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We hate the Rays rebuild just as much as you do

Just because we’re writing about analytics doesn’t mean we don’t care

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MLB: San Francisco Giants-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

DRaysBay became part of the national discourse last week when two articles went up on the site, and not for the best reasons.

With the trades for C.J. Cron, the DFA of Corey Dickerson, and the subsequent trades of Jake Odorizzi and Steven Souza Jr., the Tampa Bay Rays became the black sheep of baseball.

Articles continue to be written widely decrying the team for dealing its veteran players (who are making less money than the cost of a win), or for then claiming whatever version of the Rays takes the field in 2018 will be competitive.

On their surface the article headlines feel like clickbait for already angry Rays fans. Claims ranged from the club being “a disgrace;” to accusations of the team tanking in a manner equivalent to the Marlins (or the Cubs, or the Astros, but maybe those teams are already forgiven); to insults like claiming the Rays attempts to be competitive are “cute.” We read those takes, got riled up, and went into action.

This culminated in a DRB op-ed titled National Baseball Writers: Your Rays Hot Takes are Bad, and it accused smart baseball writers of ascribing to pre-Moneyball methods of evaluating the Rays front office’s baseball decisions.

Then, unwisely, I wrote an article calling Jeff Sullivan “the one national writer who gets it,” ascribing to my own writing a headline that was misleading. What I implied by creating that amalgamation of Sullivan’s thoughts was that smart and talented writers like, say, Dayn Perry couldn't comprehend the intelligence behind these moves.

At a time of team turmoil, Sullivan was indeed the one national writer willing to put the baseball aspect of the decision first, but most national writers — rightly, perhaps — put the focus on what the Rays front office was subjecting the fanbase and industry to, not the methods behind the madness.

Because it is indeed maddening.

Bryan Grosnick for Baseball Prospectus broke down the Rays moves into types of currency. The Rays may be gaining both trade value currency and literal currency saved post-2018 through their trades, but they are also spending perhaps the hardest currency to earn: trust.

The Rays have a long history of painful baseball trades: deals that send away a fan favorite for trade returns that benefit the future.

Longtime staff ace James Shields netted Jake Odorizzi and more players to be traded. Matt Garza, the only Ray to throw a no-hitter, brought back current ace Chris Archer. There is logic to be found in their methods, but a human consequence as well.

Scott Kazmir and Ben Zobrist were beloved players when they were traded. When the front office entered their rebuild they traded not just one of these well known players, but several. Fans, and perhaps players, are beginning to lose trust.

Why hasn’t DRaysBay let that narrative prevail?

The Evan Longoria trade was, for me personally, devastating in a way I did not expect, and it continues to cloud my judgement of this Rays rebuild.

I might have come around to acceptance in terms of what the Rays are trying to do, but something fundamentally broke in my fanship and relationship to following this team after that trade. In truth. I nearly quit baseball altogether after that trade, but dedicated myself to giving it another year.

Read more: The Longoria trade should make you question everything about the Rays

The human element is inescapable, but importantly, it goes beyond the fans.

Kevin Kiermaier and Chris Archer, two quality veteran players on team-friendly deals, who are not anticipated to be traded, have expressed their frustration to the media. Rays manager Kevin Cash has had his work cut out for him keeping the clubhouse focused after the better half of the 2018 team was shown the door, but there’s more.

The Longoria trade brought back veteran Denard Span, who made the Rays All-Star Corey Dickerson redundant in the way the team is constructed. With Span carrying what appears to be negative trade value, the Rays in turn decided to move Dickerson instead, but did so in an incredibly insulting way: designating for assignment.

DFA’s are typically reserved for the worst player being removed from the roster. The Rays used it to trigger the week-long countdown associated with the roster move to complete the trade, but they could not have picked a worse time.

Not only was Dickerson’s value significantly docked by the transaction — both in perception, and for the Rays who lost negotiating leverage by forcing a deadline for a move — but it came at the absolute worst time for the player himself, as a Pirates beat writer reported after the trade:

Newly acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson was at the hospital with his pregnant wife on Thursday when the trade went down, so he probably won’t be in camp with the Pirates today.

