More than any of the names that were pitched, proposed or potentially pawned off, more than other deals featuring a passel of prospects or a catcher with promise, Matt Duffy was what made Monday's big deal worth doing for the Rays.
On what was an unusually busy deadline day by their standards, the Rays shipped Steve Pearce, who was of little value this season once they plummeted out of contention, to the Orioles; and they sent Brandon Guyer, who looked to be of little value (and about $2.5 million in salary) next season, to the Indians.
But the headline and, potentially, head-scratching move was trading Matt Moore, their one-time future ace, to the Giants for Duffy and two Class A prospects.
The premise is Duffy, 25, will become the Rays' frontline shortstop, bringing a better glove and broader range than they've gotten from Brad Miller, who will take his potent bat and now get time at first base and in the outfield.
One catch is that for the 2½ seasons he has been in the majors, Duffy has played primarily third base, albeit rather well. Now he will be asked to shift back to his original position, the Rays confident he has the requisite fast feet and soft hands and can "relearn" — as Duffy said — the position, giving them a solid answer to a major 2017 question.
Another is that he is currently on the disabled list, about a week from returning from a left Achilles strain sustained during a June series at the Trop, which makes him all kinds of a perfect fit for this battered bunch.
"We think he can be a very good shortstop for us," Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman said, his voice hoarse from a long night and day on the phone. "He's a good young player to add to the mix and be part of our core going forward. And he was a big part of the motivation in the trade for Matt Moore."
Though Silverman would never share details, the Rays had other options Monday, given what he acknowledged was "overwhelming" and "incredible" interest in their pitchers overall.
They could have traded Moore for a different package. They could have dealt a different starter, Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi or even Drew Smyly. Or they could have done nothing and waited until the winter, when the free agent market will be fallow and the trading options broader as they could engage with all teams and not just contenders.
But at some point, the Rays were going to do something. That's how they operate.
They had more than enough starting pitchers for next season, especially with the expected return of Alex Cobb. Silverman acknowledged as much, that "it's been our business plan in a way to trade from depth to address other areas of need." (And they still may well trade Archer or another starter in the offseason.)
Moore, 27, seemed all along like the most likely to go now. Sure, he had been their best pitcher for the past six weeks and was looking more like the front-end starter from before his April 2014 Tommy John elbow surgery. But there would always be that injury risk, plus an escalating salary, as he was due either a $7 million salary or $2.5 million buyout for 2017, with options of $9 million and $10 million after that.
Moore had made it clear he wanted to stay with the only organization he knew, and he admitted Monday when the 4 p.m. deadline passed that he thought he was clear, only to get the word minutes later. "Right now," he said outside the Rays clubhouse, "there's a lot of different feelings floating around." Ex-mates felt the same, Archer saying it was a tough, emotional goodbye.
Duffy told the San Francisco Chronicle he had similarly mixed emotions, that it was "going to hurt for a while" leaving the Giants, but he was "really excited" to join the Rays, with the added benefit to play alongside Evan Longoria, whom he met at a Long Beach State baseball camp and has followed ever since. (Also, for what it's worth, he has a 35-pound cat named Skeeter.)
Pearce was hardly surprised at being traded given that he was on a one-year, $4.75 million deal and appealed to several contenders, dealt for defense-oriented Class A catching prospect Jonah Heim after no bigger deal arose.
As much as Pearce wanted to stay, he said rejoining the Orioles, for whom he played from 2012-15, "is going to make the transition a lot easier. Couldn't be happier where I'm going."
Guyer, conversely, was totally shocked at being dealt — "No idea at all," he said. "It's bittersweet" — as he headed to join an Indians team that had long eyed him based on his success vs. lefties and ability to get on base, including his record hit by pitch numbers. With Mikie Mahtook in line to take Guyer's spot next season, the Rays got an early start on a winter move by dealing him now, for two minor-leaguers.
Overall, the trades saved the Rays around $4.5 million this year and at least as much next year based on Guyer's salary and Moore's buyout. Seeing Moore pitch in the playoffs (against Joe Maddon's Cubs?) while the Rays are sitting home could sting, but it shouldn't. And obviously there is the potential for one or two of the acquired prospects — such as the intriguing Lucius Fox from the Giants — to develop into something special.
But this deal, on this day, will be judged on Silverman and Co., whose initial trades haven't worked out that well yet, being right on Duffy.
"If you look at the club today going forward, projecting into next year, we should be a more talented club," Silverman said. "We expect to compete again. Recharge, get refocused and go back after it next year."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected].