For the fifth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.
At the 2014 trade deadline, the Rays sent David Price to Detroit as the major player of a three-way trade. The deal included the Tigers sending Drew Smyly and Willy Adames to Tampa Bay, and Austin Jackson to Seattle. On the Mariners end, they sent Nick Franklin to the Rays.
In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.
After four consecutive seasons of winning at least 90 games, the Rays were not doing so hot. At the time of the trade, they were two games below .500, eight games out of first place, and 5.5 games out of the last Wild Card slot with four teams ahead of them. It was time to take a step back and start looking toward the future.
Price was no longer the ace he used to be, but he was still, at worst, a solid mid-rotation starter who would not hit free agency until after the 2015 season. At the time of the trade, he had a 3.59 RA9, 27.4 K%, and was exhibiting remarkable control, having walked only 3.3 percent of batters faced. The Rays could give their upcoming rebuild a big jolt by trading him, and in the process, get something back for a player that this notoriously cheap franchise was not going to bring back in free agency, even though I am sure they could have afforded to do so, regardless of what they like to tell the public.
The Tigers, on the other hand, were on their way to their fourth consecutive division title. Their five-game lead on the second place Royals was not a big one, and given that they got swept out of the World Series less than two years prior, it was in their best interests to do everything they could to make the team better.
The funny thing is that the Tigers were not exactly hurting for starting pitching. In fact, they arguably had the best starting rotation in the AL with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Aníbal Sánchez, and Rick Porcello. Price would be upgrading Drew Smyly, who was not bad by any means. He had a 4.10 RA9 with decent peripherals at the time of the trade.
The trade was a win for the Tigers, to be sure, but it hurt the lineup to have to part with Austin Jackson, who was still a solidly above average player and their starting center fielder. The outfield still had Torii Hunter, J.D. Martínez, and Rajai Davis, who could take over in center. Despite the loss of Jackson, the Tigers became a better team overall as a result of the trade.
The Mariners were actually in pretty decent shape at the time of the trade. They were 55-52, and even though they had no chance at winning the AL West, they were only three games out of the last Wild Card slot. Considering the team’s historically long playoff drought, it was in their best interests to do everything they could to end it.
Center field had been a wasteland for the Mariners. Abraham Almonte and James Jones could not hit, and their defense was not good enough to make them anything more than replacement level players. Acquiring Jackson was a great move to remedy this, as he could be expected to add one to two wins to the team through the end of the season. That combined with the fact that Jackson was under contract through 2015 made him well worth parting with Nick Franklin.
Franklin was struggling badly in the majors, having hit just .214/.291/.358 in 464 PA since getting called up the year before. Prospect analysts projected him to be an average player, but he still had some major developmental challenges in front of him, not to mention that he likely would not stick at shortstop. Trading him for Jackson was a sensible move.
The Rays also got Willy Adames as part of the deal, who at the time was just an 18-year-old shortstop in low-A. It might not be fair to characterize him as a throw-in, but he was years away from reaching the majors.
Smyly was pitching like a mid-rotation starter, but that was likely his ceiling. Overall, this was an underwhelming return for the Rays, as they did not get anybody that was expected to have a high upside. I’d speculate that the Rays lacked leverage, due to the fact that teams knew they were very interested in moving Price. They probably would have been better off waiting until the winter to look for a better deal. At worst, they likely could have gotten a deal of equal value to the one they agreed to.
The Tigers once again won the AL Central, but got swept out of the ALDS by the Orioles. Price was excellent in Game 3 of that series, throwing eight innings while giving up two runs on a homer by Nelson Cruz. The Orioles won thanks to one bad pitch in an otherwise stellar outing by Price.
Price was everything he was expected to be during the regular season, too. He had a 3.71 RA9 over his 11 starts with the team, despite having to pitch in front of that terrible defense. He was even better in 2015, but the Tigers ended up trading him to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline in a season that saw them win only 74 games.
Smyly was lights out when he arrived Tampa Bay with a 1.70 RA9, though a .184 BABIP had a lot to do with that. Unfortunately, the following season saw him plagued by injury, though he was quite good when he did pitch, giving the Rays a 3.24 RA9 in 12 starts. He made 30 starts the following season in 2016, but he was barely replacement level, giving up 32 HR over 30 starts with a 5.29 RA9.
The Rays traded Smyly before the 2017 season to the Mariners, but he never ended up pitching a game for them due to Tommy John surgery. He signed a two-year deal with the Cubs going into the 2018 season, though he never ended up pitching a game for them in the majors. Smyly pitched for the Rangers and Phillies last year, but he just does not seem to be a major league quality pitcher anymore. He had a 6.55 RA9 in 114 IP. The Giants recently decided to give him a chance on a one-year deal.
Jackson had a terrible 2014 with the Mariners, hitting only .229/.267/.260. He got better the following year, but it was the beginning of the end for him, so the team traded him to the Cubs at the end of August 2015. He has bounced around a bit since then, and he actually had a good half season for the Indians in 2017. Jackson has not been in the majors since his disastrous 2018 season.
Franklin, sadly, was a bust. He could not hit until 2016, when he actually had a respectable line of .270/.328/.443, but his poor defense made it so that he was barely above replacement level, resulting in the Rays deciding to DFA him on April 1st, 2017. He has not appeared in the majors since 2018, and he is currently a free agent.
Adames did not make his major league debut until 2018, and boy was it worth the wait. He does not appear to be much more than an average hitter, but you’ll take that from a good defensive shortstop who can add some value on the bases. He was worth 4.2 WAR last year, and he won’t turn 23 until late May!
That is really good for the talent they gave up! It was not Price’s fault that the Tigers were only able to score one run in an elimination game.
That’s... not good. I can’t fault the Mariners’ thought process here, though. It is just another example of Dombrowski outsmarting the competition.
Adames has made this whole trade work out in the end, and he was the biggest question mark in this trade in terms of how he would turn out. He is still going, too! He is comfortably an above average player, and if he can just unlock more offense in his bat, he could become an All-Star caliber player. That’s definitely a player to keep an eye on.
The trade looked light on player from the Rays’ perspective, but they definitely lucked out with Adames. He has made the trade more than worthwhile.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.