concern is Myers seems to be a man without a position. Drafted as a catcher, he played primarily right field for the Rays.

The Padres experimented with him in center, but gave up after about 300 innings.  While this is a small sample for UZR the results were not encouraging: according to  Fangraphs, he would have been a -42.5 UZR player had he kept up that performance all year.

Myers is now at first base, where he looks like a capable defender, but where his bat plays much worse than it would in center field or even at a corner outfield spot. Myers sports a career .275 TAv, and PECOTA projects him to finish 2016 with a .271 TAv (MLB average for first baseman in 2015 was roughly .288).

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Although technically the Rays traded Myers for Turner and Ross, after an additional transaction with Washington, the final roster addition was Steven Souza, Jr.  In roughly a full-season of plate appearances spread over three years, Souza is a career 109 wRC+ player, slightly better than Myers's career 106 line. His career ISO (.199) also compares favorably to Myers's (.154).

Souza is a better outfielder than Myers.  While he's had the occasional lapse, he's also pulled off some spectacular catches, and grades out as having an above-average throwing arm. And he runs better. While Souza hasn't yet developed into the 20-25 stolen base player many thought he would be, his base running has been good for almost 5 runs over his career.

Souza will strike out. He'll go through prolonged periods, in fact, where it seems like all he does is strike out. He also hasn't shown the plate discipline to walk regularly, though his minor league stats show it may develop.

If it were just a Myers for Souza swap, it would probably look like something of a wash. But the Rays also picked up two other noteworthy prospects - Burch Smith and Jake Bauers.

Smith, the oft-overlooked right-hander, will be on the shelf until mid-2015 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.  He projects as a back-end of the rotation fly ball pitcher who throws strikes. His modest velocity and reliance on deception led some scouts to believe his tools were more suited to the bullpen, but the Padres saw enough in him to promote him directly from AA and gave him seven starts in 2013. He's still only 26, still has rookie-status, and could provide a boost to a weary bullpen in August or September.

Bauers is the really intriguing prospect.

He came to the Rays as an undersized first baseman with a beautiful left-handed swing that didn't project enough pop to stick at first. The Rays are attempting to convert him to a corner outfielder and early reports have been promising. But he's hit at every level. As a 20-year old, he's hammering AA pitching to a .255/.355/.486 slash line and a wRC+ of 141, despite being four years younger than the average Southern League player. His .211 ISO is probably a little inflated, but Bauer's smooth stroke projects gap power and he can hit right and left-handers alike.

So the Rays come out ahead.  Or do they?

If this trade were simply a trade of Myers for Souza, Jr., with prospects Smith and Bauers thrown in, Rays fans would probably be pretty happy.  But this was a three way trade, where the Padres got Myers, sent two of their top prospects to the Nationals, who then sent Souza, Jr. to Tampa Bay.

Washington's take in this trade included Joe Ross, who has firmly implanted himself in the middle of the Nats rotation, and Trea Turner, a shortstop who was Baseball America's ninth-rated prospect entering 2016.

Many would maintain the Rays would have been ahead had they simply traded Myers for Turner and Ross. Others have suggested that young pitchers are prone to flaming out and prospects don't always develop. From this vantage point, the Rays hedged their bets. They got an MLB-ready, plus-power hitting, team-controlled outfielder in Souza, and also got a pair of prospects who can develop into solid contributors, perhaps as soon as this season.

Of course, It's hard to judge trades involving prospects after only eighteen months, and this deal leaves us with as many questions today as it did when it happened.