Rays-A-Trade: Tampa Doubles Down, Trades Future for Martinez

….but questions still remain for this team going forward

The Tampa Bay Rays took a rather big swing on Thursday night.

They will have to wait until a year from now to see how well they connected.

The Rays got back to their trading ways, acquiring reigning National League MVP Alonso Martinez from the Colorado Rockies. To acquire the Triple Crown-winning third baseman, the Rays traded two of their top three prospects in outfielder Ben Shtolzberg and pitcher Brady Dutcher, as part of a five-player package.

“The deal came together rather quickly,” said GM Jack Dawkins at a press conference Friday morning. “We reached out last week, just to kick the tires. (Colorado) reached back last night, and talks commenced and completed in, literally, fifteen minutes.

“I say that knowing how much the word ‘literally’ is over and misused. I want to emphasize that it all came together in about fifteen minutes.”

Let’s investigate the deal, and the pieces involved…starting with the big-league level pieces first.

IF Will Macoy (.250/.313/.361 in 231 PA): Considered a rising prospect before Dawkins took over the GM role in the 2021 offseason, Macoy had quite a roller coaster ride since. He got off to a tremendously bad start in ‘22 (.147/.240/.268, 38 OPS+), and was sent down to AAA Durham after just sixteen games, losing to Nathan DeRemer. Oneil Cruz eventually took over the regular role at third, so Macoy stayed in AAA, as the team tried to rehabilitate his trade value.  At just 23, they were able to be patient.

He continued at Durham at the start of last year, and hit well (113 OPS+ in 181 PA). When the Rays traded DeRemer to Oakland, the club brought Macoy back up, this time to back up Cruz. This time, he performed better (.250/.313/.361, 93 OPS+ in 231 PA). However, he managed to register zero WAR over the course of the season.

It is safe to say that the Rays managed to fully rehab his trade value; it has been reported that the Rockies had their choice of either Cruz or Macoy in this deal. If that is the case, they clearly chose Macoy. Part of that is that his profile seems to align more with the Rockies: contact hitter with considerable speed). 

If the Rockies can get him to be more efficient on the basepaths–he had just seven steals in twelve attempts in Tampa, and 15 for 21 overall in ‘23–they’ll have a steal (pardon the pun) on their hands. And, at 24, it’s a good bet to make.

C Devin Mesoraco (.234/.274/.462 in 350 PA): This one is a stunner, all the way around. Mesoraco arrived (for the second time) in Tampa as part of a very successful trade for the Rays; the deal also got them Gary Griffith (who became Corbin Carroll) and Tyson Oswalt, a closer when he arrived, but now one of the most dependable starters in the AL.

One of the last OG players–his rookie season was 2012 with Cincinnati, Mesoraco was the regular, though still part-time catcher with the Rays. He played in just 88 games in 2022, as the Rays’ youth movement turned Mesoraco more into a mentor for young catchers Wilson Contreras and Shep Rose.

While those catchers struggled mightily, Mesoraco continued to shine defensively, and as the captain of the pitching staff, which shined under his in-game leadership. He also had a bit of a resurgence at the plate last year, hitting .234/.274/.462 in 350 PA (107 OPS+). His 19 homers were the most since he hit 25 with the Yankees in ‘15. Unfortunately, his season was cut short, due to injury.

So, why is this a stunner? Well, for one, his age (35) and contract ($14.5m in ‘24) gave the impression that moving off of him was impossible. The Rays were okay with that, planning for him to be the backup to rising prospect Drew Romo. The Rays managed to find the one team who A) values Mesoraco’s defensive abilities higher than anything else, B) demonstrated that they are willing to take on a more expensive veteran (they did so with Cam Gallagher, who had a fantastic season for them a year ago, but priced himself out of their comfort zone), and C) had a need at the position.

It turns out that, in the short-term, the Rays gained some financial flexibility in this deal…something nobody would have predicted in a trade for a reigning MVP. Dawkins deserves all the credit in the world for pulling that off.

OF Ben Shtolzberg (A): Out of all of the players moved in this deal, this one projects to hurt the most. Shtolzberg, drafted 10th overall out of Notre Dame High School (CA) in the ‘22 draft, used a very solid ‘23 to rise up to the top thirty on MLBPro Digest’s Prospect Rankings. He hit .318/.354/.530 (130 OPS+), with eight homers and 32 RBI, in 164 PA in Rookie ball last year.

But what really propelled him in the eyes of scouts around the league was a very short stint at A-level Bowling Green to end the year. He went 7-for-16 (.438), with a pair of doubles and a homer, in the four games he played.

