Ask Gary: Are the Rays good enough at trading?

by Gary Shelton on April 13, 2019 · 4 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays

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Saturday, 3 a.m.

The Rays appear to have made an absolute steal in the Chris Archer trade as they picked up 2 young players who appear to be future stars while giving up a guy who wasn’t getting it done for them. On the other hand the Mike Zunino trade has the makings of a flop. They get a catcher who can’t hit a lick and give up a promising talent in Mallex Smith. How do you judge the ability of the Rays management to identify talent to trade for and pull off successful trades that will build the foundation of a winning team which is so critical for this franchise since they are not able to sign top level free agents with their limited budget?

Larry Beller

Larry, I’ll certainly agree that Zunino hasn’t impressed with his bat, but isn’t the middle of April a little early to proclaim a player to be a flop? The Rays have yet to play a tenth of their season.

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I was talking to a Rays’ executive about another trade this off-season, and he reminded me that a roster only has so many slots. The team evidently thought taht Mallex wouldn’t be able to reproduce last year’s numbers since they thought other players would be better. So far this year, Smith is hitting 52 points lower than he did a year ago. With a .244 average, he probably wouldn’t play a lot in an outfield of Meadows, Pham and Kiermaier. I suspect there will be more trades like that as the top-level prospects pass the second-best prospects.

The Rays have done okay with their trades, especially when you consider the limited budget of the team.  But the trade for Pham was terrific. So far, Diaz and Garcia have had their moments. And no one can quibble with Glasnow and Meadows.

But I don’t think the Rays are going to get good because of trades, either. They aren’t swapping blue-chips for blue-chips. No one is offering Mike Trout for Wilmer Font.

I liked Andrew Friedman when he worked here. He used to admit the Rays weren’t criticism-proof. Sure, they’ve missed on a lot of trades, too. That happens when you’re trading yesterday’s bargain for tomorrow’s.

Still, the Rays have done okay in adding a piece here or there (Matt Duffy, Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows). If you look at the players they’ve dealt, there really aren’t a lot that the team really, really misses. C.J. Cron is hitting only .241 with no home runs, for instance. Corey Dickerson had a fine season last year for Pittsburgh, but this year, he’s hitting .154 with two homers.

We can agree on this, Larry. The Rays have to be smart to compete. They have to make a rare free agent acquisition (Charlie Morton). They have to make a good trade (Pham, Meadows) now and then. And they have to develop their own players (Blake Snell, Willy Adames). They have no margin for error.

Still, it’s hard to say they failed in any of those areas lately. You don’t win 90 games by accident.

Yes, it’s early, but the returns on the Archer trade look pretty good for the Rays. Meadows and Glasnow are playing like all stars, and Archer still has a ways to go to be a .500 career pitcher. Shane Baz is still only 19, and he’s the one the Pirates were hesitant to trade. I’m enjoying sticking it to our relatives in Pittsburgh – so far.

Peter Ford

I have a feeling there are speed bumps ahead. Meadows has been great, and Glasnow gets better all the time. But a time is coming when Meadows falls into a slump and Glasnow gets no run support.

But, yeah. I think the Rays would make that trade every day for a month if they could.

From Pittsburgh’s viewpoint, that trade never made any sense to me. Why would you trade an outfield prospect and a pitcher with potential for a high priced, underproducing pitcher? Especially when you aren’t bound for the playoffs.

Hey, I like Archer. He’s a thoughtful guy. But I always thought he was more impressed by his stuff than by getting people out. I think Pittsburgh will regret this trade for a long time.

Chris Davis is currently in the throes of a MLB all-time record batting slump of 0 for 50 (0 for 21 to end the 2018 season and 0 for 29 through 4/10/2019 this season).  During your Miami and Tampa Bay careers did you ever cover a professional athlete in such a terrible funk, and if so, can you share your experiences?

Scott Myers

Has there ever been a player who was that lousy for that long? I mean, I’ve covered some bad players (Josh Freeman, Trent Dilfer, Sabby Piscatelli), but they were usually long gone from the lineup by the time they went 0-for-50.

That’s the thing that sets Davis apart; he keeps getting at-bats. Put it this way: Since 2014 (when Davis was 28), he’s hit .212. This is a guy hitting $23 million a year.

I think the closest thing I’ve ever seen were the sudden disappearance of ability by players like Rick Ankiel, Mark Wohlers and Steve Blass. Steve Sax also had his problems.

With the Tampa Bay teams, however, most of the players who have been bad were so bad so fast (Charles McRae, Dewon Brazelton, Booker Reese, Trent Dilfer, Josh Freeman, Roberto Aguayo) that they were gone before you could see them suffer.

Keep an eye on Ronald Jones, however. He could end up being historically bad.

