Ever since the offseason began, there has been a big discussion surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays on whether they would trade their surplus of pitching for a bat. They have been looking to trade a starter for a while now, but apparently haven't found a deal.
During the winter, the Rays really had three roster holes they needed to fill: catcher, first base and DH. Somewhat surprisingly, they turned to the free-agent market for their needs. The Rays snagged veteran backstop Jose Molina, signed left-handed slugger Luke Scott to be their DH and brought back first baseman Carlos Pena.
The front office got the job done, but were there better options on the trade market?
The fact is that the Rays have eight legitimate starters for 2012, and probably more in 2013. James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Alex Torres and Alex Cobb could all make an Opening Day MLB rotation on most other teams, while prospect Chris Archer will definitely be in that mix soon.
The Rays offense is weaker than their outstanding starting pitching, so it would make a lot of sense to trade at least one starter for a hitter when you have three "extra" starters.
The Rays clearly possess the necessary pieces in order to construct a deal, but who could they have traded for during the offseason? Three names immediately come to mind: first baseman/outfielder Yonder Alonso, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and catcher Yasmani Grandal. The two best first base prospects in all of baseball and a top prospect catcher were all traded this winter on deals the Rays could have very easily made.
In the deal that sent Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal to the Padres, San Diego only gave up their No. 1 starter (Mat Latos) in exchange for both of them and two more arms (Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger) from Cincinnati. With the starting pitching the Rays have, there were plenty of ways the Rays could have traded for both Alonso and Grandal if the Reds were looking for just one good arm to add to their rotation.
As for Anthony Rizzo, he was traded to the Cubs in exchange for minor league pitcher Andrew Cashner. Looking at who Chicago gave away for Rizzo, there's absolutely no way that Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb or Alex Torres could not bring this future star first baseman to Tampa Bay.
This trio's big bats seem like they would have been a perfect addition to the Rays roster, but how would they actually fit on the team? If Luke Scott and Carlos Pena were never signed, we can assume that Alonso and Rizzo would be able to play DH and first base for the 2012 season. With Rizzo being the better defensive first baseman, he would likely man first while Alonso would be the DH.
As for Yasmani Grandal, he would be the backup catcher behind Molina and would get a significant amount of playing time. Looking at the Rays' catching situation behind Molina; they probably wish they had him now.
The Rays would obviously have to choose either the Rizzo/Alonso combination or the Pena/Scott combination (or possibly a mixture), so which would be the better decision? There are plus sides and negative sides to both decisions.
With the Scott/Pena combo (which is having a great start to the season by the way) the Rays have now, there is a bit of a long-term concern. Pena will be a free agent after the 2012 season, and Scott will be a free agent in 2013.
If the Rays signed both Alonso and Rizzo to long-term deals, they would have better security at the DH and first base positions. We know how Andrew Friedman loves to lock up young talented players long-term, which is the main reason why I think this would have been a good deal for the Rays.
However, I believe that the Rays offense may be a bit better short-term with Scott and Pena in the roster.
It's too early in the season to say anything for sure, but Scott and Pena have much more experience and have proven what they can do at the big league level. The short-term aspect is why I think the Rays chose Scott and Pena. They've made it very clear they're going for it all this season.
What I find the most surprising in the Rays search to trade a starter is that they still haven't made a deal to bring in a catcher to backup Molina. Not surprisingly, the Rays are still searching for a backup catcher. According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Tampa has been pushing to acquire Oakland's Kurt Suzuki, but Billy Beane isn't very interested in Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis.
The Rays will most likely sign somebody eventually, but it may not be via trade. Ivan Rodriguez is one free-agent catcher that the Rays pursue. If the Rays don't decide to turn to free agency for their catching needs, who could they trade for?
Ryan Hanigan and Travis D'Arnaud could be two future possibilities. Hanigan—who the Rays have already discussed acquiring—has a questionable future in Cincinnati because of the emergence of top prospect catcher Devin Mesoraco.
D'Arnaud—who's also a top prospect catcher—may not have a future in Toronto because J.P Arencibia, who has established himself as the team's starting catcher there. The Blue Jays have already discussed trading him, which is why I wouldn't be surprised to see the Rays go after him.
The Rays have waited to find the right deal to trade some of their young pitching talent, but I think they'll find some better opportunities as the trade deadline nears. It's still too early in the season to conclude that the Rays have been overly hesitant to trade away their pitching surplus.
What matters is what the front office decides to do in the future, and I think we'll see the trade many have been anticipating once the deadline arrives.