Tampa Bay Rays Trade Candidate: Alex Colome

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As this off-season around Major League Baseball continues to drag along, the Tampa Bay Rays are one of the many teams that have been strangely quiet. Well, aside from trading the best player in franchise history.

Really, though, that’s been pretty much it so far for Tampa Bay. They’ve lost some of their own free agents, as relievers Tommy Hunter and Steve Cishek signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, respectively. Some of them are still unsigned, such as starting pitcher Alex Cobb, first basemen Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda, and relief pitcher Sergio Romo. They’ve added some infield depth with Micah Johnson, Ryan Schimpf and Joey Wendle. Of course, they also took Denard Span and Christian Arroyo back from the San Francisco Giants in the Evan Longoria trade, both of whom are likely to see time with the Rays in 2018. But as we’re now less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, some are beginning to wonder if the Longoria trade really might be just about it for the Rays this off-season.

But that may not be the case. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has been clear about the fact that he wants the payroll to be lower than the roughly $70 million mark from last year. As of now, the Rays already have just over $59 million committed to 12 players for 2017, not even including the $2 million of Longoria’s 2018 salary they retained. Due to also having to take Span’s contract back, the Rays didn’t actually save much money in the Longoria trade, at least not for 2018. The Rays are also going to arbitration with starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Odorizzi is asking for $6.3 million, with the Rays offering $6.05 million. Hechavarria is asking for $5.9 million, with the Rays offering $5.3 million.

Even if the Rays win both of those cases, that would still bring the payroll up to just over $70 million for just 14 players. Even if the Rays were to fill out the rest of the roster with players making league minimum, the payroll would still be quite a bit higher than what the Rays have publicly stated they’d like it to be.

Yes, it’s getting kind of late. But there are still so many things that have to happen around the league before this off-season wraps up. We’re all still waiting for the free agent market to finally heat up. Eventually, guys like J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Jarrod Dyson, Lance Lynn, Carlos Gonzalez, Todd Frazier, Neil Walker, Eduardo Nunez, Jonathan Lucroy, Tampa Bay’s own aforementioned free agents, and many more will sign with teams. The trade market has finally started to pick up, largely thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates apparently deciding to rebuild, shipping Gerrit Cole off to the Houston Astros and Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants.

And we’re still likely to see the Rays move another (relatively) high-priced player or two of their own. Earlier this off-season, we took a look at one of those guys in Odorizzi. Today, we take a look at Tampa Bay’s closer, Alex Colome.

Tampa Bay Rays Trade Candidate: Alex Colome

Around the winter meetings in December, reports seemed to suggest the Rays were having a lot of conversations about a Colome trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. Colome even raised some eyebrows himself when people noticed he had followed some Cardinals-related accounts on social media. The Cardinals also had interest in Longoria, and there was chatter that they were discussing a package deal to bring both him and Colome to St. Louis. Perhaps the Rays trading Longoria to the Giants threw off talks with the Cardinals. Either way, things seem to have cooled down between Tampa Bay and St. Louis, with the Cardinals now apparently even saying their interest in Colome was overstated to begin with.

Colome is 29 years old with three seasons of team control left. Entering his first season of arbitration eligibility, he and the Rays agreed to a $5.3 million salary for 2018, a hefty raise from his $547,900 salary in 2017. This is one of the main reasons the Rays are considering trading him.

He converted from a starter to a reliever midway through the 2015 season and has served as the Rays’ closer for the last two seasons. Colome’s 2016 was truly spectacular. In 56.2 innings over 57 appearances, he had a 1.91 ERA and 2.92 FIP. He averaged 11.82 strikeouts per nine innings and converted 37 of 40 save opportunities. He was the Tampa Bay’s lone representative at the All-Star Game.

Last Season

However, Colome’s 2017 was a bit of a step back, despite the fact that he converted an MLB-leading 47 saves in 53 opportunities. His ERA rose to 3.24, his FIP rose to 3.37, and perhaps most concerning, his strikeouts per nine innings plummeted to 7.83. His walks per nine innings also raised a bit from 2.38 in 2016 to 3.11 in 2017. In fact, Colome received a dishonorable mention in our list of 2017’s most disappointing Rays.

