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Trading Tommy Pham is not the way to win a championship

“Hella stupid” indeed

2019 ALDS Game 1 - Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I’ll be blunt. I hate this trade.

Before I explain why, I’ll provide a few caveats.

Big one: We are early in the hot stove season. Winter meetings haven’t even started. So moving Pham could look quite different if the Rays have plans to bring in another top line offensive player. Maybe they are talking to Anthony Rendon! Maybe they are trading for someone really fabulous! Maybe when the dust has settled I’ll say “Ah, THAT was the plan.”

But today, on its own, I hate this trade.

Second caveat: My love for Tommy Pham emerged pretty much the day he came to the Rays so I am probably not assessing this with complete rationality. (You can read some of my fangirl admiration here.) I see him as the guy who puts his team on his back, who hits the snot out of the ball, who works both physically and mentally to improve his game every day. So I will concede that I am likely to judge this trade with my heart, which is generally a terrible way to judge a trade.

But I don’t think my dislike of this trade is only emotion-driven.

In past years I have watched the Rays trade away many core players — Zobrist, Longoria, Archer, Price. I was sometimes sad to see these folks go, but I always understood the importance of building for the future. In many cases these trades took place in the midst of or in anticipation of seasons where the Rays were at best at the margins of playoff contention. I understand the need to trade high value players for younger/cheaper guys in those fallow years. I can see the logic of saving the $10 or $12 million you may owe an aging player in a year your team will likely miss the postseason. [And for the record, the Archer trade was a huge win from any vantage point.]

But my tolerance for those sorts of transactions has always been premised on the idea that the Rays are wise, rather than just cheap. They were conserving resources so that they could respond when the competitive window opened. When that moment would come, I argued, the Rays would stop shedding veteran talent and focus on assembling a team that could truly compete.

Well, that moment is here. Now. 2020.

And the Rays have just traded away the guy who leads them in fWAR since his mid-2018 acquisition.

I know they have gotten another major league outfielder in the trade, but Renfroe is really the replacement for Avisail Garcia. He does not replace Pham’s offensive production.

Reading about the trade I see commentary about how this shows that San Diego is “all in” to win this coming season. The Padres have some great prospects and young talent and they want to add the pieces to help them win now.

The Padres, a team that had 70 wins and finished last in their division in 2019, is doing whatever it takes to win big in 2020.

You want to know another team that has some great prospects and young talent? The Tampa Bay Rays. A team that won 96 games in 2019 and earned a Wild Card slot. Yet somehow, for the Rays, paying an estimated $8 million to keep their core players together is too much.

I will happily step off this ledge if subsequent transactions leave the team with new major league offensive talent. But until those other moves come, I’m with Blake Snell in calling this “Hella Stupid.”