The Rays Should Remain Opportunistic

There was much focus, understandably, on the Dodgers’ addition of Logan Forsythe to their club. He’s a valuable player who fills a large-market NL contender’s most glaring need.

There was less attention on the small-market Rays and where they go in 2017 after trading Forsythe, who projected to be their third most valuable position player this coming season. They are a team that projects to be in the postseason picture in 2017.

The Rays continue to be opportunistic, as they have to be, and continue to trade some of today for more of tomorrow. They didn’t really need Mallex Smith, at least not immediately, but they acquired him as the headline piece in the Drew Smyly deal. Smith adds controllable years and surplus value. They don’t really need Jose De Leon, not immediately, but he offers more future surplus value and controllable years. And it’s possible he’s one of the Rays’ top-five starting options in 2017. According to Steamer, he will be just that.

Dave Cameron wrote last week that the Rays did well in the trade. When a team can land a pitcher who has six years of control — and who’s projected by Steamer to record 2.4 WAR as a starter — for a second baseman who’s more of a useful short-term asset (Forsythe has a club option for 2018) than a franchise building block, it’s generally a value-adding transaction.

But my purpose in writing this piece is not to argue the logic or rationale of those transactions, rather to look at the remaining opportunity for the Rays in regard to 2017.

The Forsythe deal would appear to damage the Rays’ 2017 postseason aspirations considering the team’s replacement options at second base. But even after the deal, the Rays still project to be part of the AL Wild Card race according to FanGraphs’ projected depth charts.

So the question is this: can the Rays continue to be opportunistic? After trading some of today for tomorrow can they strengthen their 2017 outlook in what remains of the offseason? There’s still time. And there still is opportunity.

Rosenthal reported last week that the Rays are examining the market for bats to replace some of Forysthe’s production, but they’re not necessarily looking at the second-base market. The top remaining value remains in the market for slugging, first-base and DH types. The market has overcorrected against this type of player, as Cameron has noted. There are so many bats available that Eno Sarris wondered last week if they’ll all find a home. While Luis Valbuena and Mark Trumbo came off the board, Mike Napoli, Pedro Alvarez, Adam Lind, and Chris Carter are among the names available that could upgrade or complement the Rays’ first-base and DH situations. The Rays were linked to Carter last week by Jon Heyman.

There’s still cheap offensive production available for opportunistic teams and the Rays have internal options from which to back-fill second base.

Brad Miller was penciled in at first base, where he projected to be nearly a two-win player, but Miller has spent most of his career at shortstop and has the athleticism to remain in the middle of the infield. Tampa Bay general manager Erik Neander told Rays Radio Miller is an option to move to second base should the club acquire a first baseman. Mark Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported Miller is the favorite to shift to second base.

Nick Franklin is also a contender to fill the second-base gap, and should at least be considered an option against right-handed pitching. The club also has Tim Beckham, a superior defender to Franklin. A prospect like Willy Adames is certainly not a candidate to open with the team but could be a midseason option.

The Rays have sought opportunity this offseason, as they typically do, and opportunity remains. Even if the Rays took a step back in 2017 with the Forsythe trade, there’s still time to take another step forward.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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7 years ago

If the Rays are bargain shopping for offense, Chris Carter makes a ton of sense, doesn’t he? All he does is hit home runs.

7 years ago
Reply to  Zonk

He doesn’t just hit home runs. He also strikes out on occasion (206 times last year, 2nd only to Chris Davis with 219). Still, Carter could make some sense.