The Tampa Bay Rays‘ 2017 season ended around a month ago, but the MLB season just ended on Wednesday night. The Houston Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7 to win their first World Series. Now, the off-season is here for everyone. The Astros can get to work on preparing to defend their title, while the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball will get to work on preparing to dethrone them.
As we’ve already discussed a bit, this is going to be a challenging off-season with a lot of decisions to make for the Rays. They’ve been mired in mediocrity for four years now. Their always-limited budget is going to make things difficult to compete with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the American League East, who finished 13 and 11 games ahead of them, respectively, this year. The Red Sox and Yankees are loaded with talent, youth and money. The Rays, meanwhile, due to their payroll restraints, are likely set to lose their best hitter from this season, first baseman Logan Morrison, to free agency. Alex Cobb, arguably their best starting pitcher this season, is also likely leaving. As are some of their best relievers in Tommy Hunter, Steve Cishek and Sergio Romo.
In 2015, just four days after the conclusion of the World Series, the Rays swung a big six-player trade with the Seattle Mariners, acquiring Morrison, Brad Miller and Danny Farquhar in exchange for Nate Karns, C.J. Riefenhauser and Boog Powell.
Today, in our first installment of looking at Tampa Bay’s off-season trade candidates, we’re going to focus on Jake Odorizzi. After all, Odorizzi has just two seasons of team control left, which is right around the time the Rays usually like their to trade their starting pitchers. The thing the Rays are best known for is developing starting pitching. It allows them not only to compete, but to trade them to fill other holes when they start getting too expensive, and have capable arms ready to come up from the minors to replace them.
Tampa Bay Rays Trade Candidate: Jake Odorizzi
Last off-season was the first time Odorizzi was eligible for arbitration. Unable to come to an agreement on his 2017 salary, Odorizzi and the Rays did end up going to arbitration. Odorizzi asked for $4.1 million, while the Rays countered with a proposal of $3.825 million. Odorizzi ended up winning the case. MLB Trade Rumors projects Odorizzi to earn a hefty raise to $6.5 million for 2018.
Odorizzi’s situation this year is comparable to Drew Smyly‘s last year. Smyly also had two seasons of control left, and was set to earn a big raise from arbitration. He ended up going from a $3.75 million 2016 salary to $6.85 million 2017 salary. Smyly, like Odorizzi, was coming off a disappointing season (we already discussed Odorizzi a bit in our list of this season’s most disappointing Rays). In 30 starts for the Rays in 2016, Smyly went 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA and 4.49 FIP. Odorizzi went 10-8 in 28 starts this year, and a strong September helped cut his ERA down to a respectable 4.14 by the end of the season, but the 5.43 FIP was still ugly.
It’s probably fair to surmise that Odorizzi’s trade value is somewhere in the neighborhood of what Smyly’s was last year. Maybe he even has a bit more value given that he doesn’t come with the injury concerns that Smyly had. In his first four full seasons, Odorizzi has never made fewer than 28 starts.
When the Rays traded Smyly to the Mariners, they received outfielder Mallex Smith, pitching prospect Ryan Yarbrough and infield prospect Carlos Vargas. Smith’s speed is nice, but he lacks any sort of power and it remains to be seen whether he’ll hit enough to be an everyday player. Yarbrough is a 25-year-old lefty who had a nice season with the Triple-A Durham Bulls, posting a 3.43 ERA and 3.87 FIP in 26 starts. He seems like someone who’s likely to see time with the Rays in 2018. Vargas, meanwhile, is still just 18 years old and a long, long way away.
The Rotation Without Odorizzi
In addition to the return, the big question when it comes to trading Odorizzi, who has been a mainstay in Tampa Bay’s rotation for the last four years, is what kind of state that would leave the rotation in. With Cobb on the way out, trading Odorizzi would put a lot of pressure on Chris Archer, leaving him as pretty much the lone veteran leader in what would otherwise be a very inexperienced rotation.
Without Cobb and Odorizzi, behind Archer the Rays would have Blake Snell, who they’re probably feeling a lot better about after finishing the year strong. They would have Jake Faria, who was putting together a very impressive rookie season before being sidelined in mid-August. The Rays would also have Matt Andriese, and Nathan Eovaldi, who the Rays signed last off-season for the purpose of having him in 2018, knowing he’d likely miss all of 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Then, for depth, they would have young pitching prospects like Yarbrough, Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon. They will all likely start the season in Durham, waiting for their turn. They also still have Austin Pruitt, who had an up-and-down rookie season in 2017.
Will Jake Odorizzi be traded?
If the Rays trade Odorizzi this off-season, they will be putting a lot of faith in young, inexperienced arms stepping up in their rotation next year. Then again, the Rays’ whole model of success has always been based on young, inexperienced arms that they believe in stepping up in their rotation. It’s why the Rays currently have an incredible streak of pitchers under the age of 30 starting games for them. The last time a pitcher at least 30 years old started a game for the Rays was when they sent a 35-year-old Erik Bedard to the mound on July 3rd, 2014 in Detroit. That’s 560 consecutive games that the Rays have started a pitcher under the age of 30.
So, if that’s a starting pitching situation that Tampa Bay is comfortable with, I think there’s a very good chance Odorizzi is traded this off-season. Provided, of course, that they’re still able to find a deal they like in spite of his disappointing 2017 campaign. They won’t just give him away.
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