In my brief time covering the game of baseball, I’ve learned to primarily disregard the opinions of so called “experts”. That’s not to say that there aren’t those who are extremely knowledgeable and well-informed (I hope to be considered among that exclusive group one day), but, for the most part, I form my opinions from what I see, not what I hear.
That’s why, after the blockbuster, 11-player, three-team Wil Myers trade was finalized last week, I took time to examine the particulars of this deal, instead of buying in to the immediate overreaction of most baseball pundits, which was something along the lines of, “The Tampa Bay Rays are now in complete rebuilding mode. They won’t be competitive next season without Wil Myers.”
It didn’t take long to realize that these opinions are particularly asinine. Especially the perceived notion that the Rays “sold low” on Myers, and overall were the losers of this trade. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, Matt Silverman has made his team better since he took over, and this move reflects that.
The reason there’s so much skepticism surrounding this trade is because the Rays did something they almost never do: trade away a young, controllable, inexpensive power threat that’s fresh off a dreadful season. On the surface, it seems like an insensible move for the cash-strapped Rays. That is, until you’re enlightened as to the direction this club is heading and the immense level of talent that this trade brought back.
What skeptics fail to realize is that Tampa Bay didn’t ship Myers away for a group of prospects that aren’t close to contributing to the big club. In fact, the Rays hauled in three Major League ready players in that trade. These are three players that could all make an immediate impact in 2015. Does that sound like a team that’s conceding to mediocrity?
The first name that really sticks out among the talented package headed Tampa Bay’s way is outfielder Steven Souza Jr. Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 225 pounds, Souza possesses a big, powerful frame. The 25-year-old owns all the tools necessary to be an excellent player the highest level. His power is impressive, his range defensively is stellar, and he has the speed to be a tremendous threat on the bases.
Souza’s breakout 2014 season, in which he lit up Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .350/.432/.590 slash line in 407 plate appearances, had him shooting up prospect rankings. MLB.com listed him as the fifth best prospect in the Washington Nationals’ organization at the time of the trade, and his scouting report reads: “Toolsy and athletic, Souza combines good speed with big raw power. His loose, easy swing allows him to drive the ball to all fields.”
Since he projects well in right field and has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order hitter for many years to come, Souza has predictably been drawing comparisons to the man he was just traded for, Wil Myers. Souza has never come close to receiving the same amount of hype as a prospect that Myers did, but he might turn out to be just as good, or better than the former AL Rookie of the Year.
This trade has made a lot of people forget about the deficiencies of the hitter that is Wil Myers. This young man still has a ton of skill and his hustle is undeniable, but his inability to make consistent contact, especially against right-handed pitching, is a glaring issue that will be difficult to completely eradicate. Don’t misunderstand, I fully expect Myers to rebound from his miserable 2014 season and at least somewhat resemble the player we saw in 2013 (assuming his wrist injury doesn’t linger), but it’s clear that he still has a few holes in his swing that are holding him back a bit.
But that’s not why the Rays traded Wil Myers. They saw a player with terrific upside, but one that will become very expensive in a few years and might not reach the level of success that was originally expected. So when it became evident that Myers was drawing interest from a number of teams, Silverman and company saw an opportunity to improve this club, for both the short and long-term. It’s obviously too early to predict, but Souza clearly has ability to very effectively fill Tampa Bay’s outfield vacancy.
Souza isn’t the only player in this deal that Rays fans should be excited about. The club also improved its catching situation with Rene Rivera. Ryan Hanigan was sent back to San Diego and eventually flipped to Boston. Both catchers are lauded for their defensive prowess, but Rivera provides a higher ceiling on the offensive side. Not to mention the fact that he’s three years younger than Hanigan. I’ll just let last season’s statistics do the talking.
Ryan Hanigan in 2014: .218 AVG, .318 OBP, .324 SLG, 92 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR
Rene Rivera in 2014: .252 AVG, .319 OBP, .432 SLG, 114 wRC+, 3.0 fWAR
It’s also worth noting that Rivera threw runners out at a rate of 36%, while Hanigan had an uncharacteristically mediocre season, managing to throw out just 21% of opposing base stealers. The other player with Major League experience that was included in Tampa Bay’s haul was right-handed starter Burch Smith. Interestingly enough, Smith made his debut at Tropicana Field against the Rays back in 2013. If he can stay healthy, Smith could certainly contribute the Rays rotation in 2015.
The final two pieces in the package, first baseman Jake Bauers and left-handed pitcher Travis Ott, are both a few years away and scouting reports on the two are scarce, but here’s an interesting tidbit on Bauers:
One manager on Jake Bauers: “He hits everything: RHP, LHP, FB, SL, CHG. Can hit velocity. Baseball rat who controls the K-zone.”
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) December 17, 2014
The Rays are not rebuilding in any way, shape, or form. They simply took advantage of an opportunity to better themselves. It might take some time for Silverman’s plan to completely take shape, but there’s no reason to think that this club will fall back into an extended period of mediocrity. The future is still bright for this franchise.