PORT CHARLOTTE — Ending months of on-and-off talks, the Rays found a trade Monday night for Austin Meadows, sending the left-handed-hitting outfielder/designated hitter to the Tigers.
The official return is one the Rays hope will pay off in the future, infielder Isaac Paredes, a 23-year-old with an intriguing offensive profile who will head to Triple-A, and a competitive balance pick at around No. 70 in the June draft.
But there looks to be a more immediate impact, as the trade opens a spot for multitalented top outfield prospect Josh Lowe on the opening-day roster.
The trade came together quickly in the last few days, with Meadows’ departure from Sunday’s exhibition due to tightness in both quads causing some slight consternation until he reported feeling better on Monday.
Lowe, 24, did just about everything he could last year at Triple-A, hitting .291 with 22 homers, 78 RBIs, 26 steals and a .916 OPS while winning team MVP honors, and getting a quick September call-up to the majors.
In optioning Lowe to the minors last week, manager Kevin Cash basically said it was only because the Rays had no room for him.
“We’re returning … a group of position players that accomplished a lot themselves and feel good about rolling with that group,” Cash said. “Certainly respect everything Josh did. And I really respect the way he handled himself in camp. It’s not easy to come in here and wonder ‘what if’ and all that stuff. He was a pro the entire time. He’s a very confident kid, and it shows. And he should be.”
Paredes is a right-handed-hitting infielder who played parts of the past two seasons with the Tigers, hitting .215 with two homers and 11 RBIs. Spending most of 2021 at Triple-A, he hit .265 with 11 home runs, 42 RBI and an .847 OPS in 72 games, with more walks (56) than strikeouts (47).
He is considered a solid defender at second and third base, and a hitter who profiles to provide more offense than some of their other defensively oriented young infielders, such as Taylor Walls and Vidal Brujan. With a high contact and walk rate, Paredes (puh-RAY-dehs) is somewhat similar in style to Yandy Diaz and potentially a future replacement.
Paredes, a native of Mexico, originally was signed by the Cubs in July 2015, then traded to the Tigers, where he worked his way onto the Baseball America top 100 prospect lists for the 2019 and ‘20 seasons. He will start the season at Durham but seems likely to join the Rays at some point this season.
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The Rays went into the offseason and came out of the lockout talking about trading either Meadows or centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier as a way to clear salary and create more flexibility among their outfield options.
Trading Kiermaier would have saved the Rays considerably more money (he has a team-high $12 million salary, plus a $2.5 million buyout on a 2023 option) but would have taken away what they consider a valuable commodity — a player who can significantly impact games on a regular basis with extraordinary defensive skills.
Meadows, 26, has been much more of an offensive player during his three full seasons and made substantial contributions — a team-leading 33 home runs in 2019 (when he made the American League All-Star team) and a team-high 106 RBIs last season.
But given his shortcomings defensively, he was likely to get much, and maybe most, of his playing time this season at DH. The Rays may have seen some benefit in trading him sooner rather than later.
Plus, Meadows will make $4 million this season and potentially more than $15 million over his additional two seasons of arbitration eligibility.
In heading to Detroit, Meadows will have the chance to play with his younger brother, Parker, a promising outfield prospect in the Tigers system. After the deal was announced, Parker Meadows tweeted, “What just happened ... ”
Meadows was acquired from Pittsburgh in July 2018 as part of the haul in one of the Rays’ most-lopsided trades. They also got Tyler Glasnow, who turned into their top starter, and promising pitching prospect Shane Baz, who made an impressive debut last season, in exchange for Chris Archer.
Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander is expected to discuss the trade on Tuesday morning.
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