The Rays are in a very interesting spot. They are young. They are not bad. They were not bad in 2015. And they were not bad in 2014. However, they aren't good either. They are teetering on the edge of Minnesota Twins baseball.
Do they blow it up 76ers style, and trade Archer, Odorizzi, and dare I say, Longo?
First, I thought it could be beneficial to do a little research. To understand where the Rays stand, I sifted through data from past years to find the individual teams that were in the same situation as our 2016 Rays, and see what they did. Perhaps from seeing what was done in the past, we can learn what to do right now.
- The sample includes teams from the 2009 to 2015 seasons.
- To avoid teams that are currently tanking, a team must have at least 1 winning record in the past 3 years to be in the sample
- Teams with a Pythagorean Winning Percentage (Pythagorean Winning Percentage) greater than .520 in the previous year are excluded from the sample to avoid teams coming off successful seasons.
- To better mirror the Rays, if the team is top ten in payroll in the given season, they are also excluded.
- Finally, to be included in the sample, the team must have a losing record in the given season
By my count, I came up with 18 other teams similar to the 2016 Rays from 2009-2015, given the guidelines provided.
Out of those 18 teams, only four have entered a full rebuild in the following year. Six teams reached the playoffs, or at least got close in the next season. The other eight teams stayed stagnant. Lets look at an example of teams in each category.
First, the total rebuild.
The 2015 Atlanta Braves are a great example of a team entering a rebuild. They were a playoff team in 2013. They were a .500 team in 2014. And in 2015 they decided to blow it up. Before the season even started, they traded Heyward, both Uptons, Kimbrel and Gattis. Then, at the deadline, they got rid of Kelly Johnson, Alex Wood, Bronson Arroyo, and Jim Johnson, among others. The Braves will be much better off 3 to 4 years down the road, and it will be a tough 3 to 4 years, but that’s the price of a rebuild.
Analysis and comparison
The 2015 Braves rotation is not so dissimilar to the 2015 Rays rotation. Shelby Miller, Alex Wood, and Julio Teheran made up a young, bright rotation for the 2015 Braves, just as Cobb, Archer, Odorizzi, Smyly, and Moore do for the Rays. The rest of the rotation and pitching staff for the 2015 Braves, however, lacked the depth the 2016 Rays have. As a result, the 2016 Rays pitchers are projected to put up nearly 7 more WAR than the 2015 Braves pitchers.
Offensively, the two teams are very similar. Freddie Freeman led the Braves just as Longo leads our Rays. And both are backed up by some solid role players who put up good numbers every year. I would like to think the Rays have more young potential offensively, in the likes of Souza Jr, Kiermaier, and Dickerson, but neither team is dominant in the poor year.
The real difference between the two teams are the farm systems in the respective years.
Right now, the Rays have a pipeline of talent coming through, with the likes of Honeywell, Bauers, and Adames all on track to be productive major leaguers. Baseball America ranked the Rays farm system 13th before the 2016 season began. It’s certainly not a top tier system, but it is a system that will turn out major league talent for the next couple of years.
The same couldn’t be said of the Braves pre-rebuild. The Braves were 29th pre-2015. They jumped to third pre-2016.
The Rays have enough assets, both in the system and at the MLB level, to stay competitive in the years to come. And for that reason alone, there is no need for a total blow up.
Next, Baseball Purgatory.
Eight teams fell into this category of repeated mediocracy. Perhaps no team better exemplifies this mediocrity than the 2015 White Sox.
The ChiSox haven't had a winning season since 2012, and haven't made the playoffs since 2008. And even after a 63 win season in 2013, and 2 years of mediocrity in 14 and 15, they are still pushing to be competitive. Unless they pull off a miracle, 2016 will be their 4th unproductive year in a row.
The South Siders are close to being competitive, yet they can’t seem to get over the hump. And since they are close to competitive baseball, they have not been restocking the farm system. This is no place any MLB team wants to be. This is baseball Purgatory and they do it to themselves.
Despite being two games under .500 at the 2015 trade deadline, they were only 3.5 games out of a wild card spot. Chicago thought they had a chance to make the playoffs, which is fair, given the extra wild card. But they ignored the places that their team was not good.
