Friday, July 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays Tales: Brad Miller trade looks like an instant winner

Evaluating trades can sometimes be almost as tricky as making them, judgments evolving and opinions changing based on when the snapshots are taken. Some deals can look good at first, then turn out bad, others the converse. Then there are those that lead to others, so the secondary acquisitions — the trade tree — become part of the evaluation.

Is two seasons a fair time to judge? If prospects are integral parts, should it be more like five?

But in this world of instant analysis and immediate gratification, sometimes you have to go by what you see in front of you in the first season.

And by that scale, the Rays' acquisition of Brad Miller — wherever he ends up playing in the field — appears to be one of their biggest hits.

Miller went into play Saturday with 28 homers, which isn't just the most he has had in any of his four big-league seasons but one shy of his career total.

His jump from his career high of 11 last season with Seattle is the largest of any American League player who played regularly (minimum) and third most in the majors (behind Arizona's Jake Lamb, +22, and Yasmany Tomas, +20).

Part is due to opportunity, as he has already made 49 more plate appearances than in 2015. Part is maturity as a hitter, as he has learned to better handle the ups and downs. Part is philosophy, as he has taken a more aggressive approach, incorporating a leg kick to better "max out" on balls.

And part is that he was good.

Certainly better than his stats showed in Seattle, and the Rays recognized that in getting him plus RHP Danny Farquhar and now-injured 1B/DH Logan Morrison for a package of RHP Nathan Karns (6-2, 5.15, bumped to bullpen and on DL since July 30 with a back strain), OF Boog Powell (suspended for PEDs in minors) and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser (traded a month later to Orioles, eventually released).

Between what their scouts saw and their computers spit out, the Rays had a pretty good take on Miller.

"I didn't really know him that well, so I went by what a lot of our front office said and the scouts that were part of acquiring him," manager Kevin Cash said.

"And the one thing I remember being said over and over was that this guy hits the ball really, really hard. And we think that maybe with his numbers he had some bad luck in Seattle, that he was hitting balls hard that weren't finding holes. To their credit, they were right. Because he does hit the ball very hard. And maybe he did have some bad luck because he's finding a bunch of holes this year. And holes over the fence."

The Rays didn't expect him to be pushing 30 homers but don't see any reason why Miller — who will cash in on his big numbers as a first-time arbitration eligible for 2017, though he isn't a free agent until 2020 — can't keep producing at that rate. The question now is where to play him, having moved him from shortstop to first after acquiring Matt Duffy and now taking a look at him in leftfield.

Miller's success got us thinking of what other players acquired via trade by the Rays had such big immediate impact. Here are some:

SS Jason Bartlett

Acquired from Twins in November 2007 (with RHP Matt Garza for Delmon Young)

2008 season: Hit .286-1-37 but anchored defense and was voted MVP of team that ended up in World Series. 1.7 WAR

RHP Matt Garza

Acquired from Twins November 2007 (with SS Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young)

2008 season: Went 11-9, 3.70 in 30 starts, sliding into rotation fronted by James Shields. Won ALCS MVP award, going 2-0, 1.38, winning Games 3 and 7. 3.3 WAR

RHP Rafael Soriano

Acquired from Braves December 2009 (for RHP Jesse Chavez)

2010 season: Led AL with 45 saves (in 48 opportunities), going 3-2, 1.73, making All-Star team, finishing 8th in Cy Young voting. 2.2 WAR

OF Wil Myers

Acquired from Royals December 2012 (with RHP Jake Odorizzi and others for RHPs Wade Davis, James Shields)

2013 season: Not called up until mid June, hit .293-13-53 with an .831 OPS for a team that reached postseason, won AL rookie of the year award. 1.9 WAR

RHPs Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler

Acquired in July 2007, Balfour from Brewers for RHP Seth McClung, Wheeler from Astros for Ty Wigginton

2008 season: Teamed to provide veteran backbone of AL championship bullpen. Balfour was 6-2-4, 1.54 in 51 games, 2.9 WAR; Wheeler 5-6-13, 3.12 in a team-high 70 games, 1.4 WAR.

Worth mentioning …

RHP Brad Boxberger, acquired from Padres in January 2014, came up from Triple A to go 5-2-2, 2.37 in 63 games, striking out 104 of 247 batters, an MLB-record rate for a righty reliever. … SS Yunel Escobar, acquired from Marlins December 2012, hit .256-9-56 while playing strong defense for playoff team. … OF Sam Fuld, acquired from Cubs in January 2011, made dazzling debut defensively.

Short stops

• Give MLB's 2017 schedule-makers credit for having the Rays and Cubs play home-and-home series, but they get a demerit for making the first meeting between Joe Maddon and his old club in Chicago (July 4-5). Maddon's return to the Trop is the bigger deal, and the bigger draw, but having those games so late in the season (Sept. 19-20) makes it somewhat anticlimactic and in midweek, less of an event. (Though with the Cubs off Sept. 18, it could make for a busy team dinner night at Maddon's Tampa restaurant, Ava.)

• The Rays' scheduled June 10 single-admission doubleheader (assuming they don't hike the prices and it really is two games for the price of one) is a cool and creative idea. Essentially, the Rays gave up a Monday game against the A's that barely would have drawn 10,000 to make Saturday an event that should be well received.

• If Rays management didn't think David Ortiz was worthy of a fuzzy ceremonial farewell next weekend at the Trop because he wasn't in the class of previous honorees Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, they should — deftly — say so. If there were other reasons, they are better off going along with the other teams, and their own players' wishes, and do something on the field.

Rays rumblings

Now-retired RHP Joel Peralta will be a huge asset to a team in a front office or coaching role, though Andrew Friedman's Dodgers likely have the inside track. Peralta wants to pitch a few games of winter ball in his native Dominican Republic as a thank you to the fans. … Rays VP Chaim Bloom, who interviewed previously for the Brewers and Phillies GM jobs, is a logical candidate for the Twins, who are seeking to reshape their operation with two top executives. … The Rays will be tested early in 2017, with their first 14 games and 26 of 46 against the Yankees, Jays and Red Sox, with the other 20 vs. '16 contenders Detroit, Houston, Baltimore, Miami, Kansas City and Cleveland. … INF Logan Forsythe and OF Steven Souza Jr. are set to be first-time dads shortly after the season. … Probably not a coincidence that MLB has the Rays and D'backs hosting Sunday ESPN-televised '17 openers as the expansion brothers start their 20th seasons. … 3B Evan Longoria was behind last weekend's rookie dress-up, finding the patriotic wrestling singlets on Amazon, with RHP Jake Odorizzi adding the earguards. … In trying different strategies, the Rays are offering half-off tickets via the Travel Zoo site for Wednesday's and Thursday's games. … The State College team that beat the Rays' Hudson Valley affiliate was managed by ex-Ray Sean Rodriguez's dad, Johnny.

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