Who would you prefer to have coaching your team in the playoffs — Jon Cooper or John Tortorella?

Jim Willson

Before this week, I think we would have all said Jon Cooper. Torts has won just two playoff series since winning the Cup in 2004.

If you’re fair, though, you’d have to acknowledge that Cooper has as many (more?) stars than Torts had, and he inherited a better team. He has better ownership and a better front office. None of that is taking anything away from Coop, who has 64 playoff wins and has reached the Final Four three times.

But so far, this has been a series to remind you that Torts is pretty darned good, isn’t he? Funny. When Oren Koulis fired Torts with the Lightning, he wondered if a fire-and-brimstone guy would ever coach again. That was more than 700 games ago.

The Lightning rested many of their starters at the end of the season. The move makes sense; you want them to be fresh. But they played poorly in the first playoff game. Would you have rested the veterans or given them more regular playing time?

Richard Kinning

Richard, the decision to rest starters or play them to keep them sharp is one of those ongoing arguments. If a team loses, it’s always assumed they failed in their judgment. I remember the Colts, more than anyone, who suffered after resting starters.

But I’ll be honest, Richard. I don’t think it had a thing to do with the Lightning loss. Hey, they were ahead 3-0. They led 3-2 and had a four-minute power play (and gave up a shorthanded goal). What? The layoff affected them only after they took a 3-0 lead?

I think the reason they lost is that Andrei Vasilevskiy didn’t play well, nor did  Steven Stamkos, nor did Nikita Kucherov, nor did Victor Hedman, nor did the power play. I do wonder if they took their foot off the gas after getting a big lead, if they assumed that a 3-0 lead was insurmountable.

You?

The Lightning was badly outplayed the last two periods. They got complacent after the three-goal lead. You can’t let up in the playoffs after one period. If they don’t play 60 minutes next time, it will happen again.

Peter Ford

I thought they had enough chances in the second period, but the third period was a tragedy. The team simply fell apart. They gave up far too many breakaways, and their stars didn’t play like stars.

I do agree there was complacency in the final period. It backed the Lightning up to the ledge, and it left us all to define just how bad a collapse this would be.

Frankly, it would be historic. I wrote this Friday, but I do think the Bolts will win this series. But the next series against Boston or Toronto? We’ll see.

With the Rays off to a good start and the Bolts in the playoffs, will there be much interest in the Bucs’ draft? I hope so; I miss having a winning pro football team in town. Its been a long time.

Richard Kinning

Richard, there will always be interest in the Bucs draft. Even in those years when they have picked a stinker, fans were interested. Later, they were disappointed, but they certainly were interested.

Yes, the Bolts are playing well. And if they can get back into their series against the Blue Jackets, they’ll get attention. The Rays are off to a great start, but it’s early in the season.

There is plenty of time to pay attention to three teams. You don’t have to divide them into eight-hour shifts each day. You’ll care about the Bucs whether they take a linebacker or a cornerback or a defensive end. Then you’ll care about how Kucherov is playing. Then you’ll care about Blake Snell.

That’s the beauty of being a sports fan. You can care about all of it. And if Steve Yzerman indeed leaves the Bolts, or if the Rays trade Matt Duffy, or if the Bucs don’t bring back Gerald McCoy, we’ll care about those things, too.

I have a theory on why the Lightning lost the first game. I wore the old jersey, the one that the team had under Tortorella. That won’t happen again, Its new Lightning swag from here on out. Not that I am superstitious or anything like that.

Richard Kinning

So you were the guy who let in four goals? I knew it must be someone’s fault. I’m as willing as anyone to blame you.

And whose jersey did you wear Friday night? Kokusai Green’s?

Seriously, that’s part of the charm of being a fan. You convince yourself that you have to sit in the same chair, and eat the same popcorn, and drink out of the same glass or your team is in trouble.

Logically? We all know that if Richard had worn a different jersey, it wouldn’t have mattered. But why tempt fate?

By the way, we’ll be checking your clothing in the future.

After a Hall of Fame NHL career, I really enjoy listening to Phill
Esposito do the color on the radio. As an old hockey player, he tells it like it is, albeit cleaned up for radio. Have you ever interviewed Phil? It would be interesting to read his thoughts about getting the Bolts here in Tampa and his journey with the team.

Richard Kinning

I’ve interviewed Phil a million times. He actually wrote an expert’s piece for the website for a while. We talked about doing a book at one point.

I love Phil. He’s bright, and he’s funny, and every sentence from his mouth is a great story about the old days, about  Howe or Orr or someone. I did a piece with him after his daughter Carrie died, and it broke my heart.

