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Rays Trade Target: Chris Martin

The tall, right-handed reliever could be a perfect rental addition to the bullpen

MLB: Texas Rangers at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Rangers are in an interesting situation at the moment, one game above .500 but 5.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot. With the trade deadline only five days away and the Rangers scheduled to play a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics, Texas more than likely will be selling at this deadline.

The Rays have already been rumored to have inquired with the Rangers about outfielder Hunter Pence, but maybe they should try and contact the Rangers about another player: 33-year-old right-handed reliever Chris Martin, who stands at 6 feet, 8 inches tall, and is currently having a career season on the mound.

Martin has thrown 37 innings of work for the Rangers this season, currently holding a 3.16 ERA with a batting average against of .245 and a WHIP of 1.00. Martin has three saves and a FIP/xFIP of 4.06/2.90, while maintaining an fWAR of 0.5.

BaseballSavant indicates that Martin primarily throws three pitches 82% of the time: a four-seam fastball (44.2% of the time), a sinker (21.7%) and a cutter (16.4%), while also throwing in the occasional changeup and slider less than 10% of the time for each. Martin’s fastball averages 96.1 mph, with his fastest pitch this season thrown at 98 mph, while his changeup averages 89.4 mph and generates an astounding 38.5% swing and miss percentage.

Martin’s changeup, generating a swing-and-miss for a strikeout

Martin is currently posting a career-best Swinging Strike Percentage at 10.5%, which is just under the MLB league-average of 11.1%, and is doing so while also posting a career-high Left on Base Percentage of 93%, good for fifth best among every qualified reliever in baseball.

For context, Emilio Pagan ranks third in the MLB with a LOB% of 93.8% while Josh Hader leads the league at 94%. Compared to other notable relievers, Martin’s 93% LOB% is higher than Brad Hand (87.2%), Shane Greene (84.6%), Will Smith (84.4%) and Kirby Yates (82%).

Martin’s sinker, inducing an inning-ending double-play ball

The thing that first brought Martin to my attention was his terrific xFIP, currently at 2.90 and tied with Emilio Pagan for 12th-best in the MLB.

Martin’s name is just behind some elite relievers such as Kirby Yates, Josh Hader, Will Smith, Felipe Vazquez and Brad Hand, and Martin even ranks better than dominant closers like Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen.

Martin’s four-seam fastball, used to record the final out in a save in Boston

Martin’s command might be his best tool, as he simply throws the ball right where the catcher wants it in almost every video I have seen of him. The numbers back it up, too, as Martin has only walked three batters this season.

With a walk percentage of 2.1%, only Josh Tomlin of the Braves has a lower BB%, and when you combine Martin’s walk rate with his 28.9% strikeout rate, his K-BB% is 26.8%, good for 15th in the MLB among 170 qualified relievers.

Martin’s cutter, creating a swing-and-miss to earn a strikeout

The thing that intrigues me most about Martin are his numbers in high-leverage situations, according to Fangraphs’ leverage index. While the sample size is small, 12.1 innings, Martin has only allowed three earned runs, striking out 15 and walking none. His high-leverage numbers shatter the league-average rates, with the league averaging an ERA of 7.10 while Martin’s high-leverage ERA sits at 2.19.

Martin’s biggest knock falls conversely of his xFIP, and that is his home runs allowed. Having given up eight home runs in 37 innings of work, Martin’s HR/9 sits at 1.95, and his HR/FB% is at 25.8%, a career-worst. The good news on this front is there should be some positive regression ahead, as Martin’s previous career-high HR/9 was 1.15, and Steamer projected him to allow 1.17. Martin’s Hard Hit% is just a hint worst than league-average, with his at 38.8% while the league averages at 37.4%.

All indications point to Martin actually under-performing this season, with each of his batting average, slugging percentage, FIP and wOBA being below his expected measures. Those number differences are visualized here.

Because of Martin’s height, he would give the Rays a different look out of the bullpen from a release point that no other reliever on the team throws from, approximately six inches farther away from Andrew Kittredge, who currently releases the ball from the farthest point out among right-handers on the team.

Martin is on the final year of his two-year contract with the Rangers, and is making $2 million this season, which is something the Rays can easily take on for the remainder of the year. Where things get tricky is finding Martin’s trade value.

A trade to look at for reference is Joakim Soria from last season, when Soria was a 34-year-old impending free agent acquired by the Brewers. The Chicago White Sox acquired a 40 FV prospect, left-handed pitcher Kodi Medeiros and a player in the Dominican Summer League, right-handed pitcher Wilber Perez.

In 2017, the Indians acquired 33-year-old impending free agent Joe Smith from the Blue Jays, sending 40 FV left-handed pitcher Thomas Pannone and 40 FV second baseman Samad Taylor to Toronto.

Using the following two trades as precedent, the Rays could presumably acquire Martin with just one 40+ FV prospect, or multiple lower-rated prospects. Garrett Whitley, who is Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter, is a 40+ FV prospect that could get the job done. The 22-year-old outfielder is currently in High-A with the Stone Crabs, and could end up in Double-A before the season ends, increasing his risk of being taken in the Rule 5 Draft, making him a perfect trade asset for the Rays.

If the Rangers deem Whitley to be too low a return, they could send Texas a few prospects with long but projectable roads the Majors in combination with international bonus pool money.

Chris Martin presents a very strong late-innings option that the Rays should consider to bolster a bullpen that has had inconsistent performances over the past couple of months, an option that likely has a low cost to acquire while yielding good results with minimal risk.

Make the call, Erik and Chaim.

All of the stats cited are as of July 26