Barely more than two years after being traded to Tampa Bay in a blockbuster seven-player trade that set tongues wagging and ultimately helped the Royals capture the 2014 American League pennant, 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers has been traded once again. This time, he is the centerpiece of a three-team, 11-player trade that will send Myers from Tampa Bay to San Diego, but which may ultimately prove to be most favorable for the third team involved, the Washington Nationals.
Here’s the breakdown of who is getting whom:
Nationals: receive SS Trea Turner and RHP Joe Ross for OF Steven Souza Jr. and LHP Travis Ott
Rays: receive Souza, Rivera, Bauers, Smith and Ott for Myers, Hanigan, Reyes and Castillo
Turner, who was the 13th overall pick in the 2014 draft and may yet prove to be the best player in this deal, is a player-to-be-named in this deal as he cannot technically be traded until he has spent a year in the Padres' organization. Nonetheless, he is a 21-year-old North Carolina State University product who hit .323/.406/.448 with 23 stolen bases in 321 plate appearances in full-season leagues in his professional debut, should open his first full professional season in High-A in 2015 and gives the Nationals a potential long-term replacement for All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond, who is entering his walk-year and will turn 30 in September.
We’ll get back to the Nationals in a moment. This deal, in the short term, is about Myers. A top-10 prospect prior to the 2013 season, Myers was traded from the Royals to the Rays in the deal that brought James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City. Myers confirmed his status as a major-league-ready blue-chipper in his first season in Tampa Bay, hitting .293/.354/.478 in 88 games as a 22-year-old rookie and running away with the Rookie of the Year award. However, he also proved to be a streaky hitter and a poor fielder.
Drafted as a catcher in the third round of the 2009 amateur draft, Myers was moved out from behind the plate in Double-A in 2011 and bounced around all three outfield positions, with additional stints at third base, looking for a position before finally settling in right field with the Rays. Called up on June 18, 2013 so as to delay his arbitration eligibility (he won’t be arb-eligible until after the 2016 season and will be under team control through 2019), Myers hit .326/.379/.525 with nine home runs through his first 47 major league games (203 plate appearances). However, he fell into a deep slump in mid-August, and from Aug. 16 of his rookie season through May 30, 2014 he hit just .239/.317/.384 with nine more home runs in 394 plate appearances. It was at that point that he ran into teammate Desmond Jennings in the Fenway Park outfield, suffering a fractured right wrist that put him on the shelf for the next 70 games.
Myers didn’t hit a lick after returning from the wrist injury in late August, which isn’t a huge surprise given the impact wrist and hand injuries can have on a hitter, particularly when it comes to power (Myers had one home run in 137 PA after the injury). However, that he will finally, consistently deliver on his promise at the plate in the extreme offense-suppressing environment of Petco Park, which is even harder on righties like Myers than lefties, is far from a given for the now-24-year-old.
That makes this a gamble for the Padres as they have given up not only their top 2014 draft pick and potential shortstop of the future in Turner, but also 2011 first-rounder Joe Ross, younger brother of 2014 All-Star Tyson Ross. The 21-year-old Ross, a 6-foot-4 right-hander who was actually the Padres’ second pick in that draft (25th overall), doesn’t project as a future stud, but he made a successful late-season debut in Double-A in 2014 and could be a viable major league starter as soon as 2016, even if he’s unlikely to be more than a mid-rotation arm. The Padres will have Myers under team control for five years, but his ascendance to stardom over those five years is far from assured.
What’s remarkable about this trade, however, is that the Rays aren’t the team getting Turner and Ross. Those two, the top two prospects involved in the deal, are going to the Nationals, who are in turn sending Souza and Ott, two seemingly inferior players, to Tampa Bay. Souza, who will be the Rays’ replacement for Myers in the short term, was the International League’s Most Valuable Player this past season, hitting .350/.432/.590 with 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases in 96 games (407 PA), most of them coming in right field for the Syracuse Chiefs. That marked the third season in a row that Souza put up eye-popping numbers in the minors, starting in the Sally League in 2012.
However, Souza was 23 that season, more than a year older than the average Sally Leaguer, and will turn 26 in April. He has just 26 major league plate appearances to his name, in which he has collected just three hits. Souza has all six of his team-controlled years remaining, but he is also nearly two years older than Myers and hasn’t had even Myers' limited success in the majors. He may yet prove to be a valuable late-bloomer, but his minor league numbers have to be taken with a large grain of salt.
As for Ott, the left-hander is one of three teenagers involved in this trade, all of whom look like little more than lottery tickets for now. Ott, who won’t turn 20 until June 29, was a 25th-round pick in 2013 who has made just three starts in full-season ball, none of them impressive. Nor, for that matter, were his short-season numbers. Also going to the Rays is teenage first baseman Jake Bauers, a seventh-round pick by the Padres in 2013 who won’t turn 20 until next October. A left-handed hitter, Bauers put up a handsome .296/.376/.414 line in 467 plate appearances in his full-season debut this past season at the tender age of 18. However, as a first baseman, his power will have to develop for him to emerge as an impact player, and his average frame (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and modest power numbers thus far (.118 isolated slugging in 2014) don’t suggest that’s likely to happen.
