In the wake of the three-team trade headlined by David Price, I’ve a difficult time escaping the conclusion that the Tampa Bay Rays, yet again, are the smartest kids in the room. Stick with me here for just a few minutes …
David Price is a wonderful pitcher, no question. And he’s under team control through next season, which means the Tigers will still have a TRUE ACE even if Max Scherzer flies away as a free agent next winter.
But then there’s the Drew Smyly thing. Smyly’s not nearly as good as Price. Both have demonstrated their "true" levels of talent with great consistency. Price is roughly four wins better than a replacement-level pitcher, while Smyly’s half as good. But that’s still pretty valuable.
And of course there’s another huge difference between them: Price will cost his team ~$20 million next season, his last under team control, while Smyly will remain reasonably priced for another few years. For a team with a budget, Smyly’s perfect.
So is Nick Franklin. Still just 23, Franklin’s got a terribly uneven track record as a hitter and won’t ever win a Gold Glove. What he might be, though? The young Ben Zobrist. The Rays didn’t get two prospects; instead they got two players who might help them win now.
Well, maybe not now. But certainly next year, when the Rays will actually be trying to win. This is exactly the sort of move you make if you do have a budget but don’t want to spend a year or two rebuilding.
There is one thing the Rays really can’t control, and that’s the development (or not) of their starting pitchers. It’s difficult to win without at least one TRUE ACE. Matt Moore was going to be that guy, and might be someday. But after Tommy John surgery, no guarantees. Chris Archer and Alex Cobb seemed like candidates and still are, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Ditto for Jake Odorizzi. And now we can add Smyly to that list.
Assuming that Moore comes back reasonably well and nobody else gets hurt, the Rays will have five good starting pitchers next spring. What are the chances that one of the good ones has a great season? Or actually becomes great? Pretty good, I’ll wager.*
* Not literally. I don’t bet on baseball. Jumping frogs and submarine races are more predictable.
The Rays’ owner is a billionaire, so of course the Rays could have kept David Price and paid him the going rate next season. In which case they would have been a better club. But given the strictures under which management operates, getting Smyly and Franklin was just about the best they could have done, and practically guarantees another winning season next year.
The Tigers? Yeah, they got a little better. Now they’re definitely going to win the Central and have marginally improved their postseason prospects. They shouldn’t miss Scherzer as much next year as they would have.
The Mariners? Yeah, Austin Jackson makes a lousy outfield less lousy.
The Rays made a move that’s going to help them stay in the black for some years.