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Rays Reliever Trade Targets: Texas and Baltimore

Welcome to the deep dive, Part 2.

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MLB: Seattle Mariners at Texas Rangers
Joely Rodriguez
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have suffered an incredible amount of injuries to their pitchers. This staff started out as one of the league’s deepest, and there is potential help waiting to be called up from Port Charlotte, but it’s fair to suspect that the Rays are in the pitching market, both for single-inning relievers and for guys who can perform in bulk.

This is Part 2 of our reliever trade candidate deep dive, you can check out Part 1 here, featuring Kansas City, Milwaukee(!), and Pittsburgh.

The criteria for a pitcher to make these lists was entirely based on being plausibly tradeable (subjectively meaning not a well-established star with years of control) and having interesting or unusual stuff. I looked for:

  • Four-seam fastballs with exceptional rise, especially when paired with decent breaking pitches.
  • Hard sliders or cutters with good vertical drop for their speed.
  • Curves with good vertical drop for their speed.
  • Sinkers with exceptional sink or exceptional run.
  • Changeups or splitters with exceptional drop.

And there are a lot more interesting pitchers to discuss!


Joely Rodriguez - what even are they doing in Philadelphia

Sometimes I really wonder what the Phillies are doing. I didn’t like their handling of Edgar Garcia, and Joely Rodriguez is another pitcher, formerly in the Phillies system, who I don’t think they got right.

Basically, he was an interesting, funky, live arm who roundly failed in the majors in his first callup, and then went over to try his luck in Japan for two years. He came back to play for the Rangers with his stuff subtly changed, and better. And very very funky.

Joely Rodriguez
Texas Leaguers

You can ignore all of the different fastball types in there as classification errors, and just think of that blob as one cluster of mid-90s two-seam fastballs with a ton of armside run. Then there’s his second pitch, labeled both as a slider and a changeup here, which you can also parse out yourself into a single pitch type.

See, Rodriguez used to throw a pretty decent slider before he reinvented himself in Japan, but he came back with his secondary pitch as a splitter instead. A 90 mph splitter with incredible drop.

His hard sinker-splitter repertoire is immediately one of the most unusual in MLB. In addition to learning the splitter in Japan, Rodriguez apparently learned to pitch inside, and now he’s dominating MLB hitters. The way he probably always should have.

If he were a pitcher in my system I’d think about moving him to the third base side of the rubber to play up his two-seam run, but right now it aint broke.

Wes Benjamin - the fastball, it rises

Wesley Benjamin is an unheralded lefty reliever in Texas whose 90 mph fastball has an unusual amount of rise. That’s enough to get you on the faux-Rays radar.

That mid-80s fastball is just okay, but the 79 mph curve I think is actually pretty good, and he doesn’t seem to be elevating his fastball quite as much for the Rangers as I’d expect him to if he pitched for the Rays, so there may be a mismatch in valuations.

Jonathan Hernandez - what Joely Rodriguez might have been, with a different org

If you were trying to pump the Rangers for relatively unknown relievers with impact stuff (and teams are, see: Fairbanks, Pete, and Clase, Emmanuel), then maybe 2019 was the year to get Hernandez, because now in 2020 he has big league results.

He slings a lively running sinker in the upper 90s, and then a slider that would be only average if not for the fact that it was 90 mph. And then a changeup that would maybe be below average except for the fact that it’s 90 mph (and batters are gearing up for 98 mph).

His changeup actually has four-seam motion, meaning that compared to a spinless pitch it rises more than does his sinker. But because of time and gravity it drops as compared to that sinker. I don’t know of any other pitchers for who this is true. Is that a good thing? Don’t know! But when I look at video of Hernandez I see a lot of batters striking out against that changeup.


Mychal Givens - yeah, y’all already know who he is

I feel like Givens has been an obvious trade candidate on this Orioles team for ages, and yet here he still is, now in the penultimate year of his contract. Rays fans will know him well. Heck, you saw him last night. Michael Perez, especially, saw him real good.

But yesterday aside, Givens is having a fantastic season.

He pairs a mid-90s fastball with one of the best falling change ups in the game. Probably, he should throw that change up more. And I bet if the Rays were to manage to change the spin angle on his fastball to get more rise and less run out of it, the results on both it and the change up would be even better.

Despite being 30, Givens has options remaining, so that gives some flexibility if the Rays were to need it as they figure out their injury-plagued roster.

Cody Carroll - a tall young man

Carroll is a 6’5” Baltimore reliever with good high heat paired with solid low slider stuff, and also a split.

A 27 year old righty with a plus fastball that features both top-level rise and mid-90s velocity is exactly what we’re looking for.

I don’t love his 88 mph splitter that doesn’t split, and his 83 mph slider will probably play but isn’t a plus pitch. But with this fastball, he doesn’t need much else.

Carroll has potential, but has put up bad results in his major league stints. That’s also why he might be available.

Shawn Armstrong - if we’re making a deal, throw this guy in too

This trade candidate breaks the mold a little bit because he’s bounced around the league a bit and is out of options, but both his FF and his FC got better this year. Armstrong is pitching well right now, and I think there’s a decent shot this 2020 performance is his 2020 true talent.

Approaching age-30, Armstrong has a 2.19 ERA and 3.24 FIP this season in a small sample size, which is a level of performance he put up once before in 2018 over a similar stretch. Is it real this time? The thing hurt him last season was a combination of an elevated walk rate and an unusual high BABIP. His strikeout rate is a consistent 25% over the last three years.