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Pete Fairbanks for Nick Solak, one year later

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Revisiting a controversial Rays trade.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Just over a year ago, the Tampa Bay Rays made what some would consider a minor trade as they swapped a minor league infielder for a minor league pitcher.

However, those who were familiar with the Rays system were quite enraged when they found out the Rays parted ways with a promising young offensive stud — the defensively ambiguous Nick Solak — and in return received a fireballing pitcher in Pete Fairbanks, who had already undergone Tommy John surgery, twice.

So, how has the trade worked out?

Nick Solak made his big league debut with the Rangers last August and did exactly what was expected of him; hit awesomely, field atrociously.

Solak played in 33 games for Texas in 2019 and hit .293/.393/.491 with 5 HR over 135 plate appearances. That’s a pretty tremendous first taste of the big leagues in terms of offensive output. However, defensively, the Rangers tried him at the hot corner and at second base with him posting -2 DRS over 144 total innings in the field.

This season, the Rangers have attempted to move Solak into the outfield with the 25 year old actually accruing a positive DRS in left field, but has improved to a net -4 during his time center field. Meanwhile, his offensive output has taken a slight step back with his power numbers being the main difference.

Overall this season, Solak has hit .269/.350/.385 with 2 HR over 117 plate appearances.

Nick Solak
Statcast

Despite the numbers being worse, Solak’s Statcast numbers have actually improved with him increasing his hard hit percentage and his exit velocity. So there’s reason to believe that his numbers on the season will see an improvement in the near future. He might remain an albatross with the glove, but Solak continues to be a burgeoning offensive force for the Rangers.

Onto the Rays side of the deal and how Mr Fairbanks has been performing.

During their race to the postseason in 2019, Fairbanks made 13 appearances for Tampa Bay and yielded 10 runs — 7 earned — over 12 13 innings pitched. However, half of those runs came during a disastrous performance against the Dodgers on September 17th. Fairbanks showed an improvement on his control, but his strikeout numbers weren’t as gaudy as they had been during his days in Texas.

In 2020, this has changed for Fairbanks as he has a 39.7 K% heading into play on Thursday, which ranks 9th among qualified MLB relievers.

With the Rays pitching staff in shambles due to injuries, Fairbanks has been counted on for more high leverage situations than he would have otherwise. With this opportunity, Fairbanks has flourished, with 5 earned runs over 13 13 innings pitched. That’s a 3.38 ERA, and a 2.26 FIP.

Despite some hard hits allowed this season, the expectations based on his performance, per Statcast, is everything you could hope for.

Pete Fairbanks
Statcast

If you’re looking to find a victor for this trade as of now, it would be a stalemate as both teams have gotten exactly what they wanted when they completed the trade. The Rangers received a solid offensively minded prospect with little use for a glove and the Rays acquired a flamethrowing reliever who could potentially close out ballgames one day.

Most of all, a year later, this trade is an interesting barometer for what the Rays might do next after the slew of pitching injuries, particularly in the bullpen. With the playoff odds up to 99.7% at FanGraphs, the Rays needs are less about filling a pitching role in games throughout the season and more about locking down games when high leverage opportunities arise.

For a pitcher like Fairbanks — a solid set up man with a full rookie contract ahead of him — the price was something like a top 100-150 range prospect in Solak (50 FV), which is a major league talent. Meanwhile, the Phillies have also made trades for two high leverage pitchers out of Boston by sending two controllable young starting pitchers with a major league floor.

You have to give something to get something, so if the Rays want another Fairbanks, it could be an expensive endeavor. Even if that works out, will Rays fans like it?