Last week, the Tampa Bay Rays made some noise when they acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson from the Rockies in exchange for reliever Jake McGee. Granted most of that noise were people asking out loud what in the world Colorado was thinking, but the Rays did a nice job adding a solid average regular to their outfield. However, the club already had three outfielders one could claim were of starting caliber. That’s led many to assume the Rays will trade a player, and I’d put rather good odds on that happening. But I have to wonder if they wouldn’t be better off keeping everyone.
In addition to Dickerson, the Rays have Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, and Steven Souza, who all project as starting regulars. They also have Brandon Guyer, Steve Pearce, and Mikie Mahtook on their 40-man roster as potential back-up options that have already spent some amount of time at the major league level as recently as last season. That’s an enviable amount of depth, and certainly enough that the Rays could entertain the idea of trading one of the starting caliber outfielders.
The Rays traded for Souza just last year and he hasn’t had much time to prove what kind of player he’ll be at the major league level. He also comes with five more years of team control. It seems unlikely the Rays would want to trade him. Kevin Kiermaier is their only real center fielder – and a defensive genius at that- who also has five years of team control left. Obviously they’re not going to trade Dickerson and his four years of team control days after initially acquiring him. That leaves Desmond Jennings.
Jennings is different from the other three in one specific way: team control. Jennings only has two years of team control remaining. He is set to make $3 million this year and will enter his third and final year of arbitration in 2017. It makes much more sense for the Rays to trade two years of team control than four or five, and so if they’re going to trade anyone, it’s going to be Jennings. But trading Jennings, or any of the other outfielders, might not be the best decision.
From 2012-2014, Jennings was a 3+ fWAR outfielder. And in 2011, he was worth 2.4 fWAR. So he’d been average or better for four straight seasons. That’s a really good track record. Unfortunately he dealt with injuries in 2015 that limited his playing time and hindered his performance. He only played in 28 games, hit .268/.324/.340, and was worth 0.1 fWAR. If the Rays trade him now, they might end up selling low on a borderline All-Star caliber OF.
In addition to that, what if Steven Souza struggles again? He hit .225/.318/.399 in 426 plate appearances. He does have a good minor league track record and he did hit 16 home runs in 2015 while stealing 12 bases. So there certainly is hope that his second full season at the major league level will be a breakout one for him. But the Rays aren’t a strong enough team that they can weather a sub-par season from him and still make the playoffs.
There’s one last thing to consider. The recently acquired Corey Dickerson missed time last year with plantar fasciitis. That’s a painful foot condition that makes it hard to walk around normally, let alone play baseball. There’s also not a whole lot one can do about it. Albert Pujols dealt with the condition in 2013. He first experienced the pain during Spring Training, but tried playing through it. And he did for a while. However, after July 26th, he didn’t play another game. He missed 61 games because of the injury. He had to deal with foot pain again last year, but it’s not clear if it was plantar fasciitis or something else.
Plantar fasciitis isn’t one of those conditions a player fears because it will require surgery, but it is something that can have just as huge an effect on performance and playing time. There’s no way to be certain that Corey Dickerson will be dealing with this issue again. It might never crop up again throughout his entire career. But if it does, there’s every chance he could miss more time.
By keeping Jennings, the Rays could raise the floor of the outfield because he’s likely going to be a better contributor than the other 4th OF options. They’d protect against continued struggles from Souza while also providing insurance against more DL time from Corey Dickerson.
By trading Jennings, the Rays might be able to strengthen their roster in another area. They do have other outfielders that could provide coverage should injuries or performance concerns crop up. Though they might not provide as much value as Jennings, it’s possible whatever addition a trade brings in more than makes up for it. That does depend a lot on that trade though, and Jennings’ value took a hit after 2015.
For the Rays, it’s a matter of weighing the risks and rewards, and a large portion of that calculation depends on what a hypothetical Desmond Jennings trade brings back. I have no idea what that might be, so I can’t say for certain they should or shouldn’t trade him. But my gut says the Rays probably get more value by keeping Jennings than they would for selling low on him.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs