By now you’re familiar with the three-team trade that went down between Cleveland, Tampa, and Seattle. While the average fan focused on the bigger names involved—guys like Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion—one player that maybe flew under the radar was Yandy Diaz, who landed in Tampa.
Tampa, of course won 90 games with a lot of “average” bats in 2018 (Tommy Pham and C.J. Cron excluded), especially at the corner infield positions. Their main contributors at first and third base last year (Jake Bauers and Matt Duffy) didn’t impress much. Bauers (sent to Cleveland in this trade) put up 11 home runs an OPS+ of just 94, while Duffy hit four homers with a slightly above average OPS+ of 104.
With Bauers gone, that opens a spot in the Rays infield for Diaz. He could play first and replace Bauers, or slide to the hot corner, which frees Duffy to play multiple positions around the diamond.
Diaz played a limited role in 2017 and 2018 for Cleveland, spending most of that time manning third, playing 49 games there (and starting 42) over that two-year stretch. Tampa can, of course, play him at either corner (and knowing how they move guys around, they likely will) but he potentially brings a bit more value at third.
In 2017, Diaz started 37 games (and played in 3 others) at third base, logging 282 innings and having generally positive (or at least average) results. It’s hard to say, without a larger sample size, how he’d fare at the position over a full season, but Diaz posted a 9.7 UZR/150 during that stretch. If he managed to do that for a full season, he’d have been third in the major leagues at the position, behind Anthony Rendon and Todd Frazier.
Currently, Diaz is slated as the starter at first base on the Tampa depth chart, and he may very well stay there, but should injury strike, he’s yet another defensively flexible player in the Tampa machine.
Wherever he plays, Tampa is counting on Diaz to hit. In a total of 299 plate appearances (again, a small sample size) he’s posted a 94 OPS+, but showed real progress in 2018 with an OPS+ of 115. Bauers, on the other hand, while flashing some power, only managed to hit .201 in his 2018 rookie campaign, meaning Diaz is a little more polished at the plate, an asset for a 90-win team trying to make the playoffs in 2019.
Some may point to the age difference between these two players, and while Bauers is the younger player of the two, Tampa doesn’t lose any player control in this deal either, as neither are arbitration eligible until 2022. They sacrificed age, yes, but not service time.
If that 115 OPS+ holds up for a full year, that’s a 19 point jump from Bauers’ 2018 production, meaning Diaz could be one of the more productive hitters on this team. Everyone knows what Santana and Encarnacion can do, but the most exciting aspect of this trade may be the emergence of Yandy Diaz, a low-risk, low-cost addition who could help Tampa navigate through a tough division during another postseason run.