[The Athletic]

What are we, as fans and analysts, supposed to do with that information?

A website like our clings to the analytical reasoning behind baseball trades, and often eschews the human element, because it is our reputation and intention to use an analytical lens. But to be honest, it might partially be because there’s not much else we can hold on to.

Fans are like players who are drafted. There isn’t much of a choice.

Should the Rays have been more forthright?

One significant mistake the Rays front office appears to have made is how they’ve stumbled into this rebuild instead of striding into it confidently.

Let’s return to the comments provided by Neil Solondz where the Rays brass predicted what we are seeing today:

Question: Do opportunities that present themselves dictate the path that you proceed down:

Sr VP Chaim Bloom: In terms of specific moves yes, but I think in a larger sense, we feel good about a lot of the young talent that we have here. And in a larger sense, we’re trying to do whatever we can to create that championship core … It’s just really a question of how you get there. How you get to having that club that we feel allows us to take that next step, and be in that upper echelon of the American League.

Question: Is there a chance you take a step back? Is all of that on the table?

Bloom: I think so. The goal is to win a World Series. Ideally you do that as soon as possible. We need to keep open mind. We have a lot of different plans laid out …. That depending on the way the market unfolds and how things progress will dictate our path.

Going back to the declined Qualifying Offer from Alex Cobb and the subsequent decision to trade Evan Longoria, there should have been clear intentions at every step of the way, if not clear communication beyond a couple interview questions that the Rays were tearing it down.

But it goes beyond that: the Rays could not have picked a worse moment to let the market come to them.

If this off-season truly was a rebuild, it’s odd to trade average or better major league pieces, like Corey Dickerson, who could help this year and next, without having a major league ready minor leaguer waiting in the wings. That kind of decision doesn’t make much sense.

The trade of Steven Souza Jr. or Jake Odorizzi is explainable when there are answers in the farm system like Jake Bauers or the entire damn Durham starting rotation, Honeywell injury aside.

Trading Corey Dickerson was a self-inflicted wound, necessitated by the acquisition of Denard Span, himself a move not required in the Evan Longoria trade. According to media reports, Span was for sale all offseason until the Dickerson DFA. The aftershocks of the Longoria will continue far beyond the opening weeks of spring training.

No matter how you parse it, the Rays are trading proven major league talent for question mark prospects and possibly broken veterans at nearly every position, and much of it appears to be financially motivated. As of right now, the Rays have only ~$30 million committed beyond 2018.

It’s healthy to burn a forest to allow for new growth, but it’s best done through a controlled burn, with clarity and a plan. The Rays front office seems to have lit the Rays roster on fire without a clear perspective for how the offseason would go.

This is perhaps a good moment to blame the market. Alex Cobb and better pitchers like Jake Arrieta remain unsigned and spring training games have begun. But with so much ambiguity, you would think the Rays could have leveraged their position to take advantage, not fall victim.

There is not a single trade the Rays have made this offseason that the analytical industry has found praise for (save, perhaps, landing Scott Boras client Carlos Gomez for $4 million once Steven Souza Jr. vacated right field).

I will agree with Bryan Grosnick that all the Rays have to do is be right, and their rebuild will be viewed with the same benefit of hindsight as the Astros and the Cubs. Fail, and it may look more akin to the Braves and Marlins. History is not yet written, so it is too early to tell.

In the meantime, we the Rays-following republic are left with under the radar prospects, a mixed bag of veterans, and multi-year continuity in three names alone: Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier, and Alex Colome. This season will be a bitter pill to swallow, competitive or not.

In retrospect, the best analysis of this offseason’s trades will speak equally of the detriment to fan interest, trade value, and player trust (who dare signs a long-term extension with this team now?), and by function, DRaysBay’s role will continue to be the analytical mindset.

We exist as one piece of the pie, but please do not take analysis of how to fix Daniel Hudson as posturing that the Rays moves have not left a gaping hole in our hearts. If we are beating our chests, it is a hollow drum.

I’ve heard it said that respect breeds success. The Rays are hoping it works the other way around, too.