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Yandy Diaz is a mystery the Rays think they can solve

But if they don’t, it’s fine.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays acquired Yandy Diaz (and RHP Cole Sulser) in a surprising three-way trade that sent Jake Bauers and a hefty sum of $5M to Cleveland. The initial question was simply: why?

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of us feel that way once a trade goes down, as you feel an initial rush of excitement, confusion, and then acceptance.

Yandy Diaz, frankly, isn’t someone you’d think about acquiring over the course of an offseason, especially for someone (Bauers) who, second half struggles aside, was more or less given the title of First Baseman of the Future.

Evidently, the Rays felt like Bauers and a bag of cash (that might allow them to keep an extra prospect) was a fair price for someone who has been an incredibly interesting case study as to why hulking muscles do not equal a 50-home run man.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

This is a very interesting challenge trade for both sides.

Yandy Diaz and Jake Bauers have quite similar offensive profiles for players with a totally different style. Steamer projects Diaz to finish 2019 with a 108 wRC+ and it has Bauers at 104 wRC+. If the results are so similar, why did the Rays make the move?

A lot of this stems down to the fact that the Rays were ok with essentially making a lateral move. Diaz happens to be a RHB and is quite flexible (he can play third base as well). They both have the same years of control remaining although Diaz is quite a bit older at 27. For a team looking to compete right now, that difference in age could actually be beneficial.

The move for Diaz also “clears” a spot for another sweet swinging left handed 1B in Nate Lowe. The Rays likely felt that Nate Lowe’s bat should be superior to Bauers once he reaches the big leagues, which could happen as soon as this year.

The Rays are looking to push their chips to the center and win now. Jake Bauers is not broken, but his second half 66 wRC+ and .265 wOBA is something that could’ve really easily scared the Rays into thinking it was something deeper than a slump. If you’re looking to win, why not make the move that feels safer as opposed to going into a season with more question marks than you’re comfortable with?

Yandy Man Can

The Rays could very well be okay with what Yandy Diaz is right now, but what exactly is Yandy Diaz? We’ve written a lot about the player, but here’s a new angle.

Baseball Savant gives you some awesome tools for analysis, including the ability to visualize the plate without using a generic picture of strike zone quadrants. Here’s what he gets in the heart of the zone:

Yandy’s launch angle on pitches that are in the three middle quadrants of the plate is -1.2°. He’s practically bashing pitches into the ground and not generating any loft whatsoever.

In the bottom three quadrants, Diaz has an average launch angle of 0.4°. In other words, whatever loft comes out of Diaz is mainly out of brute strength.

Read more: Yandy Diaz swing analysis: the sky is the limit

There’s nothing wrong with that and you shouldn’t expect a massive overhaul for a player that has been around major league coaching staffs forever — as in, the Rays likely don’t have a magic fix that’ll make Diaz pop an ISO of .250 — however, if Diaz’s profile can change toward a gap to gap hitter that doesn’t entirely want to put the ball in the seats, there might be something better in there.

Straying away from launch angle, Yandy shouldn’t lose the ability to hit the ball hard. That’s something that’ll be there, because the massive exit velocity readings are in agreement: there’s power in that bat. Hard contact + good strike zone judgment is something that is going to give the Rays some sort of success.

Even if Diaz continues as the player that he is, there’s still plenty of good to be found. He has a knack for getting on base and swinging at what he likes within reason. While Steamer projects his strikeout rate to push 20%, his swinging-strike rate is four percent below the league average. Yandy Diaz is a gifted hitter who doesn’t exactly encapsulate what you think he should be.

As of right now we can’t put a finger on any type of adjustment that Diaz has made. He might look different at the plate throughout the spring, but until the results begin to come in through the season, we just won’t know. However, even if nothing much changes, Diaz already presents the Rays with a right handed bat, a tad more positional flexibility the ability to show more than we’ve seen and even a league average prediction from ZiPS to boot. There is room there for something to happen.

This trade has its weird points for both sides, but each team checked off a need by trading a young player for one they thought was more valuable. Now the players have to prove it.