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MLB Trade Deadline: Under the radar targets for the Tampa Bay Rays

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Colorado Rockies v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Eric Sogard seems like a very reasonable trade acquisition, where the Rays make a decent pick up without having to give up too much.

With the trade deadline approaching on Wednesday, what’s another “reasonable” trade target the Rays could pursue?

RHP Anthony DeSclafani

Tampa Bay would benefit from one more starter in the rotation with Blake Snell sidelined, but it would preferably be one that’s really a rental — one capable of throwing more than half an inning’s games but not one that will stand in the way of Snell or Glasnow (fingers crossed) returning from injury in September.

Anthony DeSclafani is a right handed starter for the Cincinnati Reds making $2,125,000 this season in his second to last season of salary arbitration, and dating back to June 1, has been one of the better starters in baseball with a 2.94 ERA (3.04 FIP), 27 K%, 5.9 BB%, comparing favorably to the likes of Patrick Corbin over that stretch.

FanGraphs | Statistics for June 1 - July 27, 2019

After making 21 starts last season, he’s held his own in the Reds rotation this year, having absorbed five or more innings in all but one start since May 29. The salary cost projects to be low enough to fit the Rays budget, while the pedigree of arm should not require too high a cost. If the Rays are looking to send 40-man rostered or soon-to-be-rostered prospects, this should be the right fit.

RHP Mike Foltynewicz

Here’s a 2018 All-Star that is down on his luck. The Braves are absolutely stacked in the starting rotation, with Mike Foltynewicz, Kyle Wright, and Touki Toussaint all being forced to the minor league level right now.

All three are right handed starting pitchers with pedigree, and the Rays would be fortunate to have any of the three (despite some down performance right now) for the rest of the season. Only one of those is making more than the league minimum, though, and for that reason the Braves may be more willing to move a contract that has the clock ticking.

Coming off a 3.8 WAR, 2.85 ERA season has been a couple fewer strikeouts and a heck of a lot more home runs allowed. In 2019, Folty’s groundball rate has dropped and his HR rate has doubled to 20.5% of flyballs — which is horrible and also not likely sustainable. Now the ERA is high, let’s leave it at that.

Folty still has a lot going for him, though, namely: High octane stuff and an ability to soak up five to seven innings at a time. He’s definitely going through something, but I also believe the 27-year old can snap out of it, and a trade may be just what the doctor ordered to help that along.

One sticking point here for the Rays may be cost. Folty is already approaching $6 million in his first year of arbitration, which means the following years could be costly... but maybe not in 2020 after the year he’s had.

Unlike DeSclafani, this starter has staying power and star power. A 2020 rotation of Snell, Morton, Glasnow, and Foltynewicz at full power would be a force to reckon with in the AL East... if the latter two can be “fixed.”

RHP Ian Kennedy

The Royals bumped the struggling and highly-paid Ian Kennedy to the bullpen for the 2019 season, and the move has paid dividends. Kennedy has adapted well to his new role and his stuff tells the story. His average fastball velocity has jumped from 91.9 MPH in 2018 to 94.1 MPH in 2019. Kennedy has also trimmed his repertoire down sticking to his four-seamer, curve and cutter.

Considering Kennedy’s past as a starter, it could be assumed that the Royals would trot him out in a multi-inning role more times than not. Out of Kennedy’s 42 appearances, 32 of them have been on the 1 inning variety. He has gone more than an 1 inning 5 times. Kennedy could present the Rays with an option that is able to go more than an inning at a time because of his past history.

As of July 27, Ian Kennedy has done well in terms of inducing soft/bad contact as his xBA on the year sits at .199 and his xwOBA checks in at .255, and it’s the former that’s worth a closer look:

Credit: Carl Gonzalez

Estimated BA (xBA) simply uses launch angle, exit velocity and sprint speed (on occasion) to estimate the chance that a batted ball could become a basehit. The spray chart above further illustrates Kennedy’s ability to induce contact that doesn’t necessarily translate into much for the hitter.

Advanced peripherals love Ian Kennedy as he’s tagged with a 2.16 FIP and 64 DRA- (Baseball Prospectus’s pitcher version of wRC+). DRA- credits a pitcher for strikeouts, quality of opposing hitter, the park they’re pitching in, and more. It throws away the idea of blaming a pitcher for what happens behind him pretty well.

Measuring reliever performance in SSS is hard, but on the season Ian Kennedy is essentially allowing runs at a 35% better rate than the league average. In other words, he’s good in that sense, and a 64 DRC- is in line with relievers Jake Diekman (just traded to Oakland), Andrew Miller, Jordan Hicks, Sam Dyson, and Emilio Pagan.

