Earlier, I suggested that if the Rays were looking for a place to improve on the roster, it could make sense for the team to deal from a position of depth in MVP candidate Brandon Lowe. This was that article’s conclusion:
Picking out Lowe as an option to ship out also makes sense given his position. Of the Rays top four prospects, per MLB.com, three play up the middle, with Vidal Brujan and Xavier Edwards listed first as second baseman. While Wander Franco may be targeted for third, and Brujan may be in the process of converting to centerfield, the fact remains: second base is a position of depth for the Rays, and a position they could look to cash in on.
Depth is wonderful to have but in considering the full depth of the Rays prospect pipeline, Edwards tips the scale into my thinking that the Rays have enough answers at second base to sell high on Brandon Lowe.
With that in mind, here are a five potential Lowe trades. I’m going to list them starting with my least favorite and building to favorite with a few comments on each:
This is the one that would piss off the most Rays fans, and with good reason. It would be selling one of the best “ceiling” guys for the Rays in exchange for four solid pieces. These are the types of deals I think the Rays should be avoiding these days, as they have the depth, now they need the top-end talent. With that being said, this deal would bring in three solid prospects (Nos. 2, 3, and 7 per MLB.com), as well as a long-coveted lottery ticket in Vincent Velasquez.
However, this reads as a “both teams say no” type move given that it’s four quarters on the dollar for Lowe, as well as three top-seven prospects out the door for Philly.
Let’s move along.
Here’s a little closer to what Rays fans would want to see coming back. The Rays would get the reigning NL Rookie of the Year in Devin Williams and his invisi-changeup, along with former top prospect, and 23-year-old middle infielder, Luis Urias. They’d also get another young, controllable piece at a position of weakness (catcher).
The hold up on this deal might be as follows: Although this deal supposedly favors Tampa Bay in terms of total value listed above, the Brewers front office might see that as a lofty price to pay for a player who both plays the same primary position (second base) and has the same batting profile (high power) as another one of their young studs in Keston Huira.
Now, the Brewer front office is plenty creative themselves and may just see this getting the best player in the deal, but the Rays might also blanche at giving up the best player in the deal while not getting back a necessarily high-contact hitter, the intended goal of this process. But yowzah, can you imagine Devin Williams joining The Stable?!
Let me start with an interesting value comparison.
In terms of value, we’re getting closer. This is a straight up challenge trade, and it almost certainly would never happen, but it’s two young, underpaid middle infielders, with slightly different skill sets but about the same projected surplus value.
It doesn’t fit the Rays depth needs, but if each team liked what they saw in the other player, could it happen? Probably not!
Let’s look to a Rays position of need instead:
Imagine the Rays getting their catcher for the next five-to-six years!
The position has been as haunted as the Defense Against the Dark Arts spot at Hogwarts, and while Zunino has his defensive strengths, he should be playing every third day at most. Smith has a career slash line of .268/.363/.574 in 333 professional plate appearances, and has been worth 2.9 fWAR in barely over half a season combined (91 total games).
Maybe the Rays pull Kolarek out of that deal (he was mostly included for humor’s sake, but also because the Rays legitimately could definitely use him!) and the overall future value skews enough in the Dodgers favor that the feel the need to pull the trigger, especially with another quality young backstop in Keibert Ruiz waiting in the wings, as well (friendly reminder that the Dodgers are just freakin’ stacked).
The question with this trade would be why would the Dodgers make it. They have a second baseman of the future in the aforementioned Lux, and as the Rays know plenty well, they have significant lefty pop already in their lineup.
LA has enough positional flexibility to fit Lowe, but this seems unlikely. Which is too bad, I like that one a lot.
Let’s move on to my favorite candidate.
I was drooling over Tucker in the ALCS. The 23-year-old lefty would slot in perfectly to the Rays lineup as a high-contact left fielder/first baseman. Over the past two seasons, Tucker has played basically half a season (80 games), with a .268/.323/.518/122 slash line, while playing solid defense. ZIPS projects him for a .265/.334/.486 slash line and 3.5 fWAR in 144 games in 2021, and he’s not arbitration eligible until 2023. If the Rays did Tucker for Lowe straight up, I think I’d take it.
I added Christian Javier in a greedy move because technically the value surplus was still on the Rays side, but I don’t think Houston would part with Javier and his electric stuff (he struck out a batter per inning, but a sub-1.00 WHIP in 54.1 regular season innings for Houston in 2020).
The real question would be whether Houston believes in Jose Altuve aging gracefully or not. The diminutive second baseman saw his numbers decline precipitously in 2020, posting an OPS+ of 71 in the shortened regular season (his career OPS+ is 123, and over the past six seasons had been at 140). There was also the severe case of the yips that Rays fans got to see up close and personal in the postseason, on the fielding side of things.
Brandon Lowe could be the heir apparent for James Click’s roster, and perhaps that familiarity can work to the Rays benefit.