The Tampa Bay Rays continued their schadenfreude offseason on Tuesday, trading 2017 team MVP Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona, in a three-team deal with the Diamondbacks and Yankees that brought them advanced level prospects.
In return Tampa Bay got 2B Nick Solak from the Yankees and LHP Anthony Banda from the Diamondbacks, plus two players to be named later from Arizona.
The trade continued the roster revamp which started when the Rays dealt Evan Longoria to the Giants in December, and continued Saturday night when Jake Odorizzi was shipped to Minnesota for a minor-league shortstop, and Corey Dickerson was designated for assignment.
So the Rays turned James Shields into Wil Myers, Myers into Trea Turner and Joe Ross, Turner and Ross into Souza, and Souza into Nick Solak and Anthony Banda. Okie dokie.
— Mike Axisa (@mikeaxisa) February 20, 2018
The Rays have dealt a player that broke through last season with the kind of all-around performance the Rays sought when they acquired Souza from Washington in 2014.
The outfielder told Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) he knows it’s hard for Rays fans with all these trades but they should have patience and faith in front office building for future. He was also thankful for the opportunity he received in Tampa Bay.
This is actually really, really hard, Souza said. There’s been a lot of emotional phone calls I’ve had from people. And I’m really going to miss a lot of people. I have nothing but great things to say about the organization and the way they’ve treated me and the patience they’ve given me and everything they’ve done. That being said, I’m extremely excited to go join a team that’s ready to contend for the World Series.
Yet in spite of the fact that the deal, on the surface, was not made to cut payroll — given the return — the deal continues an active drive to reduce the Opening Day price tag.
This was something that would be categorized much more as a baseball deal, said Rays GM Erik Neander.
Souza, who is set to make $3.55-million in 2018, indicated that finances likely were a factor in the decision, alluding to Principal Owner Stu Sternberg’s directive to cut the payroll which was pushing $80-million.
It’s a tough job that Erik really has, especially when the owner gives him the opportunity to meet a certain payroll, Souza said. They’re trying to do what’s best for the long-term future of the organization, and it’s not an easy job being the GM of a major-league team and there is a budget that’s not very realistic that they have to meet.
The trade creates a hole in the batting order — he hit 30 home runs and posted an .810 OPS last season — and in right-field, and the Rays do not have a player in the organization that appears to be the heir apparent to Souza. That is to say they will have to scour the market, free-agent or otherwise, for a right-fielder.
It, however, seems unlikely that Chris Archer or Kevin Kiermaier will be dealt to compensate for the loss, or to further reduce the payroll. Neander told Topkin (Twitter link) that they are confident they can still field a competitive team, noting there is time to make further additions. Per Topkin, they are not looking to further blow up a team that they still feel, despite the moves, can be competitive in 2018 — something Chaim Bloom reiterated with Jim Bowden:
As far as Archer and Colome, that’s not our plan. …We recognize, again, that we’re in a little bit of a transition phase as we focus on building up that young core, but we don’t want to ignore that we have a pretty dynamic group.
Neander’s message was the same.
I would say extremely unlikely. Our focus at this point is we’d like to add a little bit. We’re not looking to pull this thing back.
On Banda and Solak
Banda, 24, was ranked the Diamondback’s number two prospect by Baseball America. He made his big-league debut in 2017 and went 2-3, 5.96.
Erik Longenhagen (FanGraphs) scouted Banda:
In 2017, Banda struggled at notoriously unforgiving Triple-A Reno, where he posted a 5.39 ERA. He made a spot start in Arizona in July and then was up again in August for a three-start look before he finished the year in the D-backs bullpen. Despite his poor on-paper production in 2017, his stuff remains intact and he profiles as a No. 4 starter. Banda sits 92-95 and will touch 96 with his fastball. He has an above-average changeup that he should probably throw more often and an average curveball in the 77-82 mph range. In light of what’s going on with Tampa Bay right now, he’ll probably exceed rookie limitations in 2017. He’s a 50 FV prospect who appeared within the honorable-mention section of our top-100 list.
Solak, 23, was ranked the 12th best prospect in the Yankees’ farm system. He split last season between advanced Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, hitting .297 with 12 homers, 53 RBIs and an .835 OPS.
Longenhagen also scouted Solak:
Solak was a hit-first second-base prospect with elite makeup at Louisville and was targeted by the Yankees (and other teams) as a high-probability big leaguer who might also take an underslot deal. The Yankees signed him for $950,000, about $100,000 below slot, as a second-rounder in 2016.
After slashing .301/.397/.460 at High-A Tampa for much of the year, Solak finished 2017 with Double-A Trenton. He’s a plus runner and is at least an average defender at second base with a chance to be a 55. He puts a surprising charge into the baseball for his size, but his swing is flat-planed and leads to hard, low-lying contact. He’s a 45 FV prospect who either needs a mechanical tweak to tap into more power or to outhit the current 60 projected on his bat to soundly profile as a regular.
Both players will join Major-League camp in Port Charlotte, with Banda having the better chance of breaking camp with the Rays.