I'm shocked at how the 2016 season has gone for the Tampa Bay Rays. I had envisioned them pushing for a playoff spot on the back of a really good (and finally healthy) rotation. I loved the new power that Dickerson, Morrison, and Miller were sure to provide. I was positive that Blake Snell would build off of his dominant 2015 and take his talents to St. Pete. With Kiermaier and Longo anchoring the defense and catalyzing the offense, this Rays team was sure to be good, right?
Well, not quite.
Anything can happen in baseball, and the season hasn't gone how Tampa Bay fans had imagined back in Spring Training. The Rays are currently the 2nd worst team in the AL with a .380 Winning%, and are 17 games back in their division. When a team plays this poorly, especially a team on a tight budget, July brings with it all kinds of trade speculation. Now less than two weeks away from the non-tender Trade Deadline, there is no shortage of Rays trade rumors. Could Longo go to the Dodgers? How many pitchers will be dealt? Is anyone safe?
What the Rays have to Offer
Blake Snell, given his talent and years of control, is most likely not available, and I think an Archer trade is very unlikely. Below I review the recent (2015-6) performances and contract status of three pitchers most likely to part of any July trade deal.
Over the last two seasons, Odorizzi has been the most reliable of the bunch. He's pitched 100 more innings than Moore or Smyly. He also owns the lowest HR/9, ERA, and FIP, which has helped him to produce a 4.1 WAR since 2015. Unfortunately for Odorizzi he has done worse in every category listed above other than k/9 in 2016 (albeit in about 60 fewer innings). Still, he holds a solid K/BB ratio with a 4.09 xFIP since the beginning of 2016. Odorizzi is also the youngest and cheapest of this bunch of pitchers. He is only 26, and is about to go into his first arbitration year. If a team acquires Odorizzi, they will have three years of control, at a really cheap cost.
Moore has pitched well in his 1st full season since returning from Tommy John surgery last season. He is walking under 7% of the batters he faces while striking out close to 20%. As with all Rays starters, he's been bitten by the long ball (more on the Rays fly ball trouble this season here) this season as 44.6% of batted balls against him are fly balls. His K/9, BB/9, ERA, and FIP have all improved this season over his 60 innings last year, which is a promising sign that Moore could continue to improve as the gets further removed from Tommy John. Moore, like Odorizzi, is relatively cheap, with a couple of club options left on his contract that could bring the total to 26 million over the next three seasons. Another big draw for Moore is that lately, he hasn't let many runners score. He is sporting a 2.51 ERA over his last seven starts.
Smyly was acquired by Tampa Bay in the 2014 mid season David Price trade. He currently has a 2-11 record and is rocking a 5.64 ERA for the season. On the surface he doesn't seem like someone who could bring back anything of value, but since 2015 Smyly has a higher K/9 and a lower BB/9 of than Odorizzi or Moore. Last season he had a 3.11 ERA, and he absolutely dominated in the 2nd half of 2014 after he got traded from Detroit.
Player Contracts/ARB years
A good way to gauge what these players might be worth is to compare the value received when similar players have been traded. The problem with finding comparable trades is that young and cheaply controlled starting pitchers don't usually get traded. The criteria for the below "similar trades" are that they are within the same age range 25-27, have not reached free agency, and produced a WAR during the year of and before the trade under 6.
Trade #1 - Mike Leake (2015)
Age - 27
Contract - $9,775,000 (last year of arbitration)
2014-2015 WAR - 4
Traded to San Francisco for Adam Duvall and Keury Mella (at the time was the Red's 6th best prospect according to MLB.com). Leake had just come off of a season where he pitched to a 2.3 WAR, he like Porcello, was a rental. The main piece in the trade seemed to be Mella (who is currently ranked as the Red 5th best prospect per MLB.com), but Duvall was an all-star this season and currently has a 1.7 WAR and 23 Home Runs.
Trade #2 - Rick Porcello (2014)
Age - 25
Contract - $12,500,000 (last year of arbitration)
2013-2014 WAR - 5.7
Traded to Boston for Yoenis Cespedes.
I include this Porcello trade because it demonstrates what it takes to get even rental pitchers. Porcello just came off of two good seasons, was young, but not controllable, and was making due to make 12 million. It cost Boston a 28-year-old Cespedes coming off of a 3.3 WAR season to secure Porcello's services.
Trade #3 - Drew Pomeranz (2016)
Age - 27
Contract - $1,350,000 (in his first year of arbitration)
2015-2016 WAR - 3.7
Traded for - Anderson Espinoza (15th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America)
Pomeranz was just traded to the Boston Red Sox for Anderson Espinoza. Drew Pomeranz has never pitched 100 innings in a season (until this year), has never had a sub 3.50 FIP until this year, and his highest K/9 was 8.58 whiled his lowest BB/9 was 2.45 (over 18 innings in 2011). Pomeranz has been able to stay healthy this season and has played exceptionally well. As a Padre, he had a 2.47 ERA and had already compiled a 2.4 WAR season. Pomeranz has been much better than any of the Rays possible trade targets this season.
It's hard to find previous deals that are similar in terms of player output, time remaining under team control, and cost. The Porcello for Cespedes deal is probably least germane, as Porcello produced a higher WAR than the Rays trade candidates and was making a lot more money. Although he was a similar age, he only had one year of control left. Also, the Rays will likely be looking for prospects, not star players.
Leake's deal was a pure rental. San Fran got half a season from Leake and gave up their 6th best prospect as well as a slugger who showed potential. Leake's WAR was very similar to that of the Rays pitchers but the Rays are trading guys with many more years of control. Assume, then, that the Rays could do better than the Reds did on this deal.
The Pomeranz deal is probably the most applicable. It is comparable in controllable years and cost. Pomeranz has pitched much better than the Rays pitchers this year, so the Rays might not get quite the same return for their pitchers.
Based on this analysis, what might we expect?
Odorizzi - a top 20 ranked prospect. Odorizzi is the big prize in my mind. He has done the best over the last couple of seasons and is also the cheapest. If Mike Leake produced a similar WAR and the Reds received the Giants 6th best prospect for half of a season, then it will take a lot to land Odorizzi.
Moore - a 40-70 ranked prospect + lower level prospects. Since Moore is on pace for about a 2 WAR season, I figure that a team should have to expend a fairly valuable prospect for him. The value he offers beyond this year (all club options), and the hope that he continues to make his way back to his old dominant self will make him a valuable asset.
Smyly - a 40-70 ranked prospect. Smyly has produced more WAR than Moore, but only has two years left of arbitration. He has a putrid 5.64 ERA this season which doesn't exactly scream "worth a top prospect." I still think the Rays could get a nice haul from a team willing to look at his peripherals and control as positives.
The pitching market is thin. If you want to get a young, controllable quality pitcher, it's either trade the Rays for one of these three or go ask the Braves about Julio Teheran. The price will be high, and it should be.