Rays, Padres Fill Needs And Challenge One Another

If you had told me at the start of this week that Logan Forsythe was going to headline a seven-player trade, I’d have said that you just must be bored because nothing has been going on. After all, how often do seven-player trades happen? I mean, that’s just crazy talk. That it did actually happen, and that the headliner has compiled a grand total of 1.7 WAR is cool, in an odd sort of way. The trade is also rare in the sense that it both fills distinct needs for both clubs, but also is a bit of a challenge trade.

Speaking of odd, if nothing else, the Rays quite the roster of unique names. The interwebs have already had some good fun with Brad Boxberger‘s name (I’m partial to Boxd Bradberger, myself), but Matt Andriese, Matt Lollis and Maxx Tissenbaum are all first-class names as well. The Padres’ bounty for parting with that cornucopia of both name talent and baseball-playing talent was Jesse Hahn and Alex Torres, and the latter should immediately into their revamped bullpen.

Let’s start there. When San Diego traded Luke Gregerson for Seth Smith, that was a move I could get behind. Trading a reliever for a position player is generally the way you want to point the needle, especially when the position player in return has a very specific skill set, as Smith does. But with this trade, they sort of washed that out. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was the first thing that occurred to me.

Last year, Forsythe was more important on the Padres than he would have been heading into this season. Heading into 2013, he was the incumbent at second base, and he was going to be until rookie Jedd Gyorko proved that he was ready for primetime. Heading into 2013, the Padres still didn’t know what they were going to get out of Kyle Blanks. And to a lesser extent, they weren’t exactly sure what they would get out of Everth Cabrera. A year later, they are a lot more confident in all three players, and that left them choosing between Forsythe and Alexi Amarista. They chose defense in Amarista, and that is understandable (don’t let Amarista’s overall bad defensive rating fool you — most of it comes from him playing out of position in center field last year).

The deal seems to crystallize the Padres bench. Assuming a standard five-man bench, the five should be Amarista, Blanks, Chris Denorfia, Smith and whichever catcher you want to codify as the bench player — Yasmani Grandal or Nick Hundley. That would leave Reymond Fuentes, Ryan Jackson and Tommy Medica first up from Triple-A. That’s a pretty strong group.

Of course, that doesn’t even address the players acquired — Jesse Hahn and Torres — and I said I would start with them three paragraphs ago. Hahn carries a little bit of buzz — Marc Hulet popped him at #12 on the Rays’ prospect list just this week. As a cold-weather product (he went to high school in Connecticut) who has had trouble staying healthy, he has rightly flown under the radar. But he has also posted a 2.38 ERA in his minor league career, with 122 strikeouts in 121 innings pitched. It’s interesting that Tampa would include him. Since they did while they are still potentially in the market to trade David Price, it says a lot for their current depth that they would deal Hahn away. He hasn’t exactly been young for his levels, so he’ll have to continue to show and prove, but there could be something there.

There is definitely something there with Torres though, who was fantastic last season for Tampa Bay — serviceable against right-handed hitters, and phenomenal against left-handed hitters. He only faced 88 of them, so the sample is pretty small, but the results were overwhelmingly encouraging nonetheless. Only 21 of them reached, and his resultant 1.24 FIP against lefties was bettered only by Koji Uehara and Trevor Rosenthal. Torres should fit into the back of San Diego’s bullpen with Huston Street and Joaquin Benoit, and if Bud Black uses him the way Joe Maddon used him, he will be much more than a LOOGY. Last year, Torres was used as a LOOGY — only one batter faced — in two of his 39 appearances, and he worked at least one inning in 34 of the 39.

Speaking of Maddon, Forysthe just might be his new binky. There are few managers who relish moving his players around the diamond as much as Maddon does, and in Forsythe he has yet another Swiss Army knife to deploy. Forsythe has primarily played second base during his career — he has played more than 70 percent of his defensive innings there. But he has also seen time at third base, shortstop, and left and right field. He fits a need for the Rays, who were looking thin at those positions. Well, they weren’t actually thin at second base, because that’s where Ben Zobrist is slated, but Maddon likes to move him around too.

Essentially, Forsythe will fill the same role that Kelly Johnson did last year. He’ll be insurance at third base should Evan Longoria get hurt. He’ll get some plate appearances in left field and at designated hitter against left-handed pitchers, because neither David DeJesus nor Matt Joyce is up to that task on a regular basis. And he’ll get some action at second base when Zobrist is slotted elsewhere. Who knows, maybe Maddon will get freaky and put him at shortstop too.

Whether or not he ably fills that role depends on what you think is his outlier season, 2012 or 2013. In 2012, he smacked up lefties to the tune of a 187 wRC+. Last year, he slipped to 81 wRC+. Of course, he missed half of last season with a foot injury, so perhaps we should take those numbers with a grain of salt.

Forsythe was just one of five acquired by Tampa Bay, of course. Andriese is an interesting piece. He’s never posted a FIP worse than 3.07 at any of his four stops in his three major league seasons. He didn’t make the Padres’ top prospects list, and he probably wouldn’t have made Tampa Bay’s either, but this will be his age-24 season, and he already has a half-season of Triple-A under his belt, so he could be ready to graduate very shortly.

Tissenbaum could be intriguing as well. Potentially set for a Double-A debut at age 22 this season, he has walked 70 times against just 50 strikeouts in his two professional seasons. Lollis is probably just filler. He did demonstrably worse in his second-go-round at Double-A than he did his first time, as he posted a 5.86 ERA/4.08 FIP there in 2012 and a 6.28/5.84 combo there last year in essentially the same number of innings.

Boxberger had been tantalizing, at least for more than just his name. He’s tossed at least 20 major league innings in each of the past two seasons, but he has very little to show for it. His strikeout rate is desirable, and he carried with him some hype in the past. But he has frittered away just about all of that hype thanks to the fact that he has a hard time finding the strike zone. He found it more frequently last season than he did in 2012, but his Zone percentage was still below average. He has yet to post a positive WAR, and he’ll be 26 this season. Maybe the Rays can fix his control problems, or maybe he’s a guy with whom the delightful folk in Durham will get acquainted.

This trade boils down to a trade of needs. The Rays needed another utility player, and the Padres needed another reliever. But there are so many players in the deal that it is also a challenge trade. Will Hahn post the same great numbers as he moves up the ladder? Can the Rays fix Boxberger’s control problems? Does Tissenbaum really have the strike zone mastered, and even if he does, will he hit enough for it matter? Should the Padres have held on to Andriese, or was his higher ERA at Triple-A a sign of things to come? We don’t know yet, and that’s OK, but the moral of the story is that this deal has the potential to be a win-win, especially if any of the minor leaguers pan out. And if not, at least the players’ names will be briefly entertaining to read on a spring training scorecard. You have to love it when a plan comes together like that, and after a month of near-inactivity, it seems that much sweeter.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

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Amarista was also pretty horrible at SS last year too.