For awhile, it was unclear which would arrive first – the completion of the Jason Bartlett trade or Christmas but the Rays and Padres have finally completed the long-discussed trade. What started out as a swap of Bartlett for two relievers became Bartlett and a player to be named later for the same two relievers, an additional one, and a potential utility player.
I will be honest and say I would have done this trade for Adam Russell alone. As R.J. Anderson stated last week:
Russell is a massive man (6’8”) with a mid-90s fastball that sinks and has good movement. He’s tallied 54 career big league innings with a sound groundball (45.2%) and whiff (9.1%) rates. He turns 28 in April, but age is mostly irrelevant with pitchers – especially relievers. In his Triple-A career he averaged eight strikeouts per nine and four walks per nine as well. By the way, his FIP during his big league time? 2.90.
Russell is just the type of live arm the Rays need in the bullpen. He does come to the Rays out of minor league options with some control issues and just 54 innings of big league experience under his belt, but that situation is reminiscent of Grant Balfour’s career when the Rays acquired him in 2007. Milwaukee had just designated Balfour for assignment in mid-2007 when the Rays traded Seth McClung to the Brewers to acquire the hard throwing righty. Balfour had 71 innings of major league experience at that time with a 9.8 K/9 but a 5.3 BB/9, a 1.4 HR/9, and a 5.22 ERA. Russell comes to the Rays with a 9.0 K/9, a 4.3 BB/9, and has allowed just one major league home run in his career. I had the fortune of sitting next to both ESPN’s Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein at the Winter Meetings earlier this month and when I asked both about Russell, “good live arm,” was the shared response. Law even put up a story (subscription required) tonight that makes a reference to Russell being a Balfour replacement
Cesar Ramos, like Adam Russell, was a former first round draft pick but that pick has proven to be more of a signability move rather than one on talent. Ramos’ appeal in the deal is that he is left-handed and Ramos gives the Rays four options for left-handed relief on the 40 man roster between himself, Howell, Jake McGee, and the Rule 5 pick Cesar Cabral. Ramos’ numbers against lefties have improved each of the last three seasons which speaks bodes well for a division that has a lot of left-handed power hitters:
- 2008: .292/.343/.398
- 2009: .238/.333/.317
- 2010: .216/.281/.319
Brandon Gomes (no relation to Jonny) is the intriguing piece of the new additions to this deal. Gomes comes out of Tulane University and has been with the Padres organization for the past four seasons. He has a career strikeout rate of 9.9 in the minors having struck out 324 batters in 295 innings. He spent both 2009 and 2010 in AA and dominated batters in the Texas League striking out 193 of them in just 144 innings while allowing just 106 hits. He throws pretty hard but is said to have a very good splitter which helps him pile up his numbers. That said, warning flags should go up for a pitcher that repeats AA for two consecutive seasons without sniffing AAA and Law chimes in on Twitter with Gomes’ flaws. I can’t help but think of former Devil Ray Chad Orvella when looking at Gomes’ report as they are similar in height, and both had high strikeout rates in the minors while featuring good breaking pitches. Hopefully for the Rays, Gomes shows better durability and control than Orvella did as he reached AAA and eventually the major leagues.
Cole Figueroa is a former Florida Gator that has not played above High A ball for the Padres. He has a career .397 OBP in the minors which is to be expected of a hitter with collegiate experience playing in the lower levels. He will report to AA for the Rays in 2011 but scouts project him with a reserve ceiling, at best.
The way to view this trade is to understand the Rays moved their more expensive shortstop who was inferior to Reid Brignac both defensively and offensively thus cutting roughly $4.0m from the team payroll while acquiring three bullpen arms that could all potentially see time in the 2011 bullpen. Russell is a lock to open the season with the club since he is out of options while Gomes and Ramos will have to compete against whatever other arms Andrew Friedman acquire. The team retains several years of control out of these guys while Bartlett would have been gone by the end of the 2011 season as a free agent. At this time, the demand for shortstops exceeds the supply on the free agent market which allowed the Rays to get a quantity type of return to this package.
Simply put, if Russell continues to build on his under-the-radar success, this trade is a sure win for the Rays especially if Brignac continues to blossom. If anyone else in this deal contributes in the future, it is just icing on the cake. You’ll recall that Brignac was once rumored to be unavailable in negotiations as the Rays attempted to acquire Jason Bay in 2008 from the Pirates. The rumored request from Pittsburgh was Jeff Niemann and Reid Brignac for Bay. At the time, many fans wanted that deal to happen and as is often said, sometimes the best deals are the ones you do not make. Niemann has proven his worth for the most part and now it is Brignac’s turn to show fans why the organization has steadfastly held onto him through three straight trade deadlines and hot stove seasons ignoring cries from the fanbase for action.