Chaim Bloom isn't afraid to make trades. In Tampa, they're crucial to the franchise's survival.
While the Rays' draft-and-develop model has rightly received plaudits for delivering homegrown stars like Evan Longoria, David Price, and Blake Snell, the downside to producing such productive players is that eventually they'll need to be paid. And that job usually falls to someone other than the cash-strapped Rays.
How Tampa responds, however, has helped sustain its run of success as much as any draft pick. And now that the Red Sox have hired Bloom as their next head of baseball operations, it's worth diving into his trading record to see how he might simultaneously cut costs and keep Boston competitive during this looming Armageddon of an offseason.
J.D. Martinez is likely to depart in free agency, and everyone from defending MVP Mookie Betts to Gold Glove center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. will be on the market, so what Bloom receives in return will help chart a course through the rough waters ahead.
An examination of Tampa's deals since Bloom become senior vice president of baseball operations in November of 2016, working alongside GM Erik Neander, shows an executive unafraid to part ways with star players in exchange for high-ceilinged prospects, rather than established big leaguers.
But at the same time, the Rays made a series of moves on the periphery to bolster their roster that proved equally impactful, creating a conveyer belt that targeted short-term fixes who could then be flipped for short-term replacements. The constant roster churn requires supreme confidence in your ability to scout opposing organizations, as well as a strong stomach, because it means never accepting the status quo — a lesson the Red Sox wish they had learned before re-signing most of their 2018 roster — but it can yield big results.
Let's start with the two major deals on Bloom's watch: Evan Longoria and Chris Archer.
The first came on Dec. 17, 2017, when the Rays shipped their All-Star third baseman and franchise cornerstone to the Giants for three prospects, plus outfielder Denard Span.
Longoria had just started a six-year, $100 million extension that was supposed to keep him in Tampa for the rest of his career. Rays fans panned the deal for both the lackluster return and the fact that Tampa was kicking in $14.5 million towards the $80-plus million remaining on his contract.
The centerpiece was infielder Christian Arroyo, San Francisco's top prospect and a consensus top-100 pick. He has not produced in Tampa, hitting just .243 in a mere 103 at-bats. He looks like a non-factor.
Neither of the two pitching prospects Tampa acquired has reached the big leagues, but it's worth noting that Longoria's downward trajectory, which began in about 2014, has continued apace in San Francisco, where he has posted a .727 OPS in two seasons. The return may not have been encouraging, but the roughly $70 million in savings helped Tampa build a roster that won 90 games in 2018 and then 96 this year. Still, as the Red Sox consider what they might get for Betts, it had better be better than this.
Far more encouraging is what the Rays did with Archer. Another player seemingly in decline, he still had one more year on his contract, with two manageable options, when the Rays dealt him at the 2018 trade deadline to Pittsburgh.
In return, they received a pair of one-time top prospects who had fizzled — right-hander Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows — as well as right-handed prospect Shane Baz.
Talk about a home run. Glasnow transformed himself from a pitcher who walked the park in Pittsburgh (5.8/9 IP) to a frontline starter in Tampa. He went 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA in a season truncated by injury before returning for the postseason. He walked only 14 batters in 60.2 innings while striking out 76 with an upper-90s fastball and hammer curve, embracing the analytical and biomechanical data the Rays provided him as he learned to think less and trust his stuff.
Meadows, meanwhile, rose through the ranks as a consensus top-50 prospect, but he struggled in his first exposure to Triple A in 2016 and then was even worse in 2017. The Pirates quit on him, and he rewarded the Rays by blasting 33 home runs and making the All-Star team.
There's more. Baz, whom many considered the best player in the deal, just posted a 2.99 ERA at Single-A and is considered a top prospect at age 20. That's the kind of return that would ease the sting of losing even someone as talented as Betts.
The small deals have been just as important, though. The Rays turned left-hander Drew Smyly, whom they had acquired for Price in 2014, into outfielder Mallex Smith and right-hander Ryan Yarbrough. Both were major contributors in 2018, with Smith recording 40 steals and a league-leading 10 triples, and Yarbrough won 16 games while helping Tampa pioneer the opener concept.
The Rays also turned infielder Brad Miller into slugging first baseman Ji-Man Choi, swapped eventual playoff hero Nathan Eovaldi to the Red Sox for hard-throwing left-hander Jalen Beeks, recognized a logjam in the Cardinals' outfield that brought them sparkplug Tommy Pham, signed right-hander Charlie Morton to a smart short-term deal, bought lefty-masher Yandy Diaz from the Indians, and struck gold with hard-throwing reliever Emilio Pagan as part of a three-team trade.
There were misses along the way — they didn't get much for All-Star Jake Odorizzi from the Twins, for instance — but the sheer volume of moves is not only dizzying, but Exhibit A in the case Bloom can make as a far more nimble and creative executive than Dave Dombrowski, the man he will end up replacing.
In Boston, Bloom will have the resources to keep some of his better players, but based on his track record, he might not want to.
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