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Rays Trade Target: Swapping Denard Span for Brandon Moss

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Finding a better answer for the Rays and the A’s by swapping recently acquired veterans.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Royals recently sent 1B/DH Brandon Moss, along with LHP Ryan Buchter, to the Oakland Athletics, making it the second time that he’s been a part of the A’s, as noted in their tweet announcing the deal.

Now, you’d think that re-acquiring a player would indicate that they’re intention is to keep him around and at least begin the season with the team. But oddly enough in Moss’ case, as Ken Rosenthal let us all know:

The Tampa Bay Rays also recently acquired someone that many people believed would remain with the team, due to his being from the area, in LF/CF Denard Span, but as Adam Sanford noted, he represents a very expensive addition to the Rays.

How expensive?

So the Rays and A’s have both found themselves saddled with an expensive veteran at a position of depth on the roster. Meanwhile the Rays have an opening at first base, and Oakland has a need in the outfield. Could there be a fit?

Denard Span for Brandon Moss trade: The Fit

Let’s begin on the Oakland side of things before bringing it back to the Rays.

In Span, the A’s would be getting a veteran outfielder who can help out in either LF or CF, albeit with reduced abilities compared to what he used to supply. But before touching on that, how would his bat be a fit?

The current CF options for the A’s include both Jake Smolinski and youngster Franklin Barreto. The latter had a taste of MLB in 2017 and showed he may need a bit more seasoning in AAA before making the jump with a line of .197/.250/.352, and at 21 years old, there’s nothing wrong with ensuring he gets that opportunity in 2018.

In Smolinski, the A’s have a good defensive CF who holds a career 140 wRC+ vs LHP but only a 53 wRC+ vs RHP. Meanwhile, over his career, Span holds a 110 wRC+ vs RHP and a 91 wRC+ vs LHP. More recently, in 2017, Span held a still strong 113 wRC+ vs RHP, whereas his wRC+ lowered to just 59 vs LHP.

Smolinski and Span are a perfect complement to one another at this point, offensively speaking.

Assuming you believe Span’s overall value is a fairly significant upgrade to the A’s OF as compared to Smolinski (1.2 WAR to -0.2 WAR points to that), it seems that there’s a fit, but can the A’s afford to do make as trade?

Denard Span for Brandon Moss trade: The Finances

As with any trade, the financials have to make sense in order to make it worthwhile.

Brandon Moss: Finances

  • Contract: 2 years/$12M (2017-18), plus 2019 option
  • Remaining Commitments: 18: $7.25M, 19: $10M mutual option ($1M buyout)
  • Bonuses: $50K each for 275, 300, 325, 350, 375, 400, 425, 450, 475, 500 PA
  • Royals paying Athletics $3.25M as part of the deal
  • Overall Commitments if Acquired: 18:$4M + $1M buyout + $50K to $500K depending on number of ABs for a minimum of $5M and a maximum of $5.5M if option not picked up

Denard Span: Finances

  • Contract: 3 years/$31M (2016-18), plus 2019 option
  • $2M signing bonus (paid 1/20/18 by SF, no longer an issue)
  • Remaining Commitments: 18:$9M, 19:$12M mutual option ($4M buyout)
  • Bonuses: $0.25M each for 400, 425, 450, 475, 500, 525 PA and $0.25M each for 90, 100 GP
  • Overall Commitments if Acquired: $9M for 2018 + possible $2M in bonuses + $4M buyout for a minimum overall cost of $13M and a maximum cost of $15M if option is not picked up

Financial Results

The A’s would be adding a minimum of $8M and up to maximum $9.5M in commitment, while the Rays would be reducing their commitments by the same amounts.

Although the value of each 1 WAR increment can be argued, most outlets believe that at present it stands somewhere between $8M and $9M. If we expect Span to be worth at least 1 WAR more than Moss to the A’s, then an investment in his services has value.

Then again, the A’s likely have other candidates who also need to be evaluated in this equation, so this needs to be taken into account.

Minesotta Twins v Kansas City Royals
Brandon Moss #37 of the Kansas City Royals hits a home run against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on September 10, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Denard Span for Brandon Moss trade: The Rays Side

Alright, so we’ve made the case that Span would both be a benefit to the A’s lineup and is likely to perform well enough to make it a worthwhile investment financially. The next hurdle is what the Rays get out of the deal, and why it would make sense to part with the Tampa area native in return for a player that may not hold much value across MLB.

Left Field: Mallex Smith, Brandon Snyder, Jason Coats, and others

The first part of that equation is the fact that the Rays have many options in left-field, and they’re all capable of providing some value in LF. Every fan out there will have their favorite candidate, and it’s fun to wonder about who may take that job post-Spring Training.

When looking for positives from that group without Span, there really are a multitude of tools available to the Rays. Smith’s speed, Coats and Snyder with RHB power, and eventually some minors leaguers such as Johnny Field, Jake Bauers and/or Justin Williams may factor into that equation. Without Span, the Rays have a plethora of options who need testing at the major league level, and they’re not likely to want to keep their young players blocked there all of 2018.