Yes, they had some pretty damned good players. Sale, Abreu, Eaton, and Quintina all were very productive. But besides them, they lacked the depth to become a playoff team.
Their .440 pythagorean winning percentage was a good indicator that maybe 2015 would not be the year for the Sox. But, this was ignored. Instead of selling off some assets at the deadline, they did nothing. Soto was a good asset to trade. They kept him. I’m sure a team would have bet on Samardija, even during his down year. He stayed too. And out of the pen, I’m sure Matt Albers caught some teams eyes.
None of them were traded. All of them became free agents. Rewind a year. Alexei Ramirez is in his age 32 season, and is having a productive year. He finished with a 3.1 WAR. The Sox decided to hold on to the aging SS, even with Semien waiting in the wings. The next year, Alexei put up a 72 wRC+, and became a near average defensive SS with almost no value to other teams.
Analysis and Comparison
The White Sox continue to make questionable decisions. And with those decisions, the mediocre seasons continue to pile up. They are stuck in neutral. The farm system is not getting better. The major league team is only marginally getting better. The "big" offseason additions of Frazier and Lawrie have equated to a 1.8 WAR in 2016.
The Rays are smarter than this. I trust they realize that the current team is not a team that will win this year. This is a team with good, projectable young players. They just need a few tweaks to reach contention.
The Rays should trade off some assets, while keeping the core in tact. They will hopefully find a true balance of fire sale and total complacency.
I believe one of the best at finding this balance is Billy Beane. He laid down a great blueprint for these Rays by turning the average 2011 A’s into the 96 win 2012 A’s.
The success story: The 2011-2012 Oakland Athletics
At the 2011 trade deadline, the A’s were 48-59 and well out of contention. The offense was weak, with Josh Willingham leading the way. Jemile Weeks was a young offensive bright spot, and Coco Crisp was a productive player. But all in all, they struggled offensively.
On the other side of the ball, Brandon Mccarthy, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Tyson Ross and Andrew Bailey represented a solid young core of pitching with a lot of similarities to the 2016 Rays staff.
At the deadline, all Beane did was trade Brad Ziegler. He realized that the market for relievers at the deadline is inflated, and he capitalized on it.
Then, in the offseason, Beane worked his magic.
A’s Major Transactions in the offseason following the 2011 Season:
- 12/1/11: Signed Brandon Moss.
Moss had previously put up 20 home runs in two straight AAA seasons, but struck out a lot. Moss went on to put up 2.3 WAR with a whopping 160 wRC+ for the 2012 A’s.
- 12/9/11: Trade Cahill (23 years old and coming off a mediocre season) and Craig Breslow (Coming off a solid, but not great relief season) for Jarrod Parker (22 year old AA pitcher), Collin Cowgill (25 year old in AAA) , and Ryan Cook (24 year old AA reliever)
Beane likely realized that Cahill would not live up to his hype, based on his low K rate and average walk rate. Cahill was productive for the 2012 D’backs, but fell off a couple years later.
Beane acquired 3 "fringe" prospects who had put up solid minor league numbers and were ready to produce at the major league level. This trade is the epitome of the rebuild on the fly method that Beane pulls off so well.
Parker became the ace of the 2012 staff, and put up 3.4 WAR. Cook became a dominant reliever in the majors, and struck out nearly 10 per 9 in 2012.
- 12/23/11: Trade Gio Gonzalez (25 years old) for A.J Cole (19 year old prospect), Tommy Milone (24 year old, "fringe" pitching prospect in AAA), Derek Norris (22 year old AA cather), and Brad Peacock (23 years old in AA).
Gio was a very promising pitcher at the time of this trade. And Gio had a great 2012 season. But once again, Beane found close to MLB ready talent and executed another rebuild on the fly trade.
Derek Norris was a solid backup in 2012 and became a very good MLB catcher. Milone had a very solid 2012 season, putting up 2.8 WAR.
- 12/28/11: Trade Andrew Bailey (27 year old all star closer) for Josh Reddick (24 year old in AAA). There were other players involved, but this is what the trade boiled down to.
Bailey had been dominant, but Beane realized relief dominance usually comes and goes, and can usually be acquired for cheap.
