I’ve always been drawn to the Tampa Bay Rays. Just like the Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates, for example, they deal with a precious fraction of the resources most other Major League clubs are afforded.
Particularly regarding our friends in the junior Florida peninsula (of a peninsula), I greatly admired the way Andrew Friedman and Matt Silverman made a World Series team out of historically depleted capital. When I was supposed to be reading My Name is Asher Lev in school (the irony!), I instead obsessed with Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2%. There’s an Albert Pujols story that will make your head explode.
The Rays —like Billy Beane’s A’s up until the Jeff Samardzija travesty (that he then followed with the Josh Donaldson debacle)— always seemed to be one step ahead of the market. With such restrictions, they had to be.
The way they stole Scott Kazmir from the Angels or completely sniped Ben Zobrist from the Astros, then Chris Archer five years later from the Cubs. Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young. Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi for James Shields and Wade Davis. Carlos Pena for nothing.
Unfortunately, recent trades in Tampa Bay’s franchise history have left a lot to be desired. Though Willy Adames has fulfilled their wildest hopes and dreams as a stud prospect, their return from the Tigers for David Price in 2014 (not a free agent for two summers) was remarkably shallow. (the club also acquired starting pitcher Drew Smyly and the positionless Nick Franklin)
Months after this deal, they made their biggest blunder. Myers, who they acquired in from Kansas City in 2013, was coming off a Rookie of the Year season, soaring past expectations as a top 10 prospect and earning extremely high praise from Manager Joe Maddon. (I don’t need to defend the credibility of that statement because it’s Joe Maddon)
As it would turn out. Myers’ 2014 was as horrendous as his 2013 was great. After slashing .293/.354/.478, he dipped to .222/.294/.320 in ‘14, effectively de-shining him as a prospect, player and franchise cornerstone.
Tampa Bay put him on the market and quickly found a suitor in the San Diego Padres. What the Padres sent —prospects Trea Turner and Joe Ross— was a lot to give but a price worthy of Myers’ potential. However, that dynamite duo was going to the Washington Nationals, not the Rays. The Nationals therefore sent Steven Souza, Jr. (mostly known at this point for saving Jordan Zimmerman’s no-hitter) to the Rays, who would also receive first baseman youngster Jake Bauers and pitcher Burch Smith, whose floated in the Majors a bit but hasn’t done nearly enough to merit discussion.
Completely ignoring the bonafide stud Turner has already become, Souza was always regarded highly, too. The thing was it was never near as high as Myers. You could defend his value in comparison to Turner or Ross, but it seemed Tampa Bay had made a shortsighted, downhill decision from Myers to Souza with a lot riding on Jake Bauers.
Two and a half years later, that remains the case. Turner is the everyday shortstop for the Nats and could have been the NL Rookie of the Year if Washington didn’t wait until Christmas to promote him. Ross has had a, frankly lousy 2017 but was an important cog in the rotation in 2015 and 2016, starting 32 games whilst twirling 181.2 innings at ages 22 and 23.
Souza, who would turn 26 during his first month in the Rays organization, struggled upon promotion to the dim lights of Tropicana Field. He did smack 16 home runs and steal 12 bases, but hit just .225 and struck out in 39 percent of his trips to the plate (144/373).
2016 didn’t fare much better. He climbed one home run to 17 but struck out 15 more times and walked 15 less. The depth chart climate remained in his favor, as Desmond Jennings continued to fade into oblivion, Mikie Mahtook wasn’t taking playing time from anyone and seeing the development of the other components of that fateful 2014 trade, the Rays were prepared to give Souza all three strikes.
2017 has seemed his vindication. He started hot but a bone bruise to his elbow caused him to miss time. Upon return, a stray offering from Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini forced him to miss some more. Outside of the injury bug, Souza has had the start to the year that the Rays envisioned when investing oh so heavily in him.
He hit .330 in 25 April games, passing over his 28th birthday with flying colors. A .954 OPS showed the type of the hitter he could be, coupled with four homers and 17 RBI.
Even with a potential resurrection for Souza, Tampa has seen Myers become an all-star and legitimate franchise player in San Diego. If they can squeeze this deal for two everyday players, the second being Bauers, General Manager Erik Neander will certainly sleep a lot better.
Bauers, still just 21, was a 7th-round pick (208th overall) in 2013 by the Padres, traded a year and a half after in this blockbuster I won’t shut up about.
Solely a first baseman with San Diego, Tampa Bay has made him a versatile corner outfielder while still sometimes manning first base. His defense in left and right field has actually been much better than his defense at first.
A career .276 hitter in the minors, Bauers made it look easy in the lower levels and in Double-A. He also runs well and is destined to play himself off of first and into the outfield where his speed can be put to use.
His breakout 2014 (.296 average, .376 OBP, eight home runs, five stolen bases) certainly piqued the Rays interest and while San Diego hopes they sold high, Tampa is counting on him being that type of player.
Entering 2017, he had entered the national spotlight. John Sickels ranked him as his number 55 overall prospect and his Triple-A debut has flashed that potential thus far. Looking past his batting average of .234, he has two home runs, five stolen bases and has walked 22 times. A sky high .363 OBP overcompensates his .333 slugging percentage.
Bauers’ stock remains high and will probably only get higher as he inches towards a big league debut in 2018.
The success of Myers, Turner and Ross in San Diego and Washington respectively puts a lot of pressure on Steven Souza and Jake Bauers. However, Souza is 28 with an uninspiring résumé and Bauers is handling Triple-A well at 21 years old. His development and eventual contributions give the Rays their chance at redemption in this so far ill-fated trade.