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Checking in on the Corey Dickerson Trade

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Yes, final verdict still can’t be returned, but it doesn’t mean we can’t take a look

MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Glancing over Tuesday night’s box scores, the Washington Nationals vs Colorado Rockies stood out. A wild 15-12 affair, and within that box score, a few names stood out in particular: German Marquez and Jake McGee. Both those names should sound familiar to Rays fans, as they were the two players shipped to Colorado just last January in the Corey Dickerson deal.

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There had been rumors surrounding both Jake McGee and Corey Dickerson for most of the 2015 offseason, so when news first broke that those were the main pieces in a Tampa Bay-Colorado deal, there was a lot of excitement. Ken Rosenthal first reported that the Rays had also included a minor-league pitcher, and the buzz only got louder. Would it be Brent Honeywell? Jacob Fauria? Taylor Guerrieri? Could they somehow get away with not giving up any of those top arms?

As it turned out, the Rays were indeed able to keep all of their top prospects, instead parting with German Marquez, a right-handed pitcher a bit further down the prospect list for Tampa Bay, but one with a major-league projection.

Finally, not only did they get Dickerson, they also picked up a stud third base prospect in Kevin Padlo, who ranked in the top 30 for the organization and had been performing at a level above what his age suggested.

At the time, the deal was considered an excellent move by the Rays, giving up a reliever and a non-top-ten prospect for a legitimate big leaguer with plenty of pop in his bat and a prospect of their own.

Rays’ grade as of January 28, 2016: A-

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There was, however, one worried subtext to the trade: could Dickerson hit outside of Coors Field?

Dickerson seemed to attack 2016 as a season-long attempt to answer the power portion of that question. He sold out entirely, hitting 24 long balls, but those 24 dongs came with an on-base percentage of just .293 and an overall value of just 1.5 bWAR. He still managed an OPS+ of 106, but after three seasons in Coors with an OPS+ of 125 (remember, OPS+ adjusts for ballpark), it was fair to call Dickerson’s first season in Tampa Bay a slight disappointment.

The good news for Dickerson was that McGee wasn’t doing much for himself in Colorado.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The man who was the longest-tenured Ray by the time he left town had trouble adjusting to the thin air and spacious outfield in Denver, posting an ERA of 4.73 and losing the closer’s role by June.

Marquez, however, showed some signs of great improvement. The 22-year-old righty posted a 2.85 ERA in 135.2 innings in the Double-A Eastern League. He struck out 8.4 batters per nine and walked just 2.2. Marquez was eventually able to make his way onto the big-league roster, tossing 20.2 September innings, as part of three starts and three relief appearances. He had an ERA of 5.23 for the stretch, but as a 21-year-old who went six innings allowing just two runs and striking out seven in Coors Field in his final start of 2016, his name was on the rise. As a result, he came into the season as the 53rd-ranked prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America.

There was some good news for the Rays, as Padlo hit 16 home runs with a .361 OBP at Single-A as just a 19-year-old. But for now, this was still going to be the “Corey Dickerson trade,” and as such, it’s fair to say that 2016 shifted the thinking on the trade a bit. The Rays still had the best player from the trade, but for how long would that be true?

Rays’ grade as of October 4, 2016: C+

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That brings us to the present. Dickerson seems like a new man in 2017. Maybe it is the fact that he is much more settled in his new home, maybe it’s how he shed 25 lbs this season, or maybe it is his new spot at the top of the lineup, but for whatever reason, Dickerson has had himself an excellent April. He is slashing .324/.367/.635 through April 25, and he has been able to balance out hitting for power (five home runs) with getting on base (.367 OBP) as well as any time in his career.

However, there are some signs that keeping up this pace may be difficult.

MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For one, Dickerson really hasn’t improved his plate discipline all that much. His walk rate (6.3 percent) is still not where the Rays would like to see it, especially given his new role as the leadoff man. His strikeout rate (21.3 percent) has improved on the surface, but given that his swinging strike rate (15.8 percent) is actually worse than in 2016 (and bottom ten in the league), so there’s still some concern there.

Dickerson has also gotten quite lucky on balls in play. His .365 BABIP resembles his BABIP from his Coors days, and the Trop is not going to continue to be as friendly to Dickerson on balls in play as Coors Field was. Dickerson probably got a bit unlucky on balls in play in 2016 (.285 BABIP), but expecting a near-league-leading average on balls in play isn’t a sturdy request.

Meanwhile, Marquez and McGee are going through nearly the opposite 2017 as Dickerson. McGee once again has an ERA over 4.00, but he has nine strikeouts in six and two-thirds innings, and his FIP is a far more respectable 2.04. Then again, we’re talking in the most minute of sample sizes right now.

Marquez is more interesting. Despite the absolute shellacking he took at the hands of Washington on Tuesday (4 IP, 9 H, 8 ER, 3 BB, 2 K), there’s a lot to like with Marquez in 2017. The young Rockies’ righty was chosen to fill Jon Gray’s spot in the rotation thanks to an awesome start to 2017 at Triple-A. Marquez had a 2.70 ERA in 10.0 Pacific League innings this season - no easy feat. Even more impressive, he had 18 strikeouts and zero walks over those 10.0 innings. Marquez may have a tough time adjusting to Coors and the NL West to start his career, but as a 21-year-old dominating Triple-A, the Rockies will be plenty patient with the now-fifth-ranked prospect in their system.

Finally, there’s Padlo, who was ranked 19th in the Rays system by Baseball America for 2017.

Padlo is off to a great start (.286/.371/.429) to 2017 at High-A. He continues to produce despite being much younger than the rest of the league, and it will be interesting to track just how fast he can move up the Rays’ farm system.

Rays’ grade as of April 26, 2016: B-

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The fast start from Dickerson and Padlo and the fact that both Rockies pitchers are sporting unwieldy ERAs at this moment is enough to shift this grade up slightly for Tampa Bay this season. However, evaluating this trade is far from done. It needs to be seen if Dickerson can maintain his strong start, Padlo can succeed at higher levels, whether Coors Field will ruin another pitching prospect in Marquez, or whether he, like some of the other young Rocky Mountain pitchers, can find success despite the environment. (McGee seems like his ceiling and floor really aren’t that far apart as a 30-year-old reliever in Colorado right now.)

Assessing trades in the moment is human nature. We want to make snap judgements and have immediate answers. Real life makes this far more difficult and requires time and nuance. Right now, the Dickerson trade seems like a good deal for both teams, but only one thing is for sure: the true verdict is still out, but right now the deal still looks good for the Rays.