The Los Angeles Dodgers are a trade rumor factory. It seems every media outlet has the Dodgers trading with every franchise nowadays. But one in particular is always brought up: the Tampa Bay Rays. Much of that stems from Andrew Friedman previously controlling the organization, and with the team caught between rebuild and retool, it makes sense to listen on stars. It so happens that the two biggest names on the Rays fit big needs for L.A., which further adds fuel to the fire.
Tampa Bay has seen better days. After dropping the “Devil” from their name, the Rays had six straight seasons of success, a run that included five 90-plus win campaigns and a World Series appearance in 2008. The team was decimated by its own budget, forcing trades of James Shields, David Price, Ben Zobrist and others. Longtime Manager Joe Madden left for the Chicago Cubs (we know how that ended) and Friedman traded one sunshine state for another. Tampa Bay won 68 games last season, its worst result since 2007.
Tampa is in a strong position to rebuild through trades.
The Rays operate similar to the Oakland Athletics, in how they take value at its peak. Tampa now finds itself at a crossroads. It thought it could compete last season but went down in flames. Kevin Cash may be a decent manager, but the team is devoid of upper tier talent right now. The two biggest stars – Evan Longoria and Chris Archer – are both signed to team-friendly contracts, which matters much more for Tampa than it would Los Angeles.
Do the Rays shop those players hoping to bring in a Shelby Miller-like return, or do they try to build the team around them?
Locally, most think it’s the latter, but nationally, rumors swirl that the Rays will trade anyone. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re shopping or trying to nuke the roster, but Tampa will listen. The Dodgers would be wise to place a few calls.
*Players’ ages in 2017 season in parenthesis*
3B Evan Longoria (32): Signed for $94MM through 2022 with $13MM team option for 2023 ($5MM buyout)
— Evan Longoria (@Evan3Longoria) July 26, 2016
The right-handed Longoria is a native of Downey, California, and grew up a Dodgers fan. He’s a long-shot for a number of reasons, but if Justin Turner signs elsewhere, he vaults to No. 1 on the list of potential replacements. It was reported the Rays were listening on Longoria. It would still be hard to move the face of the franchise for a team struggling with fan support.
Moving him would save the team a substantial amount moving forward, but it would be viewed as conceding by the fan base. While the Rays are a low budget team, Longoria’s contract is below market value, so there’s justification to keeping it on the books.
On the other side of the coin, will he prove to match that pay with performance for the next several years? A team will only trade for a player of this stature who it considers to have surplus value. Longoria displayed an unprecedented amount of pop in 2016 (36 homers), but he’s suffered from injuries and it’s hard to confidently project him to maintain a high level of play for the life of his deal.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 8, 2016
Would the Dodgers give Turner a contract equal to Longoria? Because Los Angeles would be eating his entire deal, not to mention sacrificing prospects it would retain if it signed Turner. Tampa Bay won’t move Longoria for anything less than a slight overpay, at least not this offseason.
In recent history, Turner has arguably been the better player. Unless Friedman and co. believe Longoria is significantly superior to Turner and will remain so over the next five years, there’s no reason to prefer a trade to just paying Turner. Longoria does have the temperament, talent and familiarity with franchise to hold huge appeal though. His relationship with Friedman shouldn’t be understated. I wrote about that and other Longoria tidbits before the trade deadline.
As for the parameters of a deal, it’s difficult because Longoria’s value to the Rays exceeds his value to 29 other franchises. Typically, those cases make trades super unlikely to impossible. National League rivals such as the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals could also be a fit for Longoria.
Tampa Bay needs offense. Catcher Austin Barnes would almost certainly garner interest to the Rays, but with Carlos Ruiz traded to Seattle, Barnes appears locked in as the Dodgers backup catcher. The Rays are a franchise that emphasizes hording arms in the farm, making them an even better match for the pitching rich Dodgers.
Jose De Leon or Yadier Alvarez, the two blue chip, yet movable, L.A. pitching prospects, would be an overpay. A player such as Walker Buehler would be an underwhelming headliner. Tampa would jump at the chance to add Cody Bellinger or Willie Calhoun, but that makes little sense for Los Angeles. A package of Alex Verdugo and Barnes is a reasonable starting point, depending on how the teams assess Verdugo’s value.
SP Chris Archer (29): Signed for $20.25MM through 2019 with $8.25MM team options for 2020 and 2021 ($1.75MM buyouts)
Archer is the best fit for Los Angeles. There’s been multiple reports of L.A.’s interest and the Rays have been rumored to listen on Archer for the last several months. Recently, Archer may or may not have ruffled feathers by saying his employer needs to spend more money.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Tampa asked Pittsburgh for two of their top prospects in outfielder Austin Meadows and pitcher Tyler Glasnow for Archer at the trade deadline. That is an astronomical price, as both players are widely expected to become All-Star building blocks for Pittsburgh. The Rays requested return on Archer has prompted some teams to change their pursuit to Jake Odorizzi, Archer’s rotation mate. Matt Moore, a former Tampa starter, was dealt to San Francisco in July.
