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Was Yandy Diaz the primary target all along?

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The front office say they’re not done, but appear to have their man

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been not even a week since the Tampa Bay Rays made a move that — on the surface — surprised the baseball community, including us here at DRaysBay, when they traded first baseman Jake Bauers to the Indians for jack-of-many-trades Yandy Diaz and 28-year-old reliever Cole Sulser.

But while we knew that Diaz was a target, albeit a secondary one to trade target Edwin Encarnacion, no one saw Jake Bauers being the sacrificial piece. Especially us. Probably because of this, which was tweeted out less than 18 hours ahead of the trade:

Additionally, we had also heard Kevin Cash sing Jake’s praises on Monday during his press conference, expressing his confidence that ‘he’ll figure it out’ and be a competent first baseman. Even though the Rays have been linked to bigger names, it seems that it was Diaz whom they were highest on.

Here’s what Rays VP of baseball ops Chaim Bloom had to say shortly after making the swap:

There are a few things to unpack here in Bloom’s interview so let’s dive in:

  • ‘We’ve been on Yandy for a while’- It seems that this conversation has been ongoing. While it was earlier speculated the Rays were going in talks to acquire Indians first baseman Edwin Encarnacion along with Diaz, it’s clear now that they really only wanted Diaz. If the Rays do bring in any one of Encarnacion (whom the Mariners may flip like they did Santana), Nelson Cruz, Jose Martinez, or anyone else we have or haven’t talked about, it appears those players, not Diaz, are the secondary target.
  • ‘We really like his bat’- With the Yankees and Red Sox both boasting three lefties in their starting rotations, the Rays have been very forthcoming in their search for right-handed thump. Diaz a right-handed hitter who’s shown the potential to be more than a platoon hitter, batting well against both sides. Furthermore, he hits the ball hard, which we detailed here—a skill set the Rays are clearly betting on in ‘19. From those two criteria alone, he’s a better fit for the roster.
  • ‘We also like his versatility’- Diaz, while primarily a corner infielder, also played second base as an amateur, and can also play a serviceable corner outfield. Whether he’ll be the primary first or third baseman for the team in ‘19 remains unknown, but it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see him spend any combination of time across the diamond.
  • ‘He’s been blocked from regular playing time’- The final key reason Bloom and the Rays were so attracted to the idea of bringing in Diaz was giving him a clear path to major league plating time—something he didn’t have in Cleveland. Whether it was two-time third-place MVP finisher Jose Ramirez, Encarnacion himself, or most recently Josh Donaldson, Diaz just didn’t have the chance to blossom. Bringing him in and unloading Bauers will give Yandy, and others, the chance to do the same.
Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

Conclusion

National criticism, while unimportant if the results don’t line up, has been widely positive.

Here’s what Jeff Sullivan from FanGraphs had to say:

‘It’s easy for the Rays to look at Diaz and see someone who could become a premium hitter in the nearer-term future. There’s not actually all that much separating Diaz’s bat from, say, Tommy Pham’s. Diaz has some work to do, and he’s unlikely to win a Gold Glove at third base, but few hitters possess his foundational talent.’

The Rays front office machine is a strategic, if unpredictable one.