Offseason Dreaming: The Perfect Weapon
The Tampa Bay Rays face a very real challenge this coming season that is slightly different from those they have faced in the past. The team has done well to rebuild their farm system to have potential top-end players like Willy Adames, Brent Honeywell, Casey Gillaspie and Jake Bauers. Not to mention the recently graduated Blake Snell who did more than hold his own in his freshman season. Additionally, the big league club has several guys that you can write in pen as everyday starters. They have great players at third base and center field and good ones at second base, leftfield, and potentially first base. The great guys can play everyday and the good ones are damn near it. What the team needs now is to upgrade on the positions that look feature something more like a one-to-two WAR player than someone that can be counted on to be above average.
The problem the Rays faced after their first decade of poor performance was a complete lack of even average players across the broad spectrum of positions needed to be filled. It’s relatively easy to find league average players that you can plug in as an upgrade. It is much more difficult to turn average guys into good players. Doing so requires significant capital reallotment in the form of dollars in free agency or talent capital via trade. The first isn’t really an option for the Rays, but those players that look more like average guys with perhaps some upside and a ton of control do have value to other teams. This means that the Rays are excellently positioned to trade to fill their gaps. Knowing this, there is one player that would be an ideal fit for this team.
The biggest need on the team is an everyday outfielder that can provide production both defensively and offensively. The team has seen mostly average offensive production from Steven Souza and perhaps a tick better than that with the glove, but this looks like an ideal spot to upgrade with a useful player that can give you better on both fronts. For me, that player is Adam Eaton. I have long adored Eaton’s game as a scrapper that players solid defense and well above average production with the bat. He moved from centerfield this past season, where he has typically been average or better with the mitt, into rightfield where he showed supreme excellence. He has great range, is fearless around the wall, and one of the best arms for anyone that plays on the grass. I think he is pretty well known for that, but it is the bat that really separates him from the rest of the league:
Using data from Baseball Savant and Ian Malinowski’s fantastic pitch-adjusted run values we can gain an idea of how the player has performed over his career. What you can see is a guy that has almost never been a below average hitter over a long sample. He has spent most of his time in the very good area including his most recent performance. He does this not by being a free-swinging hacker that trades contact for power, which is something many of the Rays already provide, but he does this through great contact and enough power. Additionally, he is left-handed hitter with a career 118 wRC+ against righties, while holding his own at an even 100 against same-handers. He is an excellent leadoff man with a 115 wRC+ pace in over 2,000 plate appearances at the top of the lineup.
The lack of a true leadoff man that can get on and get over has hampered the Rays for many years, but especially so when you look at all the thump in the middle of the lineup over the past two years. If you dislike the solo homer, because it only counts for one run, then it stands to reason that an uptick in on base percentage at the start of the game should make you very happy. There have been many cries, perhaps rightfully, that the Rays offense tends to get too one-dimensional based on an over-arching philosophy. The biggest reason for this is that when you have the tightest of budgets in the game you have to identify areas that seem ripe for exposure. Ideally, you just get a bunch of guys that can hit for power and average, but that is not possible for the Rays. Instead, they have to sell out in one direction or the other hoping the strengths cover the weaknesses. This often leads to a lack of lineup diversity.
The team has already made an effort to add a good contact hitter in Matt Duffy who won’t kill you with power, but it will likely never be a great strength in his game. Eaton continues that progress by giving the team another above average hitter who doesn’t need to sell out in one area to prop up the other. Since he broke into the league in 2012 there have been 340 players that have received at least 1,000 plate appearances. Here are his results and percentile ranks for some important metrics:
Eaton provides walks at an above average rate and limits his strikeouts even better. With that comes great batting average and ability to get on base while profiling as an average power hitter. He is not a guy that makes tradeoffs, but rather, maximizes his skillset by adapting to the situation and the offering. For me, Adam Eaton is the perfect weapon that is capable of doing damage at the plate, but also putting the other players in a position to leverage their own skillsets. He’s a heady baserunner that can contribute on the bases even when he isn’t stealing bags, which he also does at a successful rate even through this past 27 year old season. Add it all up and you’re looking at someone that looks like a three-to-four WAR player who can play everyday with no real weakness.
The best part from a Rays-centric perspective is that he has an incredibly good deal. The next three seasons will take him into his age 30 season, and will cost a TOTAL of $18.4 million. Even better, is that he has two more options with very reasonable buyouts totalling another $20.0 million. All told, the team would maintain control for five years at a maximum of less than $40 million. If he puts up a win a year over the next five then he will basically be worth his deal. If he continues to be a three or four win player then you’re talking about the kind of cost savings that the Rays NEED to thrive as a team.
I have no idea if the White Sox would entertain trading the player. It would seem that their focus is on moving their very good top-end starters Chris Sale and Jose Quintana to try to maneuver the team from being just shy of .500 into a perennial powerhouse again. Perhaps, they would be open to the notion of moving Eaton, especially, if they can get someone back that can fill the role for awhile, in addition, to another solid piece. The Rays have given no indication that they are frustrated that Steven Souza Jr. has shown to be more of an average player than the potential good one they had hoped for, but the White Sox might see him as a buy-low guy that could use a change of scenery. I would be loathe to give up early on someone that could be such an impact player, but Eaton represents a very real upgrade right now and would continue to do so if Souza never reaches his impressive ceiling.
Of course, that would not be enough and no one would ever do that as a one-for-one trade. That leaves us speculating on the second piece of the trade. If the White Sox wanted to use this winter as a chance to re-tool a flawed team, as they have done for several years now, they might like to take on a player with present value like Jake Odorizzi or Logan Forsythe. Yes, those are two good players for the Rays, both of which had extended runs of excellence this past season. However, they both come from positions that should be regarded as strengths for the team. In all likelihood the Rays will be moving a starter this offseason. It is what they do time after time. Odorizzi has been a consistently good starter on a team that seems to be endlessly capable of manufacturing that performance through defense and usage. The short term hit could possibly be patched internally with only the smallest of steps backward.
Logan Forsythe has been a tremendous get for the Rays since he was brought over with Brad Boxberger et. al. a few years back. The thing is, he plays a position where the Rays are exceedingly well stocked. While none of Tim Beckham or Nick Franklin or Brad Miller or Matt Duffy or even Willy Adames gives you what Logan does with the singular roster spot I think a creative team could overlap playing time to approximate what Mr. Forsythe brings to the table. If the team was looking to keep Odorizzi on the staff in 2017, then Forsythe would represent a similar player in both production and value that the White Sox would be intrigued. It probably doesn’t hurt that they have failed to fill the position since Ray Durham was an everyday player for them.
Giving up Steven Souza Jr. and either Jake Odorizzi or Logan Forsythe probably sounds steep for a Rays fan. Their might even be shrieks from the balcony if Chicago asked for a young stud like Brent Honeywell in lieu of the aforementioned second pieces, but this is what it costs to upgrade from ok to good or even very good. The Rays have ready replacements for the outgoing guy, and Adam Eaton would give this lineup exactly what it needs both in the field and at the dish. Adam Eaton is worth that investment. He would go a long way in helping this lineup go from one-dimensional guys that either can’t hit for power or can’t get on base by giving you a man who can do both. I’d welcome The Perfect Weapon with open arms.