The last teenager in the deal is Venezuelan lefty Jose Castillo, who won’t turn 19 until next month. He threw all of 4 2/3 innings in rookie ball this past season, his second in the Rays’ organization. Reyes, who is going from the Rays to the Padres, will be 22 in May, but belongs in this group as he has just 20 relief appearances in short-season ball under his belt, albeit with strong peripherals.
Souza, Bauers and Ott are the bulk of the Rays' return for Myers. Thrown in with that lot is righty Burch Smith, who will be 25 in April and struggled in his major league debut in 2013. He produced two quality starts in seven turns, albeit amid several demotions and promotions, and threw just 5 1/3 innings in Triple-A in 2014 due a flexor muscle strain in his right forearm. If his arm is healthy (those 5 1/3 innings came in April), Smith will get a chance to compete for the fifth starter job in camp in advance of Matt Moore’s return from Tommy John surgery. It appears more likely that he will end up in the bullpen, where he can get his fastball into the upper-90s.
As for the swap of veteran catchers, with Rivera going to the Rays and Hanigan going to the Padres, it is something of a low-level challenge trade within this larger deal. Hanigan, who is signed through 2016 with a club option for '17, is an excellent all-around defensive catcher who led the majors in caught-stealing percentage in 2012 and '13 and grades out well as a pitch-framer. He is a career .256/.353/.341 hitter in the majors. The combination of his on-base ability and receiving skills is extremely valuable, but he is 34 and has struggled with injuries the last two years, hitting the disabled list four times, twice for a left oblique strain.
Rivera is three years younger, under team control for three more years (and arbitration-eligible in all of them) and also an excellent defender. He has thrown out 39 percent of attempting basestealers in his career and also grades out as an elite pitch-framer. However, his .252/.319/.432 performance at the plate in 2014 at the age of 30 was a radical departure from his previous major league track record. Prior to that, Rivera had hit .206/.241/.290 in 344 major league plate appearances over five seasons. The encouraging word there is that Rivera has hit .266/.318/.424, a good match for that 2014 line, in 1,296 career PA at Triple-A, suggesting that’s his true level as a hitter.
The Padres still believe their long-term solution at catcher will be top prospect Austin Hedges. However, Hedges’ .225/.268/.321 line at Double-A this past season at the very least suggests that he’s not as close to the majors as the team had hoped coming into the season. At worst, it makes one wonder if the defense-first Hedges will ever hit enough to be an everyday player in the major leagues. Still, the continued presence of Hedges emboldened San Diego not only to take a gamble on Hanigan, but to deal offense-first catcher Yasmani Grandal in last week’s still-pending Matt Kemp trade.
Assuming Kemp did indeed pass his physical and that both trades do go through, the Padres have just added in Kemp and Myers, both of whom are under control through 2019, two hitters with significant upside to a lineup in desperate need of legitimate middle-of-the-order bats. However, both are poor defensive corner outfielders and right-handed power hitters coming into a ballpark that has had a right-handed home run factor of 76 in the two seasons since the fences were moved in slightly in center field and right field. That is the third-lowest in baseball over that span per the Bill James Handbook. To do so, they have downgraded their catching depth at the major league level and traded away three recent first-round picks (adding righty Zach Eflin, the 33rd overall pick in 2012, in the Kemp trade), one of whom projected as their shortstop of the future.
The Rays, meanwhile, appear to have sold low on a talented young hitter who won’t be arbitration-eligible for another two years. They have only a pair of teenage lottery tickets with limited payoffs, the hope of a modest upgrade at catcher and a likely righty reliever to show for it beyond the older, less established player acquired to serve as Myers’ direct replacement.
The Nationals, however, did well to insert themselves into this trade, landing the two best prospects in the deal for a 25th-round teenager and Souza, who though he will be long remembered for his leaping catch on the final out of Jordan Zimmermann’s final-day no-hitter, had no place in the Nationals’ outfield in the short or long terms with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth locked into the corners and Michael Taylor poised to take over for center fielder Denard Span in 2016.
The question now is how the addition of Turner impacts how the Nationals approach Desmond’s imposing free agency. Turner, even if he does fulfill his potential, won’t be ready until 2017 at the earliest, but Desmond, who will turn 30 in September, needs to cash in now. So do the Nationals extend Desmond in the hope that he or Turner can ultimately move to second base, or do they let him leave (or trade him) and try to fill the gap between the two players with a cheaper short-term alternative?
With the Nationals still facing a financial crunch and the Padres now sporting an overloaded outfield that features Kemp, Myers, Seth Smith, Carlos Quentin, Will Venable, Cameron Maybin and prospect Rymer Liriano, there should be plenty more to come from those two teams this offseason.