The Tampa Bay Rays began the offseason by striking a six-player trade with the Seattle Mariners earlier this month. The latest rumors suggest they aren't done on the trade front and there are a number of pitchers that the team could make available.
The small market Rays typically look for ways to be financially shrewd and this is yet another instance of that. Rumors have already surfaced regarding the Rays drawing interest relievers Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee, but now Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes another starter could be on the way out.
"Even after dealing RHP Nathan Karns to Seattle, the Rays could still trade another starting pitcher. There is enough demand for lower-tier and controllable starters that they certainly will listen. Who would go? LHP Drew Smyly, with an arbitration number of around $4 million and shoulder issues, would seem the most likely candidate. Or maybe LHP Matt Moore, who will make $5 million this season in his last guaranteed year before three team options kick in. As usual, they will talk about anyone."
Tampa Bay still has Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi and Erasmo Ramirez, so they can certainly afford to part ways with either Smyly or Moore. In addition to their deep rotation at the MLB level, the Rays have top prospects Blake Snell, who won Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, and Brent Honeywell. Snell could make his MLB debut in 2016 and Honeywell could come next year.
Snell, 22, went 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 163 strikeouts in 25 games (23 starts), totaling 134 innings in 2015. Those outings came between High Class-A Charlotte (4), Double-A Montgomery (12) and Triple-A Durham (9).
Honeywell, 20, finished 9-6 with a 3.18 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 24 starts (130 1/3 innings) between Class-A Bowling Green (12) and High Class-A Charlotte (12).
Tampa Bay could get a decent return for Smyly or Moore, both of whom are coming off injuries but finished the 2015 season strong. Additionally, both have had success as MLB pitchers, so the Rays will likely sell them as accomplished starters.
As for Boxberger and McGee, that's another strength the Rays could afford to trade from. Reliever Danny Farquhar came over in the six-player deal with the Mariners and he could fill in (albeit less effectively) for Boxberger or McGee. Farquhar, 28, was perhaps a buy-low candidate for Tampa Bay because he endured a career-worst campaign in 2015 after going 1-8 with a 5.12 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 43 games (51 innings). However, the right-hander went 3-1 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 81 strikeouts in 66 games (71 innings) the season prior.
As a result, the Rays could perhaps afford to sell high on Boxberger or McGee. Boxberger, 27, led the AL in saves (41) and maintained a 3.71 ERA and 1.37 WHIP while striking out 74 batters in 69 games (63 innings). McGee, 29, returned in 2015 after undergoing elbow surgery in the offseason and posted a 2.41 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in 39 games (37 1/3 innings). He also logged six saves and had a 6.00 KK/BB ratio.
Tampa would perhaps prefer to move McGee, who is entering his second year of arbitration eligibility after earning $3.5 million in 2015. Boxberger is still pre-arbitration eligible.
A number of MLB clubs are in search of capable bullpen arms and that puts the Rays in a good position when initiating trade talks. Rumors have suggested some of the game's top closers (Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Mark Melancon and others) are available in a trade, so the Rays provide a much cheaper alternative (both in a trade and financially) in Boxberger and McGee.