The 2012 A’s relief core was good. Sean Doolittle emerged after only pitching 26 minor league innings and absolutely dominated. Balfour was great. And Norberto and Cook, both whom had been acquired in the offseason trade fest, were outstanding. Losing Bailey did not hurt one bit.
Josh Reddick was the best offensive player on the 2012 A’s. Although Reddick only hit .230 in AAA in 2011, he had an excellent walk rate, great power numbers, and a solid K rate. Enough said. You gotta love my man BB.
- 1/24-26/12: Sign Johnny Gomes and Bartolo Colon. Seen as place holders until the rebuild is in effect.
In actuality, Gomes and Colon helped the A’s to the playoffs. Together, the combined for 4.6 WAR. Beane got them both for cheap. This is a great bargain.
- 2/13/12: Yoenis Cespedes signs with the….. A’S. WHAT? People were pretty confused when the low budget A’s inked Cespedes for 4 years and 36 Million, during which the A’s were thought to be rebuilding.
- 2/20/12: The A’s sign Manny Ramirez. This is for S’s and G’s.
Athletics trade Analysis
This is the modern moneyball. This is what Beane does best. He trades in his chips for a greater quantity of riskier chips. It worked in 2012. It does not always work. Evaluating MLB talent is hard. But what Beane did in 2012 was improve the areas that needed improvement, with smart, savvy moves, while at the same time not blowing up the present or future Oakland A’s.
Yes he traded Gio, Bailey, and Cahill. They were all very promising pitchers, and when he made those moves, people screamed rebuild. And it was a rebuild, in a way, but not the type of rebuild people expected. It was a rebuild on the fly. Beane was planning to win in 2012 all along. And by acquiring a crap ton of near MLB players, ready to make an impact, Beane ultimately succeeded.
It was very risky. But sometimes, that is what it takes to propel a team over the edge.
Now, back to the Rays. Do I think Silverman needs to make trades like he’s Billy Beane?
Not necessarily. But, if I have learned anything from writing this, it is that something needs to be done. Risks need to be taken.
Silverman and his staff knows the players in the organization better than anyone on this planet. Based on their assessments, they need to essentially bet on the right players to keep, and attempt to get MLB ready players by trading the players they don’t have faith in. I think the Rays should attempt the rebuild on the fly, albeit a tiny one in comparison to Beane’s 2011 offseason.
I have provided a rough outline of what I think the Rays should try to do, based on the history of other mediocre teams. A lot of my methodology is based on Beane’s moves, but there is still a lot to be learned from other teams in my sample. Check out these other teams to see what they did.
Rebuilders: 2015 Braves, 2012 Twins, 2015 Reds, 2011 Indians
Teams staying Stagnant: 2010 Indians, 2014 and 2015 White Sox, 2012 and 2013 Padres, 2012 and 2013 Rockies, 2015 Rays,
And here are the teams that excelled: 2009 and 2011 A’s, 2010 and 2014 Diamondbacks, 2009 Padres 2010 Brewers.
Where will the Rays fall?
Here is an outline of what I think the Rays should do.
- Archer stays, Longo stays.
Trading them means a fire sale. Here are a couple more reasons not to blow up the team. The team has been unlucky. If you look at Base Runs over at Fangraphs, the Rays are the second unluckiest team. They should be 44-47 according to base runs. (Here is a great explanation of Base Runs). Additionally, here are some more unlucky things to have happened to the Rays this year. (un-lucky, if you will).
- Two of Odorizzi, Moore, and Smyly should be traded for either young bullpen or offensive help.
The pitching market is just too weak right now to not capitalize on the high demand for starting pitching. Just look at what the Red Sox gave up for Pomeranz, or what the Athletics created with Gio Gonzalez.
- Trade the expiring contract of Steve Pearce
Easy decision to get value while it exists, and the Rays should consider shipping out Brandon Guyer now to do the same.
- Trade Alex Colome.
The reliever market is inflated! The Rays bullpen is already bad this season. Losing Colome won’t make much of a difference. Start targeting cheap bullpen help through trades and free agent signings for next year.
- Continue to look for savvy signings and trades.
The Rays are good at this. Trading for Arcia is a great start. Sexy isn’t always savvy. But savvy is always sexy. It’s hard to believe there will be a Cespedes and Colon out there next season, but these unheralded moves are within the realm of possibility.
Who do you think the Rays should trade?