Sometimes you trade a player because he’s at the peak of his value.
Sometimes you trade a player because his best days are behind him.
Sometimes you trade a player to build for the future.
But sometimes, sometimes, you trade a player because the team who called made you an offer you couldn’t refuse. Because it was just too good to be true. Because you needed to be pinched to make sure it was real. Yes, I’m talking about the Steven Souza trade.
I argued in my last post that the Rays are not worse, and possibly even better off, without Jake Odorizzi and Corey Dickerson. I can’t, and won’t, however, do that here.
The Rays are undeniably a worse team without Steven Souza. With a 3.7 WAR (FanGraphs), he was our second best player behind Kevin Kiermaier. For context, that puts him between Nelson Cruz (3.8) and Kenley Jansen (3.6), both of whom are household names. I’m not going to bother looking for obscure numbers to devalue him, because there aren’t any. He was that good. And unlike Dickerson and Odorizzi, he seemed to be getting better, not worse. I really feel for the Rays PR team on this one.
With that said, here’s why it was still a good move.
Although this trade seemed like the nail in the coffin for the Rays ‘fire sale,’ this trade was hardly about rebuilding, we already have the fifth best farm system in baseball. It also wasn’t about payroll–Souza was only going to make just north of $2 million this year.
So what was it about? You need to consider three major factors when looking at this move objectively.
First, it’s simply a reflection of the free agent market. The Arizona Diamondbacks were a good team last season. When they acquired J.D. Martinez, they became a great team. When they recently lost a bidding war to the Red Sox, who signed him to the tune of 5 years and $110 million, they needed to replace his value somehow. With a lack of right handed, power hitting corner outfielders on the market, and with Andrew McCutchen already off the board, they decided to give the Rays front office a ring. The Rays, while reluctant to deal certain players, are very transparent in that they will listen in on anyone and pull the trigger if the price is right.
Which brings me to my second point. In the deal, we get Nick Solak, the fifth best 2nd base prospect in baseball, as well as Anthony Banda (LHP), the Arizona’s former No. 2 prospect. If you need further affirmation, Denard Span called him ‘pretty legit.’ Banda is definitely the headliner here, with a mid 90’s fastball and a plus curve that we will see this season, and Solak is a Matt Duffy type who will likely start the season in Montgomery barring some drastic change, and projects to see his first MLB action in 2019. Both are 50 grade prospects, and are only half the package, as the deal includes two players to be named later. Simply put, it would have been irresponsible for the Rays front office to pass up this deal, let alone flat out ignore it.
Finally, The Rays just don’t need Souza. Sure, he broke out last year. Sure, he’s relatively cheap. And sure, he has 3 more years of control. The thing to understand here is economics, not of money, but of wins.
The Rays went all in last season, Longoria, Dickerson, Odorizzi, Morrison, Duda, Cishek, and Souza (they resigned Romo and Jennings has another year of team control). And they won 80 games. After losing all those players, but before losing Souza, they were still projected an 82 win team. What do 80 wins and 82 wins have in common? Neither will get you a playoff spot.
Now, you may say projections aren’t perfect, and that is definitely true, with a bit of luck, the 82 win projection could easily become 85 wins. But as we’ve learned over the last couple of years, being the 2nd place wild card team just means you get the chance to get beat by the worst of the 4 elite teams in the American League.
So the Rays front office here saw two scenarios. One, keep Souza and hope to compete for the second wild card spot for the chance to play in the baseball equivalent of week one of college football, or continue to build depth in an already stacked farm system and shoot to be one of the elite teams in the league without doing a full talk a la the Houston Astros.
The choice is obvious.