As we continue our series identifying possible trade candidates from every team in the league, we turn our attention to the American League Central. It has been a particularly exciting offseason for the division with the number one bat on the market, Edwin Encarnacion, signing with the reigning AL champs and the two blockbuster deals the White Sox made this December.
You think this would mean a few of the teams are prime partners for the Rays, but despite the division’s willingness to make big moves, the Rays’ reluctance to take on salary or part with top prospects constricts them from taking advantage of market. Regardless, there are a few smaller but useful pieces on the block that could benefit the team, so let’s take a closer look at what could get done.
AL Central Targets
Minnesota Twins: RHP Ryan Pressly
Minnesota has spent the vast majority of the offseason trying to expedite their rebuild by attempting to trade away their All Star second baseman, Brian Doizier. Unfortunately, talks with the Dodgers have been at a standstill, leaving the Twins in limbo as they discern their future needs. Nonetheless, they desperately need young talent and have been rumored to be looking for young starting pitchers (e.g. Jose De Leon) or even some pieces they can flip at the deadline.
If Dozier discussions continue to flounder, it’s most likely a bullpen arm for some prospects would be all that could get done in a trade, and here is what should interest Tampa. There are a few relievers who would be interesting gets, such as Trevor May, but the safest choice would be the right hander Ryan Pressly. He was taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Twins back in 2013 and has since rolled off a solid but unremarkable 3.55 ERA in 208 innings with the team. Not only did he see a slight uptick in velocity this past season, but he also managed to drop his BB/9 to 2.75 after it ballooned to nearly 4 in 2015.
Pressly is projected to be awarded $1.1 million in arbitration this season, which is definitely not large dent in the Rays’ payroll. With only three years of team control left, he simultaneously gives the team more than a rental and enough equity to move him in the future should they need to shed payroll. Although that team control makes him a little more pricey, it’s still not going to take more than a couple of low level prospects to nab him; perhaps one of the them would need to be a high risk, high reward type of arm but that isn’t cost prohibitive.
Chicago White Sox: RHP Nate Jones
While Todd Frazier and Jose Abreau would look incredible in the heart of the Rays lineup, it’s set-up man Nate Jones that should be the prime target for Erik Neander. The flamethrowing sinker/slider pitcher who’s regularly clocked in the upper 90’s would give Tampa a fantastic 8th inning option or an alternative when Colome is not available. He may lack a history of save opportunities, but he more than makes up for it with a career 10.28 K/9 to go along with excellent control; in 70 innings last season, he walked a mere 15 batters, and three of those were intentional.
For a reliever of his talent level, he’s quite the perfect bargain for the Rays at only $1.9 million in 2016, which ranks 50th in the league for relievers. That numbers jumps to $3.95 in 2018 with team options in 2019-2020 before a mutual option in 2021. The one caveat is that if he has a second Tommy John surgery, the 2021 option will revert to a team option.
As that provision suggests, he’s not a guy without risk; yet, he could still provide the Rays a staple in their bullpen that is more affordable than Colome long term (if Colome keeps tearing it up), or if they want to recoup some of the value they give up to land Jones, they wouldn’t have issue flipping Jones down the line.
A closer hungry team might part with a better prospect, but Tampa could stay in the mix building a package around Daniel Roberston or a similar player without a clear place on the roster. They’d need to add another prospect around a 50 FV to go along with a few low level guys to make it work. Because of his success and team control he’s not going to be a cheap acquisition for the Rays, so the club could easily balk at a final price like this.
Detroit Tigers: RHP Shane Greene
Detroit is poised to compete this season but also reportedly desperate to start cutting costs while loading up on minor league talent. Even though they’d love to part with JD Martinez, he probably isn’t going anywhere before the deadline. Instead, the team has a couple of relievers, namely Shane Greene and Justin Wilson, who are bound to be headed out of the Motor City.
Since Tampa already has a couple of lefty relievers, Shane Greene is the more likely target. His ERA for 2016 was terrible, but he started the year in rotation before poor results and blister issues forced him into the pen. In his first 30 innings as a reliever, Greene put up a promising 3.60 ERA and 2.70 FIP before injuries and inconsistency slowed him down. The auspicious start was still enough to have the Rays intrigued about the possibility of what he could do focusing on coming out of the bullpen for a full year.
Of particular interest to the Rays is that he only made the league minimum last season and has four years of team control remaining, so he’d be more affordable than most of the guys on the market. The Tigers aren’t going to give him away for nothing, but his future with the team looks murky at best. Perhaps a mid level prospect (e.g. Hunter Wood) along with another lottery ticket guy could get it done.
Kansas City Royals: OF Paul Orlando
Just two years removed from a World Series victory, the Royals still have a quality team in place that could make a playoff run. To bolster their offense, they just shipped out closer Wade Davis for an upgrade in RF (well at least offensively) in Jorge Soler. His addition to an already crowded outfield group means they currently have two quality fourth outfielders in Paul Orlando and Jarrod Dyson, along with the speedy Billy Burns as a 6th option. Considering Dyson hits free agency next season, Kansas City would probably prefer to move him, but the possibility of Orlando bringing his talents to Florida, with his 104 wRC+ against southpaws (albeit different from his mixed results as a minor leaguer) is more appealing.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Orlando’s game has been his above average defense at every position in the outfield, including center field. With only 1500 career innings the jury is still out on his ability to fill in full time in case of injury, but it’s certainly been an auspicious first two seasons for the 31 year old. He offers little pop with only 12 homers in his first 200 games and has somehow only walked 18 times in the same span, so he’s not your ideal starter, but he could perform admirably as a platoon and fourth outfielder.
Orlando has two years before he even hits arbitration, so there’s some value to be had even if he’s about at the age when defensive range begins to deteriorate. The Royals need some rotational help, so a deal involving Cobb or Smyly could be interesting, making Orlando an ancillary piece in a bigger deal.
Cleveland Indians: OF Brandon Guyer
Of all the teams in baseball, the Indians are probably the worst possible trade match for the Rays. The team can really absorb financial commitments to get a deal done (as the Braves might do), so the Rays will likely rebuff any deal where they are set to take on any substantial salary. Furthermore, the Indians and Rays both need outfield depth, so there’s not much set to happen there, and while the Indians have the bullpen help Tampa covets, they aren’t likely to do anything to weaken their bullpen.
It’s incredibly unlikely, but the deal that makes the most sense is for Brandon Guyer to make his return to Tampa so that the Indians can utilize his $2 million elsewhere. Guyer was a useful player for the Rays, and could continue be should he return.
If you could get him for less than you received (Nathan Lukes and Jhonleider Salinas), maybe it’d be worth a look, but there are honestly better options out there for the Rays, since you don’t want to be in a situation where Guyer is forced into full time duty if one of the starters go down.