For the first two or three weeks of the season, the Tampa Bay Rays thought they had a bona fide leadoff hitter. Here was Sam Fuld, one of the spoils of the Matt Garza trade, tearing up American League pitching. There was a brief period where "Super Sam" led the league in batting average by a few points over Alex Rodriguez. But just like A-Rod, Fuld's performance has fallen off a cliff.
His defensive value is unquestioned - he has a 4.4 UZR, one of the best marks in baseball. But his .284 on-base percentage and 6.8% walk rate are hardly numbers one would like to see out of the leadoff spot. But this article is not about Fuld's struggles. This is about what the Rays should do to get themselves a leadoff hitter.
It is a move that would be unprecedented in the team's history. For a low-budget team, making this move would be risky, eye-opening, and frankly un-Rayslike.
I am proposing that the Rays make a trade for Jose Reyes.
Obviously, the logistics of this deal would be the key. The Mets have already been ripped off once by the Rays (see Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano), and will probably keep that in mind. But this is a very doable trade.
The price to get Reyes would be twofold. For one, the Rays would need to absorb his post-trade salary. If he is traded on July 31st, that would mean the Rays would be paying him $3.67 million for two months of baseball. To put that number in perspective, he would be making $1 million more for two months of baseball than David Price will make for the whole year.
But it's a cost that can be absorbed. There is absolutely zero chance of the Rays keeping Reyes past the 2011 season, so further contract obligations are no issue. It can be assumed that continued production from Reyes will net him a deal worth at least $13-15 million per year.
If the Rays deem his monetary price worthy, the next issue is the players to give up. The Rays have one of the richest farm systems in baseball, and are counting on it to give them their future base of players. The Rays have never been a team to deal for the short term. But the Mets, who are approaching a period of financial uncertainty and face a fire sale of players such as David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Reyes, are going to be looking for good prospects.
There are only three prospects in the Rays' system that are truly untouchable--Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Desmond Jennings. The Rays would ideally like to keep Chris Archer, Jake McGee, and Alex Colome. But their mid-tier prospects are definitely worth the price of Reyes.
With the Mets in fairly good shape in terms of minor league hitting, they will be in the market for good young arms. So who can the Rays offer?
Beyond someone like Archer or Colome, one option is Alex Torres, acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade (the Angels one, not Mets). The lefty has had some control issues but shows a promising future. There are a plethora of pitchers beyond Torres that could be offered, including Alex Cobb, Enny Romero, Jake Thompson, and Nick Barnese. But in all likelihood, Archer or Colome would have to be included in the deal. The more likely to go is Colome.
It would probably take two minor league pitchers, one minor league hitter, and a major league player to make this deal. So who are the hitters?
The most likely candidate would be Robinson Chirinos, a talented catcher who was great in Spring Training but is in a logjam at the position in Tampa Bay. And from the big league team, the first name that would come up is Sean Rodriguez, a versatile player who has the potential to be a great everyday player for the Mets.
So this is what the deal looks like:
Mets trade: Jose Reyes, SS
Rays trade: Sean Rodriguez, Util., Robinson Chirinos, C, Enny Romero, LHP, Alexander Colome, RHP
Okay, so the trade goes through. What's the impact on the Rays?
Right now, Rays shortstops (Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson) are hitting .216 with 2 home runs and 13 RBI. Their combined WAR is only 0.3. Clearly, that is not good production.
Adding Reyes and his .322/.375/.475 line would give the Rays the best leadoff man in the AL East. He has already stolen 16 bases and is arguably playing his best baseball since 2008. He will be 28 in a few weeks, so there is no real risk of a performance dropoff.
And who knows? Playing on a defensive-minded team could help Reyes return back to the days of positive UZR and Gold Glove-caliber defense. Regardless, Reyes would be a huge upgrade at shortstop. Look at the Rays' lineup with Reyes as opposed to without (with a few of my own tweaks):
|Player (old)||Position||wOBA||Player (new)||Position||wOBA|
It's almost rhetorical to ask which lineup looks better. Right now, the Rays have one of basbeall's best middle of the lineup. But without a viable leadoff hitter, the 3-4-5-6 hitters of the Rays are being put at an automatic disadvantage. With Reyes and Damon at the top of the lineup, the table should almost always be set for Joyce, Longoria, and Zobrist to drive in runs.
Listen, no one expected the Rays to be this good this year. They may be playing over their heads right now, but that doesn't matter. If the Rays are holding onto first place, or even still in the hunt around the trade deadline, this deal should be seriously considered.
Fan support is dwindling and TV ratings are down. What better way to spark fan interest by going out and making a blockbuster trade?
The Rays have the means to execute this trade. They have the reasons. Now, like Nike, they need to just do it.