Exec from team that's been talking with the Rays says he sees such a good fit with Dodgers, places odds at "70 pct" Chris Archer lands in LA
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 21, 2016
The Rays are right to demand a bounty. Archer is signed far below value for the next few years while also tied to two cheap club options. His contract is such a steal that he should attract heavy interest from all the other 29 teams, especially in a bad pitcher market. He is, however, coming off a tough season in which he posted a 4.02 ERA and absorbed 19 losses (yes, losses are not a way to accurately judge pitcher value). He did show improvement in the second half with a 3.25 ERA and an overall 3.81 FIP. He once again proved to be a strikeout machine (233).
Most of his advanced stats fall in line with his career norms after the break, which provides the optimist reason to believe he just had a shaky start. His strikeout, walk and hit rate aligned with the usual. His home run rate was slightly above average. He logged over 200 innings for the second straight season.
Moving Archer to the National League and inserting him behind Clayton Kershaw could be deadly. Archer perfectly slots into what the Dodgers want in a No. 2 and Friedman’s familiarity doesn’t hurt. The issue here is getting Tampa Bay to budge and outbidding other teams. Prospect rich franchises such as Pittsburgh, Atlanta, St. Louis, Texas, Houston, Washington and the Cubs all have conceivable interest.
It’s likelier for them to move Archer than Longoria, but that doesn’t make it likely in general. Los Angeles would possibly have to part with De Leon, one of Bellinger/Cahoun/Verdugo, Barnes and more. It seems too rich, but compare Archer’s value with past traded starters, such as Cole Hamels, and the price makes sense. Maybe De Leon, Verdugo, Barnes and Brendon Davis for Archer and Brad Boxberger.
If Los Angeles is willing to meet that, it may be wiser to explore Chris Sale instead. Of course, if Sale requires Julio Urias and Archer doesn’t, building a big three of Kershaw, Archer and Urias will make the payment easier to swallow. I gave my thoughts about Archer in July here, while our Chris Wolf analyzed Archer’s trade value here.
OF Kevin Kiermaier (27): Arbitration eligible through 2019
Kiermaier is the definition of an elite defensive outfielder. He saved 25 runs last year (despite missing time injured) in route to his second straight gold glove. The season prior he saved a MLB-best 42 runs. Kiermaier’s defensive brilliance is in a class of its own. Per Fangraphs, he had a 99 percent efficiency. He told the site he can see the catcher’s signs and anticipate. He said he spends time adjusting to the different parks and how the ball will carry. That preparation is needed on every club.
He slashed .246/.331/.410 at the plate, which wouldn’t bring the Dodgers anything unique. He does carry some pop and speed, which helps his cause.
The Rays have no motivation to move him, and he doesn’t fit the Dodgers well enough for an overpay, so this is an unlikely match. It would require MLB-ready talent (besides Barnes) that L.A. shouldn’t pay. That said, if Yasiel Puig plus a couple prospects is on the table, the Dodgers should take it and run. The Rays thoughts on Puig are unknown, but knowing people familiar with the franchise, he doesn’t fit the mold of a player the organization would want.
RP Brad Boxberger (29): Arbitration eligible through 2019
A year after putting up an American League-leading 41 saves, Boxberger suffered through an injury-ridden 2016 season. He appeared in just 27 games and pitched 24.1 innings. His small sampled 4.81 ERA was sharply below the 3.71, 2.37 and 2.86 he collected in the three previous years, respectively. He still holds value and perhaps the Rays can capitalize on that given the amount of teams search for bullpen reinforcements.
While Dodgers fans dream of an Archer-Longoria package, the much more plausible package is though, so selling pieces separately might be the best way to extract maximum return. With or without Kenley Jansen, a healthy Boxberger would improve the team drastically. Friedman traded for Boxberger once already, so he’s a name worth watching.
The Other Guys:
The aforementioned Jake Odorizzi is an improving starter under team control, but he doesn’t move the needle for the Dodgers. Tampa Bay can put a premium on him, and he makes more sense for a team such as the Miami Marlins that could trade offense to put him atop their rotation. He wouldn’t be worth a big package for the Dodgers unless paired with Archer or Longoria. Logan Forsythe would fill the Dodgers second base need, but the Rays don’t appear motivated to move him. He’s one of only three Rays (Archer, Longoria) guaranteed a contract for 2017. His affordability and production gives Tampa little reason to explore a deal. Starter Alex Cobb has upside, but due to injury it makes no sense for either side. As with Odorizzi, Drew Smyly would be worth more to the Rays or another franchise than Los Angeles. Alex Colome made a name for himself in 2016, but he’s a reason the team would shop Boxberger. A trade there isn’t probable.