Rays Add Depth Without Using 40-Man Space, Seattle Scoops DFA’d Bazardo

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports.

When trades occur that aren’t quite big enough to merit their own post, we sometimes compile our analysis into a compendium like this, where we touch on a number of transactions at one time. In this dispatch, I’ll cover the Rays’ trades for upper-level depth (pitchers Manuel Rodríguez and Adrian Sampson from the Cubs, and catcher Alex Jackson from the Brewers), as well as the Mariners/Orioles swap of Logan Rinehart and Eduard Bazardo.

The Rays acquired Adrian Sampson, Manuel Rodríguez, and $220,000 of international free agent bonus pool space from the Cubs for minor league pitcher Josh Roberson. Sampson, 31, was originally the Pirates’ 2012 fifth round pick. He made the big leagues with the Mariners in 2016 and then began to hop around the fringes of various rosters, which is part of what led to his 2020 jaunt to the KBO before a return to MLB with the Cubs. He made 19 starts for the Cubbies in 2022 as a long-term injury replacement, but he has missed most of 2023 due to a knee surgery from which he only recently returned. Sampson has been sitting 90-91 mph during each of his last two minor league starts. He does not occupy a 40-man roster spot and should be considered injury replacement depth for the Rays.

Twenty-six-year-old Mexican reliever Manuel Rodríguez (he turns 27 next week) had a 2021 velo spike and made his big league debut that season, but his fastball’s shape isn’t conducive to missing bats despite his plus arm strength (he averages 97 mph), and Rodríguez’s command further detracts from his stuff’s ability to play. He was removed from the Cubs 40-man roster, cleared waivers, and was outrighted to Triple-A Iowa this year, where he has struck out 13/9 IP and walked nearly 5/9 IP. He’s still sitting 96-97 but has begun to take a slider-first approach to pitching, which is common for pitchers whose fastballs play down, especially in the zone, due to lackluster shape and movement. Rodríguez’s power slider moves like an 87 mph curveball and is at times a devastating pitch, but he often isn’t in counts where he can deploy it for chase. Both Rodríguez (most likely) and Sampson provide the Rays with a guard against a rash of injuries without occupying a spot on their 40-man roster unless they absolutely have to.

On the flip side, the Cubs are getting a lightning-armed, enigmatic righty in the 27-year-old Roberson. He has an upper-90s fastball, an upper-80s slider, and very little idea where either is going. He’s walked 13-15% of opposing hitters each of the last three years but certainly looks the part of a good big league reliever both athletically and from a stuff standpoint. Roberson has a 4.50 ERA in 36 innings at Triple-A Durham this year. He is the only one of these three pitchers who is still prospect-eligible — you can read more about him on the Cubs list here. With a hot finish to the season (and maybe a Fall League look, as Roberson hasn’t pitched a ton of innings), he’ll put himself in the fringe of the Cubs’ 40-man roster considerations.

In a similarly-structured move, the Rays added catcher Alex Jackson from the Brewers in exchange for Triple-A starter Evan McKendry. Francisco Mejía’s recent injury means Blake Hunt would be their best option should anything happen to either Christian Bethancourt or René Pinto throughout the rest of the season. Hunt has had a fairly good season with the bat but has relatively little experience above Double-A. Jackson, a former sixth overall pick, has long been a bat-first catcher whose defensive issues have kept him from establishing himself as a career big leaguer. Now 27, he’s hitting .286/.360/.554 at Triple-A Nashville with a 58% hard-hit rate, but a lot of chase, and his receiving is in a viable place now. He’s still a flawed player because his approach is so bad, but Jackson has rare power for a catcher and, like the arms who came over from Chicago, can act as depth without taking up a 40-man spot.

The Brewers get Evan McKendry, a 25-year-old kitchen sink righty with a 4.00 ERA and 5.02 xFIP across 96.2 innings at Triple-A Durham. McKendry makes heavy use of an upper-70s sweeper, but his low-90s fastball and low-80s changeup are his best ways to miss a bat. McKendry’s funky delivery is deceptive and confusing. He shows hitters the baseball up above his head before transitioning into a fairly typical body position at release. McKendry can manipulate shape and angle with cutters, four-seamers and two-seamers, and then use his slower slider and changeup to change speeds, which in concert with his deceptiveness makes him an interesting “look” reliever who could work in long low-leverage relief.

Speaking of fringe 40-man relievers, the Mariners acquired recently DFA’d righty Eduard Bazardo from the Orioles for 25-year-old High-A righty Logan Rinehart. The 27-year-old Bazardo originally came through Boston’s system and debuted with them before electing free agency and signing a minor league NRI deal with the Orioles in December of 2022. He posted a 3.05 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 38 innings with Triple-A Norfolk prior to a brief big league stint with Baltimore just before he was DFA’d.

Bazardo has a mid-90s sinker/curveball mix that should enable him to pitch as an up/down reliever, like he has for a while now. The shape of his fastball and slider together doesn’t facilitate optimal playability for either pitch, but Bazardo’s raw breaking ball quality is comfortably plus. The Mariners have had success with sinker/sweeper arms while the Orioles clearly have a preference for pitchers with vertically-riding fastballs, which Bazardo’s is not. As the Mariners postured as sellers ahead of the deadline, the line between the talent in the back half of their bullpen and the guys at Triple-A blurred. Bazardo is a “maybe” long-term fit for middle-inning work in Seattle.

For a player they were otherwise likely to lose on waivers, the Orioles get Rinehart, a 2019 16th round pick out of Cal Baptist who has had a dominant 2023 season at High-A. Rinehart has moved from the rotation to the bullpen while repeating the Northwest League, and ran a 2.84 ERA across 28 innings before the deal. He has a four-seamer, slider, and changeup that all mix into his approach evenly at about 33% each, with his slider edging out the others at 39% usage. His changeup and slider both sink and diverge in opposite directions, which has been a nightmare for A-ball hitters to parse because of the way Rinehart mixes everything so evenly. He’s an Honorable Mention type of prospect who looks like a depth starter.

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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