Colome’s workload also increased in 2017, as he pitched 66.2 innings in 65 appearances. Earlier on in the season, largely due to a lack of trust in the rest of the bullpen, the Rays sometimes asked Colome to pitch more than an inning. He would be brought in at times in the eighth inning and asked to convert at least four-out saves. It’s entirely possible that the Rays relied too heavily on Colome last season, and that overworking him could explain the drop in his performance. If the Rays rely on him so heavily, though, then what would the bullpen look like without Colome?

Tampa Bay’s Bullpen

The Rays’ bullpen struggles last season led to them loading up on relievers as the non-waiver trade deadline approached, adding Cishek, Romo and Dan Jennings. As mentioned earlier, Hunter and Cishek have already signed elsewhere, while Romo remains a free agent. So, including Romo, the Rays right now are already without arguably their three most reliable relievers from last season outside of Colome. Meanwhile, Jennings was awful with the Rays. The 3.44 ERA doesn’t reflect how poorly he pitched in his 18.1 innings over 29 appearances after the trade. He had a 5.12 FIP, with nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (13).

On the depth chart on the Rays’ website, right now they list their bullpen as having Colome, Jennings, Chaz Roe, Andrew Kittredge, Chih-Wei Hu, Jose Alvarado and Ryne Stanek in it. That’s a very inexperienced bullpen with a lot of guys you don’t really know what to expect from. Colome, Jennings and Roe are the only ones who had any MLB experience prior to last year. Alvarado, a 22-year-old lefty who started last year in Double-A and has all of 35 MLB appearances under his belt, is already the fourth-most experienced pitcher of that group. Of course, the Rays could also opt to put a starter like Austin Pruitt or Matt Andriese in the bullpen. Perhaps even both, especially if Odorizzi isn’t traded. Either way, the Rays’ bullpen already doesn’t look like a strength. At best, it’s a big question mark.

The Return

The most impressive hauls for relief pitchers we’ve seen recently were probably both pulled off by the New York Yankees in the middle of the 2016 season. They traded Andrew Miller, who had two and a half seasons left on a contract that pays him $9 million annually, to the Cleveland Indians, in exchange for an impressive haul of prospects headlined by outfielder Clint Frazier and left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield. They also somehow got the Cubs to surrender one of the very top prospects in the game in shortstop Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman, who was a pending free agent. Another good reference point might be the trade that sent Ken Giles from the Phillies to the Astros after the 2015 season. Giles still had five seasons of team control left at the time, and Philadelphia received a package of five players, headlined by an electric young starter in Vince Velasquez.

Now, after taking a bit of a step back in 2017, Colome probably isn’t quite considered to be in the same elite tier as Miller, Chapman and Giles were. Still, despite his dip in performance in 2017, Colome should remain a very valuable asset to the Rays. He can play a big role in a team’s bullpen for the next three years. A Colome trade should see at least one top-100 prospect come back to the Rays, and if it’s only one, it should be from near the very top of a team’s prospect list. Or perhaps they could go the route they did in January of 2016, when they traded Jake McGee, who had two seasons of team control left, to the Colorado Rockies for a young Major Leaguer in Corey Dickerson.

Should The Rays Trade Colome Now?

The Rays have spent the last few years trying to walk a very fine line between both building for the future and also keeping the current team competitive enough that they had a chance to challenge for a postseason spot. If the plan for this season is again to have a team with enough talent that they could have a chance to make the playoffs if enough goes right, well, looking at their bullpen without Colome, it would difficult to take them seriously even as a Wild Card contender if they trade him. The rest of the team doesn’t look strong enough to overcome a leaky bullpen.

So, there are lots of things the Rays need to consider when thinking about trading Colome. In addition to the return, they need to think about how important contending for a playoff spot this season is to them, as well as how realistic they think that is, both with and without Colome.

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