Overall, his game projects very well for Coors. His bat tool projects as plus-plus in contact and power, both to the alleys and over the fence. His eye is considered slightly above-average, while scouts project his swing-and-miss talent to be league average. For a young power prospect, that is considerable.

The Rays had offered him privately around the league, but were guarded in who they would part with him for. Clearly, Shtolzberg was going to have to be included in this deal; he is the centerpiece.

For those in tune with MLBPro’s history, one does have to wonder if Dawkins has the Ghost of Trades’ Past in his mirror at night. Remember, he is the one who, back in 2013 when he, as Phillies GM, traded Gary Copeland to MinnesotaEven if Dawkins is receiving a clear star in Martinez at this stage, and even if Dawkins’ reasoning when moving Copeland is still sound–it was clear Copeland would not become a functional first baseman, and the NL did not have the DH at the time–the hindsight of that trade will forever stamp his legacy. 

It isn’t being suggested that Shtolzberg will be anywhere near Copeland’s level. Gary Copeland will retire as the greatest hitter the league has ever seen, and will see for at least a generation. But moving to Colorado should excite Shtolzberg, Rockies fans, and futures fantasy owners alike. Heck, escaping Tampa’s pit of hitting despair should do the same. But Shtolzberg landed in the best possible situation for his talents.

SP Brady Dutcher (AA): Dutcher spent ‘23 at AA, where he went 7-9 with a 3.77/1.42, and 121/70 K/BB in 148 innings, for a 100 ERA+. Dutcher projects as having plus stuff, the potential for plus-plus movement, and fringy average control. He throws a stellar changeup, a fastball that sits 93-95 with potential for more, and a good enough curve and slider. The slider gets him in trouble, as he lacks consistency with the pitch, which causes the flight to flatten.

That, in turn, causes the flight off of swinging bats to be considerable.

Usually, this would be a pitcher the Rays would want to hang onto. In this case, there are two things working against Dutcher staying a Ray.

1) His age: He’ll turn 25 in July.

2) The collection of arms the Rays have in front of Dutcher. In addition to everyone currently on the ML roster, the team has Brian Chan ready to come up. The Rockies inquired about Chan, and were informed he was unavailable. The plan is for Chan to be in Tampa next season…or, at the very least, the first call up.

The club also has Bryse Wilson down in AAA; the team sent him down there at the end of last season, mainly to rest after an excellent season faded hard. He is expected to be part of the rotation next season.

Add in Tyler Dyson and Joseph Charles, Conor Grammes and 22-year-old reliever Jacolby Criswell…where does Dutcher fit into that, exactly? 

And that’s just on pitchers currently in the organization. There are rumors that the Rays are heavily involved with at least one high-profile reliever, and may be in discussions with another.

The Rays are flush with productive pitchers. Dutcher was expendable in this circumstance.

OF Camden Champ (R-C): Champ was the team’s 2nd-round pick (50th overall) out of Rosemont HS (Sacramento) last season. He projects as a three-true-outcomes guy: average contact, plus-plus power, plus eye, below average eye. He’s more of a dart throw than anything else, but generally, anyone outside of the first half of the first round usually is.

If he hits, well…that’s another big get for the Rockies.

Overall Haul/Price: For the Rockies, it may seem muted compared to what may have been expected. Macoy is a projectable piece, and he fits the Rockies system. But the Rockies are banking on their coaching staff being able to unlock things in Macoy that the Rays were not. Shtolzberg is a fantastic prospect piece right now…but his target arrival is still a long way away, and anything can happen between now and, say, 2027. Dutcher will presumably fill a more immediate need, and he’ll clearly be cheap. But he’s also an aged prospect who hasn’t pitched above AA. Champ is a young kid with holes in his swing that may not get closed. And Mesoraco, as big a need as he seemingly fills for Colorado, is still a 35-year-old, one-year stopgap.

Overall, it seems like Colorado should have gotten more out of Tampa. It seems like Tampa should have paid more for Martinez. Sources from both teams said the Rockies inquired about Chan and P Chris Catalon, the Rays’ first-round pick last year, and were rebuffed on each.

So, did the Rockies settle? Did they move too quickly? Waiting until guys like Nolan Arenado and Bill La to sign probably would have Colorado a long time, due to their demands, and, in Arenado’s case, compensation attached. Clearly, they got a package they liked, which is a win. But it’s also indicative of where Martinez’s market is.