I was sitting in Phil’s office one day, and he was reading me the riot act. Phil never spared his opinion of what you had written, and he was raising cain. In the middle of his anger, he got a telephone call and he took it. They put him on hold, and he grinned at me and showed me a picture of a lovely young woman. Phil was single at the time, and he whispered “That’s my girlfriend.” At that was Phil. The world was too great for him to stay mad at you.

In the first playoff game the Bolts ever played, they gave up a goal 55 seconds into the game in a 7-3 loss to Philadelphia. I wrote something like …”Well, it was good for 55 seconds.” That drove Phil crazy.He pulled me into the team’s restroom the next day so he could yell at me. I guess he like the acoustics.

But Phil is great. He never stays angry with you. There are a few obscene stories I could tell, but I won’t.

A true story. In the media workroom, the game is of course always being televised. But the sound is turned to Phil. We laugh out loud as he’ll moan “what in the blazes are you thinking?” Or “For crying out loud, ref. Call something!”

To me, Phil is one of the great characters in Tampa Bay sports history. And don’t forget. Without him, the Lightning never comes here.

With the XFL having a team in Tampa next year which pro football coach will have a better record the Bucs’ Bruce Arians or the XFL’s Marc Trestman?

Richard Kinning

Interesting question. If your question was who the better coach was, I wouldn’t hesitate. It’s Arians. He’s won at a higher level than Trestman has. There is no comparison between their careers.

But as far as next year? I’d say Trestman will have the better record.

Why? Trestman is starting on an even field. He’ll play every game against a minor-league expansion team. He doesn’t have to worry about a salary cap or play against quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. We still don’t know his players, but right now, every team in the XFL has the same chance of winning.

Arians? He’s inherited a team with a historically bad pass coverage unit, a team with a quarterback who can be shaky, a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2007. Every team in their division is better than the Bucs. In fact, only four teams in the league were worse than the Bucs last year.

If you’re fair,  it’s going to take Arians a couple of years. But when they win, we’ll all care more about them than the XFL.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard April 15, 2019 at 3:49 pm

I would love to have seen that book about Phil Esposito. Maybe someday it will still happen. The stories will just be that much better. I always wondered if Phil though his brother was hard to score against. Tony is a hall of fame goalie, but then they were brothers so you may never get the truth.

Reply

Gary Shelton April 15, 2019 at 9:49 pm

They’re very close, and they’ll tell you about some wild times off the ice. Family is important to Phil. Unless he’s joking, you’ll never hear a bad word about Tony.

Reply

Larry Beller April 13, 2019 at 7:40 am

So I was going for an overall evaluation of how the Rays were doing with their trade efforts. For the record I’m not labeling the Zunino trade a flop because he is off to a slow start which is not surprising for a guy who is a .205 career hitter. I didn’t like the trade to begin with and Zunino’s performance to date only confirms that. Zunino’s offense for his entire career is not good. The Rays gave up a young player coming off a great season. That’s too much.

But the Rays value defense so highly they don’t seem to care that one of the guys in their lineup is going to be an automatic out. It’s his defense that they like. Zunino is never going to be a good hitter or even mediocre hitter, but that’s not why the Rays got him. I just don’t think you can have a black hole in the lineup on a team that is not normally very strong offensively to start with.

However the Rays have made a lot of good moves over the years and especially recently. I’d have to disagree with you that the Rays can’t trade their way to being a good team. The reality is that’s exactly what they try to do when they swap out a guy who’s salary is too high for them and trade for what they hope will be future stars in return. That and developing their own talent of which they are doing a better job of late, is how they build their roster.

It seems like they scout for talent on other teams more than most organizations. I could be wrong on that but they certainly make more trades than most teams. Whatever they are doing is working pretty well.

But I still think they slip up when they take their defensive mantra to the extreme. I know you won’t give me that point but that’s just how I see it.

Reply

Gary Shelton April 13, 2019 at 10:22 am

I’ll certainly give you that point, Larry. I know run prevention is huge. But I’ve always thought the Rays defended bad catchers with such vague praises of “well, he frames pitches really well.” So what catcher doesn’t try to frame pitches, and is that skill really going to get a team to the playoffs.

I still think the Rays won’t trade themselves into success. They’ve made some decent ones — the trade for a young Ben Zobrist worked out, didn’t it. But when you’re forced to make a trade because of a contract, you often don’t get back full value. And again, they aren’t trading Mike Trout most years. Trades can be a part of getting better, but only a part.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t like the Zunino trade, either. I know he’ll be better than he has been, but he won’t be an offensive threat.I liked Mallex Smith. My problem is that, even if they didn’t have room for him, I wonder if they could have gotten more for him.But not being privvy to their talks, it’s hard for me to say they could have gotten more for him. Maybe we should say they should have gotten more.

But, Larry, one of the great things about you is your analysis of all things about your team. Don’t stop that, even when we disagree. Especially when we do.

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