The Rays are in the lead for the Wild Card and a mere 2.5 game back from Boston in the contentious American League East, and while the trade rumors ahead of the July 31st deadline have been around relievers, Tampa Bay could be well suited to pursue a starter instead.
Among starters on the trade block, Yu Darvish is the win-now rental available to teams in the playoff hunt, with an expiring contract begging to be traded after the 30-year-old starter declined a new deal from the Rangers earlier this year.
There are other starters available, such as Oakland’s Sonny Gray or Detroit’s Justin Verlander, but their contracts extend beyond 2017, and in Verlander’s case are steeper than they’re worth. Darvish comes in the mold of 2015’s David Price and Jonny Cueto, 2012’s Zack Greinke, or 2010’s Cliff Lee: a playoff-ready starter capable of cementing a playoff rotation for a club with its sights on the post-season.
Why would the Rays be interested?
Tampa Bay’s rotation this season has seen phenomenal performances from All-Star Chris Archer, the revitalized Alex Cobb, and the rookie Jacob Faria, but the other two slots in the rotation have struggled throughout the year.
Jake Odorizzi has been bitten by flyball’s all season, Matt Andriese is on the disabled list, sophomore Blake Snell is still slumping, and Jose De Leon is still rehabbing his shoulder.
The Rays are stretching out some other prospects, like relievers Austin Pruitt and Jaime Schultz, but top-flight reinforcements from Durham like Top-100 prospect Brent Honeywell likely won’t be ready until September. Imagining a Rays rotation with Darvish instead of Snell is more than a little appealing.
Yu Darvish has one of the best projections for the rest of the season (tied for 11th with Verlander’s 1.7 WAR projection) and comes at a lower cost than most starters, given his contract scenario. If the Rays could remove him from the market, they would not only gain an ace to pair with Archer, but prevent Darvish going to a rival like New York or a competing AL club.
What would Darvish cost?
A lot, and more than the Rays are typically willing to spend.
Almost every trade of an expiring contract like Darvish’s has demanded a Top-100 prospect, and one or two other prospects of worth. (Overall rankings via Baseball America, system rankings via mlb.com published mid-season updates):
David Price (2015): LHP Daniel Norris (No. 18 overall), LHP Matt Boyd (No. 11 in system), and LHP Jairo Labourt (No. 19 in system)
Johnny Cueto (2015): LHP Brandon Finnegan (No. 55 overall), LHP John Lamb (injured former top-20 overall prospect), and LHP Cody Reed (2nd round draft pick)
Zack Greinke (2012): SS Jean Segura (No. 55 overall), RHP John Hellweg (No. 7 system) and RHP Ariel Pena (No. 14 system)
Cliff Lee (2010): 1B Justin Smoak (No. 13 overall), RHP Blake Beavan (top-20 system), INF Matthew Lawson (NR), and RHP Josh Lueke (NR)
These four trades came in different environments, but each at least includes a consensus Top-100 prospect. To match that ask, here are the Rays currently on the Baseball America Top-100:
- SS Willy Adames, No. 13
- RHP Brent Honeywell, No. 14
- LHP/1B Brendan McKay, No. 40
- OF/1B Jake Bauers, No. 66
- OF Jesus Sanchez, No. 100
Rays formerly on the Top-100 include RHP Jose De Leon (pre-season No. 33) and 1B Casey Gillaspie (pre-season No. 69).
It’s hard to imagine any phone call to the Rangers lasting long without one of the Rays’ top-two prospects involved, but the Cueto and Greinke trades show that a deal could be possible if the Rangers were infatuated with a guy like, say, Jake Bauers, who has performed well beyond his years at every level in the minors.
Any other ideas?
If the Rays really wanted to go for it, they could pursue Justin Verlander instead, and possibly model the 2014 Athletics trade for RHP Jeff Samardzija and RHP Jason Hammel, perhaps by adding widely sought after reliever Justin Wilson into the mix.
That deal cost the A’s two first round draft picks, their No. 1 and 11 prospects overall in Addison Russell and Billy McKinney. An equivalent Rays deal would be devastating to the farm, likely requiring top prospect SS Willy Adames and first round pick OF Garrett Whitley.
Fortunately, the Rays have a better relationship with their top prospect than the A’s did with Russell, where a deal seemed destined to happen, so perhaps this idea has no traction in the slightest.
The A’s also offer a neat, cautionary tale. After putting together what looked like the best playoff roster in 2014, they lost in the one-game Wild Card and had little to show for their successes in the regular season. Chicago, meanwhile, got a championship-caliber shortstop.
If the Rays and Rangers could build a deal around Jake Bauers, there’s a lot to like about a deal for Yu Darvish, particularly given he’ll be owed less than $5 million for the rest of the season.
Maybe something like OF/1B Jake Bauers, 1B Casey Gillaspie, RHP Taylor Guerrieri, and RHP Ryne Stanek could entice the Rangers. Bauers and Gillaspie would immediately become the Rangers No. 2 and No. 4 prospects in the system, Guerrieri is a former first round draft talent recovering from injury, and Stanek can reach triple digits.
I would hope that could be considered, but I’m also not a big fan of these exercises. Feel free to offer something better in the comments below.
Making these sort of deadline deals hurt, and if your proposal has a deal that doesn’t, it likely doesn’t have merit. Regardless, the Rays have the pieces to get a deal done with anyone they’d like. The trouble is they probably don’t have the financial capital to make up for losses from the system should they deal future important pieces away.