And for those who like RA9, Kennedy’s is 3.40 and his DRA is 3.08, that’s a -0.32 difference that signals Kennedy really shouldn’t be in for much of a regression as the season continues.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

One curiosity is that Kennedy’s RA9 is close to his xFIP which is 3.54. The 1.38 swing between Kennedy’s FIP and xFIP can be attributed to the fact that Kennedy’s HR/9 (0.43) and HR/FB (4.7%) is not sustainable. I don’t love it as a stat, but xFIP tries to assume how many HR’s a pitcher should have allowed on the flyballs they have given up while putting that up against the league average HR/FB% for that season (which happens to be 15.1% this year). HR are a fickle measure of performance, just ask Mike Foltynewicz.

Kennedy’s 38% FB rate and a suppressed 4.7% HR/FB rate does indicate that there could be some regression in that department, so it’s worth keeping an eye on, but this does bring us back to DRA/DRA- as a possible better predictor because it controls what the pitcher himself can handle on the mound and is slightly more indicative of a pitchers talent level.

Still with us?

Another barrier that might be present itself in any trade discussion for Kennedy would be what the Rays truly value him as.

Through 42 IP he’s at 1.4 WAR with a contract that pays him as the starter he was originally signed to be. He’s in line to earn $16.5 million next year and is making the same amount this year. That’s a ton of money in Tampa Bay!

The real question is then how desperate are the Royals in trying to jettison the new Ian Kennedy for something? The Royals will have to eat salary (which is not something they’re known for); nevertheless, Ian Kennedy could provide the Rays with a unique option out of the bullpen that could theoretically be stretched out longer than an inning (opener anyone?). The logistics of his contract make things difficult as a team might not be

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals
Ian Kennedy is the eight pitcher in MLB history to have both a 20-win season and a 20-save season
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

RHP Trey Wingenter

Under the radar acquisitions are under the radar for a reason, so there are going to be warts. This one has plenty of warts, but stick with me.

Trey Wingenter is already a reliever, who San Diego just optioned to Triple-A. Only 25, he has years of team control. Why would San Diego sell when their window of contention is in the hopefully nearish future?

Maybe they’re down on him for a lack of command. Maybe the Rays also like Wingenter more than the Padres do.

Wingenter is a big (6’7”) righty with a live fastball and a hard slider, but with suspect command. That seems like the Rays type these days, so why not add another? As the Peter Fairbanks-Ian Gibaut delayed swap with Texas shows, relievers are a fluid currency, and the exchanges don’t always have to make perfect sense for team need.

RHP Nick Anderson

The Marlins are definitely a team looking to sell, and the Twins just traded for Sergio Romo, his wicked slider, veteran experience, sparkling personality, and 5.12 xFIP. But the pitcher to want out of the Marlins bullpen is Nick Anderson. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: big righty (6’5”), live rising fastball, and breaking ball (this one, if it’s a slider, isn’t actually a hard one, but his fastball rise makes up for it).

The issue is that Anderson, at 28, is a rookie, and pitching great. If you believe this is his expected level of performance going forward, that’s a good back-end arm with five more years of team control, and the Marlins shouldn’t be itching to trade that away. If they do, it should cost a boatload.

But if they’re not asking for a boatload, the Rays should be game. Maybe this is possible. As we said, bullpens are fluid.

Miami Marlins v Chicago White Sox
Nick Anderson
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

RHP Austin Brice and/or LHP Jarlin Garcia

If Anderson isn’t on the table, the other two interesting pieces in Miami are Austin Brice and Jarlin Garcia.

Basically, this is the Marlins version of Roelarek (Chaz Roe and Adam Kolarek), in that it’s a righty and a lefty with interesting horizontal stuff that makes them tough on same-handed hitting. I think both of them are probably a little bit better against opposite-handed hitters than their Rays counterpart, both have plenty of team control left, both might be pretty good over the next several years, but I don’t think either is good enough to be almost untradeable now the way Anderson might be.

RHP Shane Greene or RHP Joe Jimenez

There’s already been smoke linking the Rays to the two desirable Tigers righties. Greene is the one with great 2019 season, and the Rays won’t be buying on his 1.22 ERA, if that’s what the Tigers are hoping to sell. But a rental 3.74/3.79 FIP/xFIP isn’t a terrible thing to pick up for a playoff race.

The piece to want long-term, though, is Joe Jimenez, despite his 5.18 ERA. Jimenez has a great fastball, and years of team control, and prior to his rough 2019 the Tigers thought of him as their closer of the future. Jimenez is Nick Anderson without the production.

If the Tigers still value him at a closer level, the Rays should walk away. But if Detroit is no longer convinced, and the door is open to affordably trade for what could be a strong long-term asset, the Rays should walk through it, with full knowledge that Jimenez might or might not be much help right now.