In-Season Trades Have Paid Off for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018

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ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 15: Members of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrate a win over the Oakland Athletics in a baseball game at Tropicana Field on September 15, 2018 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

The Tampa Bay Rays have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2018 MLB season. They’ve been particularly good as of late, winning 24 of their last 30 games. The Rays woke up on August 19th with a record of 62-61. They’re currently 86-67.

As much turnover as Tampa Bay’s roster saw over the offseason, it’s also seen a significant amount of change throughout the course of the season, too. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the results have also changed. As the results would show, it seems many of the changes were for the better. Let’s take a look how a few of the Rays’ trades this season have worked out.

In-Season Trades Have Paid Off for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018

June 10: Rays trade IF Brad Miller to the Milwaukee Brewers for 1B/DH Ji-Man Choi

After hitting 30 home runs in 2016, Brad Miller had a down season last year. The Rays were then underwhelmed by his performance throughout the first two months of this season, too. So, they designated him for assignment on June 7th and called up top first base prospect Jake Bauers.

A few days later, the Rays traded Miller to the Milwaukee Brewers for Ji-Man Choi. Choi was initially optioned to the Triple-A Durham Bulls, where he spent a month before being called up on July 11th. Choi’s been getting regular DH at-bats since then, and in the 45 games he’s played for the Rays, his bat has been a huge addition to the lineup. Choi is hitting .274/.363/.516 with eight home runs, 12 doubles and 27 RBI in 182 plate appearances, good for a 141 wRC+. The 27-year-old also has five more seasons of team control.

Meanwhile, Miller was also initially sent down by the Brewers. He was eventually called up and played in 27 games for Milwaukee. Miller slashed .230/.288/.378 with two home runs (74 wRC+) before being released on July 31st. He is currently still a free agent.

July 31: Rays trade OF Justin Williams, LHP Genesis Cabrera, and RHP Roel Ramirez to the St. Louis Cardinals for OF Tommy Pham

Expected to be sellers, the Rays kicked off the non-waiver trade deadline day with a somewhat shocking trade, trading a few prospects to acquire a guy who finished 11th in National League MVP voting last year and won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season. With the St. Louis Cardinals still in the playoff race, no one expected them to trade away a guy like Tommy Pham. However, with their outfield depth, and with Pham having a bit of a down season, they felt he became expendable.

Well, since coming to Tampa Bay, Pham has looked like the guy he was last year. Through 29 games he’s hitting .348/.437/.609 with five home runs, 15 extra-base hits and 18 RBI in 135 plate appearances. That’s good for a 185 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR already. The Rays weren’t close enough to a playoff spot to acquire any rentals at this year’s deadline. With Pham controllable for another three years, though, that trade seemed to be an announcement by the Rays that they plan on contending soon. Pham is proving he can help them do that.

July 31: Rays trade RHP Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF Austin Meadows, RHP Tyler Glasnow and RHP Shane Baz

Aside from the Pham deal, the Rays did behave like the sellers people expected them to be at the deadline. That included finally pulling the trigger on the long-rumored Chris Archer trade, sending him to the Pittsburgh Pirates. For a couple of years, Archer was one of the most promising young pitchers in the game. However, in 17 starts for the Rays this season, he was just 3-5 with a 4.31 ERA. With him running an ERA over four for a third straight year, the Rays decided now was the time to trade Archer before his value diminished any further.

They may not have gotten as much as they once could have, but they look to have still done pretty well with their return for Archer. The 25-year-old Tyler Glasnow has slid into the rotation spot vacated by Archer, and although his numbers (1-4, 4.06 ERA, 4.07 FIP) through nine starts may not be amazing, his numbers really hurt because of one disastrous outing against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on September 5th, where he was charged with seven earned runs and didn’t make it out of the first inning. Over his other eight starts, Glasnow’s ERA is 2.71.

The Rays assigned Austin Meadows to Durham, where he was a monster. Meadows slashed .344/.396/.771 over 27 games. He also belted 10 home runs in just 106 plate appearances. That performance was good for a 223 wRC+. The 23-year-old was recently part of Tampa Bay’s final round of September call-ups after the Bulls’ season ended. While the Rays may not have gotten a look at Meadows in the big leagues yet, he did fairly well in a 49-game stint with the Pirates earlier this season. Meadows slashed .292/.327/.468 with five home runs and 13 RBI in 165 plate appearances (111 wRC+).

The 19-year-old Shane Baz later came to the Rays as the player to be named later in the trade. The 12th-overall pick of the 2017 draft joined the rookie-level Princeton Rays of the Appalachian League. He’s not close to contributing in the Majors, but he does have promise. Baz is ranked by MLB.com as the #6 prospect in the Rays’ organization.

Meanwhile, Archer has continued to frustrate with the Pirates. Through nine starts he’s 2-3 with a 4.86 ERA and 4.30 FIP. That’s Pittsburgh’s problem now, though, not Tampa Bay’s.

Looking Back

It’s not just the trades the Rays have made during the season that have worked out for them. Back in the offseason, the Rays gutted the core of their team from last year. Tampa Bay traded away guys like Evan Longoria, Steven Souza Jr., Corey Dickerson, and Jake Odorizzi. Though the Rays may not have gotten much yet from any of the players they got back in those trades, they also haven’t really missed any of those guys.

Odorizzi (2.6 fWAR) and Dickerson (2.3 fWAR) have had decent years, but Longoria (0.7 fWAR) and Souza (-0.2 fWAR) have both had pretty bad ones, and the Rays shed roughly $26 million in salary this year by trading those players. Besides, they wouldn’t even have room for Dickerson in the outfield or at DH anymore, and the Rays have been using openers instead of mediocre starters like Odorizzi this year, a strategy that has worked out well for them.

Trading those players was part of what led some people to suggest the Rays were tanking this season. They denied that and insisted they were going to be better than people expected, but I can’t imagine even they thought they were going to win 90+ games, which they have a real chance to do.

Moving Forward

The Rays’ players deserve credit for the way many of them have exceeded expectations this season. Manager Kevin Cash also deserves a lot of credit for the way he successfully implemented some out-of-the-box strategies. The Rays will go into 2019 with more optimism around the team than there’s been in several years, and general manager Erik Neander and Tampa Bay’s front office deserve a lot of credit for making some really good trades to complement their young talent that has emerged this season. Now an interesting offseason awaits them, as for really the first time since 2014, the 2019 season will be one where anything short of the postseason will be considered a disappointment for the Rays.
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