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Rays Reliever Trade Targets: Miami and San Francisco

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Welcome to the deep dive, Part 3!

Miami Marlins Summer Workouts Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

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

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!

Miami

Alex Vesia - turns out there’s more than one unicorn fastball out there, if you take the time to look

If the Rays are looking for the next Colin Poche — and the fact that the signed Dietrich Enns suggests that they are — then Vesia is probably their best bet. Vesia thoroughly dominated three levels of the minors last year (44% strikeout rate, 2% walk rate in 16 Double-A innings), and would probably be pitching in Triple-A right now if this were a normal year.

But this is 2020, so instead he’s on the 10-day IL after pitching two thirds of an inning in the majors.

I don’t know what Vesia’s injury is, but in that briefest of appearances he showed a low-90s left-handed four-seam fastball with best-in-majors rise.

There are some rumblings that Miami are actually thinking of themselves as buyers, not sellers, which would be crazy. But I also don’t know whether that means they’re more or less likely to trade a player like Vesia, or how highly they value him.

He’s worth a check in.

Ryne Stanek - a triumphal return

I know, I know, he’s really struggled since leaving Tampa Bay. But man, Stanek was really fun when he was here.

Like, really fun.

And you know, when I set the search criteria to “four-seam fastball with a lot of rise and some other decent secondary pitches to pair with it,” Stanek still pops up on that list.

Caleb Smith - can you go to the well too many times?

Last year, when the injury-ridden Rays were in need of a pitcher who could eat up a few necessary innings, they went to the Marlins and they scooped up Trevor Richards on the side of a larger trade.

The fact is, the Marlins have kind of a lot of these guys: either average or slightly below average starters with a few nifty tricks in their stuff but who you maybe shouldn’t build your rotation around.

Like Richards, Smith has a fastball with a ton of rise that will play up in the zone, but his has a few more ticks, averaging 92 mph. It’s a fun, high-spin fastball overall.

There’s no second pitch of the same caliber as Richards’s changeup, and I think it’s probably time to let go of the idea of Smith being a frontline starter, but if that fastball plays up over three or so innings he’d end up better than people think.

Justin Shafer - no, really, there’s still water here if you want to throw down the bucket again

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the 27 year old Shafer has a low-90s fastball with above-average rise. Then he adds on three more pitches that won’t pop your eyes.

The thing that’s interesting here is that the seldom-thrown 76 mph curve is brand-new in 2020, and it’s my favorite of his current pitches. Back in 2019, though, his slider was harder (86 mph vs 84 mph) and better (more drop) than he’s shown this year. So what would happen if he were able to get more comfortable with his new curveball while getting the velo and action back on his slider?

Shafer has been used as a multi-inning reliever throughout his brief career, and I think that’s probably the right place for him. But there’s upside within that role.

San Francisco

Dereck Rodriguez - the one that makes sense

Let’s start with a profile you should be used to by now if you’ve read this far. Dereck Rodriguez throws a 93 mph rising fastball (that’s already maximized it spin angle for rise), an 87 mph cutter with some pretty good drop, and a huge 78 mph curve.

Dereck Rodriguez
Texas Leaguers

This is a whole spectrum of decent stuff, all on the same plane. It looks like it should work. But Rodriguez has pitched parts of three years in the majors, both as a starter and a reliever, and has struggled to strike batters out. And the Giants just designated him for assignment in order to bring up old friend Joey Rickard.

While Rodriguez is no longer young (28), he’s still inexperienced as a pitcher, as he converted from a career as an outfielder in 2014. He should be very cheap to acquire, and another team might think they can unlock something in this stuff.

Tyler Rogers - the one that makes no sense

I’m just going to start with the picture. What hand does this pitcher throw with?

Tyler Rogers
Texas Leaguers

No, you’re wrong, he’s a righty.

That orange blob in quadrant three is his “fastball” (83 mph), and the blue blob in quadrant four is his curve (72 mph).

Here’s the fastball in video:

And here’s the curve:

Rogers is what you get when you take a normal pitcher like Rodriguez and rotate him 180 degrees. He’s absurd, and beautiful. And he gets groundballs, as you might expect. And never walks anyone, as you might not expect.

Another old pitcher who only recently made the majors, I don’t think Rogers is someone the Giants feel like they need to trade, but neither do I think they’d be totally opposed, as they’re in the business of chasing future wins right now.