The Rays have made several trades over the last year, but two in particular raised eyebrows, and both involved the Texas Rangers.
In the off-season the Rays traded away rising LHP Brock Burke to acquire RHRP Emilio Pagan, a deal that also sent INF Jurickson Profar to the Athletics. Tampa Bay seemed to be getting the short end in terms of top talent, but Pagan has proven the team right thus far.
Betting on a small sample size in September, the Rays had high hopes Pagan would flourish for the Rays, and they were right. His high octane stuff has earned 13 saves and counting at a time when April’s closer Jose Alvarado has faltered through injury and family-related absences.
To land Pagan, the Rays traded from a position of limited depth, and that pitcher is making his major league debut this afternoon. Burke has made 13 appearances across multiple levels for Texas, with his best stuff on display in Double-A, where he sported a 3.18 ERA and 2.76 FIP over 9 outings.
The three-team deal was decent for all involved, in that all sides appear to have received major league talent that help their clubs in 2019 and beyond. Indeed, when the trade occurred we called it “business as usual” on our site, because it’s easy to overlook the trade in full, which had the Rays receiving a valuable first round draft pick as well as 40-man roster space.
Oakland gets: Jurickson Profar
Texas gets: Brock Burke, Eli White, Kyle Bird, Yoel Espinal, international $
Tampa Bay gets: 38th pick in 2019 draft, Emilio Pagan, Rollie Lacy
That draft pick became JJ Goss, who ranks as a 45 FV prospect and immediately in the top-20 of the Rays system on the FanGraphs Board.
Burke could be good (he might not be either, with a back-end of the rotation projection), but it was a solid trade for Tampa Bay at the time and at this stage just a couple months later.
It’s the other prospect making his debut for Texas that’s turned heads: INF Nick Solak. Acquired in the Steven Souza Jr. trade with Arizona, along with Anthony Banda and some other PTBNL’s that included LHP Colin Poche, the jewel for Tampa Bay was the great hitting infielder... or was it outfielder?
Solak was sent from the Yankees to Tampa Bay as a man without a solidified position. There was no question he could hit, but there was an open question as to where he would fit in the Rays plans at the major league level.
In the end the Rays decided he didn’t, and Solak became trade bait. Everything up to this point for a player knocking on Top-100 lists nationally was fine, but at a time when the Rays needed a Burke to step up, Solak was traded well in advance of the trade deadline for... a Triple-A relief pitcher with two Tommy John surgeries on his resume.
That prospect was Peter Fairbanks, who made his own Rays debut a couple days ago, allowing two hits and one earned run over five batters faced (no walks, no strikeouts). For fun, here was his hardest pitch thrown in his Tampa Bay debut:
That fastball is the calling card, a Driveline product the Rays believed in enough to swap a player at or near their top-10 for one who would rank in the 20-30 range on most lists.
The jury will be out on whether this trade was great for the Rays for some time, particularly given the limited sample sizes relief pitchers provide generally, but from a prospect perspective it was a giant step down from the likes of Solak — a prospect with a sweet swing — to one like Fairbanks, who flirts with triple-digit heat but at high risk of injury.
Fairbanks was optioned on Sunday to make room for Trevor Richards, himself another odd trade acquisition. Both Fairbanks and Richards are not the short term answer to what the Rays needed for the playoff push in 2019: a starting pitcher. Instead, each are bets on the future (one with a top tier fastball, the other with a top tier change, both with rocky team debuts this week).
Which brings us back to Solak, himself making a debut on this magical couple of days for these specific players. Tampa Bay was not willing to bet that Solak could find a defensive home and shipped him to Texas for what they wanted.
I’m not here to tell you which trades were right to make (beyond noticing the Rays didn’t address their immediate need), but I am here to say the time to start asking those questions began this week, an odd aligning of the stars for many prospects the Rays both wanted and gave away.