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Tampa Bay Rays acquire RHP Aaron Civale from the Cleveland Guardians for 1B Kyle Manzardo

Rays add a starter with some difficulties, hoping to ease the stress on the rotation.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays have made significant addition to their roster as they have acquired right-handed pitcher Aaron Civale from the Cleveland Guardians in exchange for first base prospect Kyle Manzardo.

Civale has been the Guardians top starting pitcher thus far in 2023 (not the highest of praise) and he possesses some of the most elite pitches in all of baseball.

According to Baseball-Savant, Civale ranks in the 92nd percentile in fastball spin and then 96th percentile in curveball spin. His elite rates have allowed him to enjoy plenty of success, but he hasn’t consistently stayed on the mound.

A key component of this trade for the Rays is that Civale is still under team control through the 2025 season — having just gone through his first round of arbitration this previous offseason, which helps fill the void of Baz-Springs-Rasmussen missing significant time — with an overall pitch mix not far removed from Zach Eflin.

Of note: If you might think this trade ends the experiment of promoting Zack Littell to the rotation, it could just as likely allow the Rays to option top pitching prospect Taj Bradley back to Triple-A.

During the 2022 season, Civale endured three separate stints on the shelf due to various injuries, and then earlier in the 2023 campaign, he was sidelined due to an oblique strain. Despite these injuries, from 2021 to the present day, Civale has posted a record of 12-14 with a 3.80 ERA and 4.18 FIP to go along with a 21.1 K% and 6.2 BB%.

On the whole, that’s a good get, even if Civale’s strikeout and walk rates are trending in the wrong directions this season (as is his average exit velo against, for that matter). Oh, and he’s cleared 100 innings once in his career.

Nevertheless, what Civale has done well this year is keep the ball in the ballpark. He has a rich repertoire of pitches with elite spin, and what Kyle Snyder and the Rays do best is help pitchers simplify their approach to maximize results. If there were ever a candidate to benefit from such tweaks, it’s Civale.

In obtaining Civale, the Rays paid a seemingly hefty price as they dealt one of their top overall prospects in Kyle Manzardo the Guardians.

In their latest update to their rankings, Manzardo was slotted in as the 69th top prospect in the game and as the 5th best player in the Rays system. He is a first base only prospect that doesn’t hit for a ton of power, but makes up for that, by consistently making solid contact and peppering the ball all over the field.

Manzardo had been on the Injured List in Triple-A, seemingly injuring his wrist while fielding a pickoff throw at first base; the injury forced Manzardo miss the Futures Game. Prior to going down with the injury, Manzardo had been hitting .238/.342/.442 with 11 HR over 313 plate appearances with Durham.

As a left handed hitting first baseman, he projects as a platoon fit for a major league team, with a chance for something more (as all prospects can offer). What he needs is opportunity to play to find out (which Cleveland can offer).

Overall, this is a win-win in that the deal is surely an even exchange in risk. But Cleveland needed a left handed bat, and the Rays needed a mid-rotation starter. This deal checks the boxes for both sides, and at a minimum not overpaying is a win at the deadline.