Who needs more playing time in LF this season, Smith or Span? How else are the Rays going to assess what they have in Smith if they don’t give him enough playing time to show off his skillset? And then there’s the added possibility of using Corey Dickerson (who improved his defense last year by shedding weight) in LF when required.

In short, Denard Span is replaceable in LF with the Rays, and their needs may be greater at 1B.

First Base: Brad Miller, and eventually Jake Bauers

Everyone’s anticipating something from Brad Miller. Nobody knows for certain where he’ll reach his 2016 offensive heights again, but expectations are high that he’ll be relatively healthier to begin the season that he was for the majority of 2017.

Now that his abdominal surgery is behind him, maybe that 30 HR potential returns to reality, and he becomes a big part of the lineup once again and forces the Rays to make some tough decisions.

If Miller falters, however, Bauers provides a very nice alternative and should get a chance to show what he can this summer. The question is when that will begin, and whether or not he’ll be ready to assume the role full-time.

There’s little doubt that when Bauers is deemed ready, he’s likely to get the playing time he needs to get acclimated, so the question is, who’s the better option to receive minimal playing time as they split 1B with Bauers?

Bauers had the following splits in AAA in 2017 (2016 OPS in brackets):

  • vs LHP: .279/.396/.357 for OPS of .754 (.684)
  • vs RHP: .257/.356/.434 for OPS of .789 (.819)

Bauers made some strides vs LHP in 2017, but it does show up as his weaker split, and reminds us that hitting lefties has been a problem with the Rays in general.

So it’s worth asking, even if the future is now for Bauers, at 1B between Miller and Moss, who would be the better option vs LHP? Since we know Miller’s 2017 was affected by his medical issues, and Moss may have had some of his own, I’ll use the last 3 years of to get a sense for what he managed vs LHP.

Moss vs Miller ‘15-’17 vs LHP

PA BB% SO% ISO Babip wOBA wRC+
PA BB% SO% ISO Babip wOBA wRC+
368 8.20% 29.30% 0.157 0.332 0.313 95
337 7.70% 24.90% 0.102 0.294 0.273 70

Aside from making contact at a better rate, there really isn’t anything that Miller’s shown us over the last 3 years that would point to his being a better options vs LHP. Of course, vs RHP there’s a significant advantage to Miller who earned a 110 wRC+ vs Moss who earned 94 wRC+ over the same period of time (3 yrs).

There are other things that point to Moss being able to continue to hit with above-average power. In 2017, he made Hard contact 39% of the time and Medium contact 44% of the time while also having a FB rate of 48.1 % and HR/FB rate of 17.2%, all of which are nice looking numbers.

What this tells us is that yes, when he makes contact he’s able to do so with authority and with enough lift to drive the ball very well. The issues with Moss lie in the contact rates which have slipped from 73% in 2014 to 67% in 2017, along with the high strike out rates which now are above 30%.

But for now, let’s assume the Rays can live with those SO rates (which we can say after they acquired Ryan Schimpf who struck out at more than 35% in 2017), and that they find this to be an intriguing deal.

Some may be thinking “what would this all mean for Miller?” and “What if the Rays bring Moss on, does that mean Miller goes?” In short, it depends on what the Rays plans turn out being overall. Could Miller play 2B on occasion, or DH when Dickerson takes over from Smith in LF? Absolutely. Could he take the occasional game in at SS? Why not! And Moss has experience in the OF as well as at 1B, so there’s versatility present in each player.

Overall

The question of a Span for Moss trade is not answered in what that deal provides in terms of the talents changing hands, but in the opportunities it provides each team.

Would the A’s be willing to add on that much commitment financially speaking in order to boost their production in LF/CF overall? That’s the toughest part, really. It’s hard to tell what valuation the A’s would place on Span and whether or not he’d fit in their plans at all.

What about the FA market, are there better options out there that would cost less? Well, when you consider that the A’s would also have to pay Moss and maintain his spot on the roster, it complicates things for them on that front.

There are reasons that this kind of deal could interest each of these teams.

First, it resolves each of their issues without having to spend money over a long-term, as each player’s deal ends with a buyout this season, unless they decide to pick up the option, something that’s unlikely in both cases but adds incentive for if all goes well.

Second, it also fills their checkboxes in not having to meet the AAV that many FAs are now asking for on the free agent market anyway.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a lot of the weight of this deal could be found in the peripheral pieces. This could be a 1-for-1 deal, but it seems that each side may want to balance the weight of it all by adding a piece on each that which each team sees as filling a need.

Brandon Moss is not the best piece the Rays could add to boost their power numbers between 1B and DH, but his acquisition could possibly allow them to free up money to make such an acquisition, and he does have talents that fit into what the Rays need from the position and roster spot.

Besides, he relishes proving haters wrong, as he did as recently as 2016 with the Cards, and if Lucas Duda and/or Logan Morrison have priced themselves out of Tampa Bay, he could possibly become one of the better options remaining.

And if you’re wondering why the Royals gave him a 2-year deal after he did well with the Cards, and why the A’s decided to bring him back, games like this video below explain that well enough.