A busy spring training for the Tampa Bay Rays continues. After Tuesday night’s surprising three-way trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees that sent outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from Tampa Bay to Arizona, infielder Brandon Drury from Arizona to New York, and a pair of prospects to Tampa Bay, it was clear that the Rays were going to have to make an addition to their outfield. It took less than 24 hours for them to find Souza’s replacement. The team has agreed to a one-year contract with outfielder Carlos Gomez. Gomez will make $4 million with an additional $500,000 available in incentives. The deal is pending a physical.
Tampa Bay Rays Sign Carlos Gomez
Gomez, 32, is an 11-year MLB veteran. He’s spent time with the New York Mets, Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. Gomez played exclusively in center field for Texas last year. He was worth negative-4 defensive runs saved and had a UZR/150 of negative-1.1.
With Kevin Kiermaier in center, Gomez looks likely to move to right field with the Rays. He should profile better there, though his experience in right is limited. He played 34 innings in right for the Rangers in 2016, which was the first time he’d played the position since 2010.
It was obvious that the Rays had to make an addition like this after trading Souza. His departure left Tampa Bay with just three outfielders, all of whom hit left-handed: Kiermaier, Denard Span and Mallex Smith. So, how do they stack up now with Gomez instead of Souza? Let’s compare their numbers from last year.
Steven Souza Jr: 148 GP, 617 PA, .239/.351/.459, 30 HR, 78 RBI, 21 2B, 16 SB, 120 WRC+, 3.7 fWAR
Carlos Gomez: 105 GP, 426 PA, .255/.340/.462, 17 HR, 51 RBI, 23 2B, 13 SB, 110 WRC+, 2.3 fWAR
As you can see, Gomez and Souza’s 2017 seasons actually look quite similar. At least, they would if they’d played a similar amount of games. They’re actually quite similar players. They’re both big, athletic outfielders with power and speed who strike out a bit too much. The Rays will pay Gomez slightly more than the $3.55 million Souza will make this year. Souza is also controllable through 2020, while Gomez can become a free agent again after this season. Ultimately, Tampa Bay felt that trade-off was worth it to acquire the prospects they did for Souza. The Rays netted left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda from the Diamondbacks and second baseman Nick Solak from the Yankees.
Now, let’s talk a bit more about the prospects the Rays received in the trade that facilitated this signing.
Banda, 24, spent most of last season in Triple-A. In 122 innings over 22 starts, he went 8-7 with a 5.39 ERA and 4.72 FIP. Those numbers aren’t pretty, though they came in a notoriously tough pitching environment with the Reno Aces of the Pacific Coast League. The Diamondbacks were still encouraged enough by what Banda was doing that they called him up to make his MLB debut. Banda made four starts and four relief appearances for Arizona. He posted a 5.96 ERA, though the 3.24 FIP suggests he deserved a better fate over that small sample size. He had some trouble with walks, issuing 10 of them over 25.2 innings, but he also had 25 strikeouts, nearly one per inning.
Despite the results he got last year, Banda is still a highly-regarded pitching prospect as a lefty who can throw a mid-90s fastball complemented with a good curveball and a changeup. He’ll likely begin this season in Triple-A, but he’ll probably be up at some point this year.
Solak, 23, is a right-handed hitting second baseman. He was a second-round pick by the Yankees in 2016. He was moving quickly through New York’s system, hitting at every level he was assigned to. After the draft, Solak was assigned to the Staten Island Yankees in short season-A ball for the rest of the 2016 season. In 279 plate appearances over 64 games, Solak hit .321/.412/.421 with three home runs, 17 extra base hits, 25 RBI and eight stolen bases (155 WRC+).
He was assigned to the High-A Tampa Yankees to begin 2017, where he continued to rake, hitting .301/.397/.460 with 10 home runs, 31 extra base hits, 44 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 406 plate appearances over 100 games (153 WRC+). That got called him called up to the Double-A Trenton Thunder, where he hit .286/.344/.429 with two home runs, 12 extra base hits, nine RBI and one stolen base in 132 plate appearances over 30 games (112 WRC+).
Solak could begin this year at either Double-A or Triple-A. Either way, it also wouldn’t be shocking to see him up with the Rays at some point. Especially since second base is a position that is very much up for grabs on the team right now.
Why These Moves Make Sense For The Rays
There was financial motivation behind Tampa Bay’s decisions to trade Jake Odorizzi and designate Corey Dickerson for assignment. However, the Rays are insisting that the Souza trade was a pure baseball decision. Considering they signed Gomez for more money than they would have paid Souza this year, that seems to be the truth. They weren’t planning on trading Souza, but the Diamondbacks pursued him aggressively after J.D. Martinez left to sign with the Boston Red Sox, and the Rays were made an offer they felt they couldn’t refuse. MLB.com has slotted Banda and Solak as the ninth and 15th-ranked prospects, respectively, in a farm system that was already considered by many to be top five in Major League Baseball.
These are the kind of things the Rays will look to do as they continue to a walk a fine line between both building for the future and keeping the current team competitive. They seem to have done a good job of that here. Tampa Bay added a pair of quality prospects while not necessarily making the team any worse.
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