This past week, the Tampa Bay Rays made two moves that further enhanced the glut of outfielders that is beginning to take over its organization, signing Colby Rasmus and trading for (along with others) Mallex Smith. In the doldrums of winters, we scrounge for any kind of baseball news that will whet our appetite for when the real thing kicks off in just over a month. So, when fans see these types of deals, they naturally begin to try and connect some dots that they feel exist for their favorite team. What are these dots? Let’s put them out there:
- Tampa Bay has multiple outfielders already on the roster
- Andy MacPhail publicly says the team is looking for another bat, preferably left handed
- Tampa Bay signs Rasmus
- Tampa Bay trades for Smith
- Phillies take advantage of this depth to acquire a lefthanded outfielder to fill a possible platoon that could exist in right field
Obviously, I put that last one in italics because it
hasn’t happened yet remains a pipe dream, but still fans continue to ponder what might be.
It’s easy to see why they would dream too. The teams, on paper, match up pretty well in one regard. The Rays have outfielders and the Phillies, according to one of the guys in charge of making baseball decisions, need another one. Fans have nothing better to do, so they sit and come up with theoretical deals that, in their minds, work for both teams.
So, should the Phillies be looking south for another addition?
Again, on paper, a deal between the teams does make some sense. When the signing and trade were announced, multiple outlets discussed how puzzling the deal was since Tampa already had a stable of capable outfielders. According to rosterresource.com, their depth chart had Corey Dickerson in left field, Kevin Kiermaier in center field, and Steven Souza in right. Behind them were Mikie Mahtook to platoon with Dickerson, Nick Franklin able to play one of the corners in a pinch and any number of other replacement level players in the minors just a tweaked hamstring away. To add two more capable outfielders doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless there was another transaction in the offing.
Yet, when you look a little deeper, there doesn’t seem to be a way to make a deal that would ultimately be smart for either team. When you look for someone to plunder from the Rays’ roster, you can immediately rule out Kiermaier, whose value to a small market team is just too great to give up. Souza can also be stricken from the possibilities simply because he bats right handed. The team just spent real money on Rasmus, so that tosses him out too. That really only leaves Corey Dickerson.
He fits several of the criteria the team is looking for.
Corner outfielder? Yup.
Left handed? Uh huh!
Under control for more than one season? You betcha!
Dickerson’s 2016 was actually pretty good in its most basic form - .245/.293/.469 with 24 home runs and 70 runs batted in. Against left handers, he was ghastly (.241/.274/.315, 61 tOPS+) but against right handers, he was much more effective (.247/.297/.510, 110 tOPS+). He’d fulfill everything the team needs as a left handed portion of a platoon in right field. His glove is slightly above average (2 runs saved in left field in 2016), so he won’t be a liability in the outfield either. He’ll hit for power, but don’t ask him to draw a walk. Altogether, he makes for a more likely target. But what would he cost the Phillies in terms of players?
This is where it gets dicey. A quick scan of the roster from someone who does not follow them as closely as a person more acquainted with the group might show they need relievers, perhaps another starter, or maybe a younger catcher in case Wilson Ramos isn’t able to come back to full strength following surgery on his knee.
Do you really want to trade one of the assets the team has for someone who is about to become a really expensive platoon player? Remember, in spite of his faults, Dickerson hit 24 home runs for the Rays last year, and that would be hard pressed to be found easily. Therefore, he wouldn’t come cheap in any trade. Tampa would probably want at least a young, controllable arm in addition to a position player in any trade for Dickerson. At that price, the Phillies would be smart to move along.
In the continued search for another bat, it behooves the team to explore the free agent market more than the trade market. When it comes to adding to the team, it shouldn’t be done at the expense of players already in the system. We can talk all we want about how much pitching they have, or how playing time might not be available for all of the players in the system, but remember this: spring training hasn’t even commenced. And once that starts, the injuries start. Once they begin, the depth the team has worked so hard to acquire will be put to the test.
Trading away players at this point for anything short of a franchise player would be an exercise in impatience on the part of the front office. The team is still about giving its young players a chance to take over regular playing time before they go ahead and sign free agents to market defining contracts. So while it’s nice to think about who the team might be able to put red pinstripes next year, consider all the angles from which the team needs to work from.