We all know factors beyond talent — be it contract length or value, a team’s competitive window, or a player’s social fit within the org, among others — have an impact on how trades balance and are agreed upon. Just being mindful that these factors exist, and that we’re not always privy to them, can help us to square what we perceive to be a context-free gap in the talents exchanged. But can we bridge what is, based on our evaluations, a sizable gap in this weekend’s Rangers and Rays prospect-for-prospect trade?
RHP Peter Fairbanks, 40 FV
This deal looks very good for Texas in a vacuum based on our evaluations. Kiley and I both think Solak, who is a career .290/.382/.453 hitter in the minors and has raked since his freshman year at Louisville, is going to be an average everyday second baseman, while Fairbanks is a 25-year-old reliever who has had two Tommy John surgeries, a demographic we rarely rank at all.
But we think there’s enough room for disagreement on both players that with a reasonably pessimistic view of one player and an optimistic opinion of the other, they’re not that far apart.
For instance, I think it’s defensible to have Solak evaluated as a 2B/OF utility type in the Enrique Hernandez mold, which would make him a 45 FV, someone we’d value on the same level as Cavan Biggio and Luis Rengifo, two other recent 45 FV prospects who we expect to be valuable role players, but not 2-3 annual WAR producers. Despite his track record of hitting, Solak’s three-year ZiPs projections have him performing more like a 40 FV player due to lack of power and his predilection for groundball contact.
Conversely, Fairbanks exhibits some traits consistent with players who often fly under our radar. He missed 2018 recovering from a second TJ, then was moved to the bullpen where his stuff exploded. He now sits 95-98 and touches 99, and he generates nearly seven feet of extension down the mound, which means the fastball plays up almost two ticks. And Fairbanks has a vertical arm slot consistent with other pitchers whose fastballs play above their raw velocity. He could be another fastball-dominant, late-inning reliever if he stays healthy, someone we’d grade out as a 40+ FV.
And Tampa’s logjam of 2B/OF types coupled with the opportunity to add someone who might make a playoff impact in a bullpen role this year makes a 45 FV for 40+ FV swap pretty palatable. Again, I like this deal for Texas because I consider Solak a better player, but I can see an argument for it from Tampa Bay’s perspective.
The Rays also have 40-man considerations to reckon with. Solak would have had to be added to the 40-man this offseason or be vulnerable to the Rule 5 Draft, and he almost certainly would be taken. Travis d’Arnaud and Avisail Garcia will both come off the Rays 40-man and reach free agency this offseason, but Solak, Vidal Brujan, Ronaldo Hernandez, Lucius Fox (all 40-man locks), Resly Linares, Garrett Whitley and Moises Gomez (less so) are all Rule 5 eligible this winter, and Tyler Glasnow, Anthony Banda, and Christian Arroyo are on 60-day DL and will need to be put back on the 40-man at some point.
In essence, the Rays would have had two 40-man spots for nearly 10 players. With several comparable players on the roster (Arroyo, Matt Duffy, Joey Wendle, Brandon Lowe, Daniel Robertson, and soon Brujan), Solak is tougher to squeeze in than Fairbanks, who is simply better than several of the pitchers on Tampa Bay’s 40-man. Expect the bottom of Tampa Bay’s pitching depth to be jettisoned at some point this fall to make room for some of these guys, while others are likely to be traded ahead of this summer’s trade deadline or this fall’s 40-man deadline.
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.