Oh….that impending contract issue: This is why the Rockies were so quick to move on. Martinez’ contract, a 4yr, $45.1m deal, looked great heading into last season. Martinez clearly thrived while hitting in Colorado, hitting .280/.337/.525, with 34 HR and 114 RBI (142 OPS+) in his first season of that new contract.

Then…last year happened. Simply put, he had one of the best seasons of all time, with a .341/.410/.646 mark, with 44 HR and 133 RBI (169 OPS+). Not only did he win the Triple Crown, but it could be reasoned that he won the Pentagonal Crown, when you add in his league-leading 200 hits and 116 runs scored.

Okay, sure. But he isn’t a free agent until 2025. The Rays do have some upcoming important free agents, as Jeffrey LeBlanc and Randy Maley are both free agents. They also have several players either in arbitration, or entering it: Elliott Jenkins, Jon Roberts, Tyson Oswalt, Will Anderson, Dane Grier, Gerald Goodwin, Craig Williams, Oneil Cruz…it’s likely their payroll will be going up after next season.

That’s all well and good, until you consider that Martinez has an opt-out clause after next season. He is due to make $13.7m in 2025; he will most assuredly be opting out of that, unless he totally torpedoes in Tampa. For the record, he proved he can hit outside of Coors, finishing .330/.395/.626 (160 OPS+), with 22 HR and 58 RBI on the road.

(Of course, hitting on the road is FAR different than home being Tropicana Field, though he did hit .357/.438/.500 in a three-game set there back in August.)

The Rays do have plenty of money earmarked for extensions for next season, north of $50m (assuming Martinez opts out). But consider LeBlanc, who was a totally different pitcher after arriving in Tampa from St. Louis last season. He went 7-2, 3.03, with a 0.99 WHIP. He was incredible. If he replicates anything close to that, he will command more than $20m/yr on the open market.

Maley was terrible during his Tampa run last year, but finally settled in late and hit the snot out of the ball over the final couple of weeks. If he comes out and plays well, that’s another 8-figure deal, at least.

Also, we must remember…this is Tampa. It’s not a baseball market. They actually had less attendance last year (2.2m) than in 2022 (2.3m), and that’s with a winning club. They play in the worst stadium in baseball. Owner Stuart Sternberg is a demanding soul, but also a frugal one. Their budget did go up $6m, to $150m, this season. But that’s only $10m more than it was in 2022 for a team that had a second straight winning season, one that went down to the wire, in terms of playoff contention.

Their budget still hasn’t gotten back to 2019 ($154m) or 2020 ($160m) levels. It’s possible that nothing short of a LCS appearance will achieve that.

Lastly…this is Jack Dawkins. He is scared money, according to other GMs. It makes sense, given the landscape he has to navigate, and the youth he has in his organization. He has managed to stay flexible with his payroll, while still getting assets for pieces that were not tentable long-term: He got Will Anderson for Cade Cahill, who he was never re-signing. He managed to get Milwaukee to take 75% of Carlos Meza’s remaining salary (leaving the Rays with a $5m check for 2024), while getting Daniel McCormick. He was able to move Mesoraco’s deal.

But, while he’s accumulated talent, he’s also kicked the financial can down the road.

And now, the can is coming to kick him…likely in the form of Alonso Martinez.

Overall (Colorado): The Rockies very likely didn’t get everything they wanted for Martinez. That was also likely never happening, due to his likely opt-out after ‘24. Some will point at the return after Ben Shtolzberg and wonder why they made this move right now, when it would likely be there in early February. (Though, with Jack Dawkins, you never quite know.) The acquisitions of Macoy and Mesoraco may feel underwhelming…but the Rockies won a World Series with players like Macoy and Mesoraco last year. They still have plenty of offense to go around in Colorado. Adding Mesoraco is an underrated move, due to how well he manages a pitching staff, as well as calling a game.

Overall (Tampa): It is a masterstroke to get Martinez on the team for Dawkins, from a talent and PR standpoint. It was a masterstroke to get the extra few million from Mesoraco’s deal back for payroll flexibility in the now. But this deal defines the 2024 Rays, does it not? Heck, it probably defines this window for the Rays. They can no longer hide behind the “oh, we’re building” mantra that Jack spent ‘22 and ‘23 doing. YOU TRADED FOR A TRIPLE CROWN WINNER. The time is NOW. And the clock is ticking. Jack may still add another piece here and there, but this team is built in his image of what winning baseball in Tampa should be. The expectations are extremely high now. If they don’t get into the playoffs in 2024, the wheels will come falling off. Watch.

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