Evaluating the Trade: Rays get Jose De Leon from Dodgers for Forsythe

It’s no secret that the Dodgers have been in the hunt for a second baseman since the offseason began. Their search ended on Monday, when they dealt organizational #2 prospect Jose De Leon for Rays’ second baseman Logan Forsythe. Forsythe has recently developed into a solid player, he has hit 37 HR, triple-slashed .273/.347/.444, and compiled 7.6 bWAR over the past two seasons, but his contract expires after 2017 (he also has a 2018 team option for $9MM with a $1MM buyout, and I would imagine the option gets picked up) so it was only logical for the Rays, who seem to be in a perpetual state of rebuilding, to deal him.

The Dodgers trading De Leon is a head-scratcher; De Leon profiles as the #33 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, and considering the Dodgers’ current pitching situation, it seems foolish to deal a pitching prospect (especially a blue-chipper) that is so close to the majors. With that said, it’s not like the Dodgers are starved for pitching prospects. They currently have 20-year-old lefty phenom Julio Urias, who has been tabbed by many scouts as the next Fernando Valenzuela or Clayton Kershaw, in addition to fireballing righties Yadier Alvarez, Walker Buehler, Jordan Sheffield, and Brock Stewart, all of whom project to join the rotation at some point in 2019. I don’t think it was absolutely necessary for the Dodgers to fill the hole at second base by giving up a top prospect, but Forsythe will likely be out of Los Angeles after 2018, at which point #82 overall prospect Willie Calhoun (27 HR in 132 games at AA in 2016) will take over the keystone for the Dodgers, so it’s not as though they don’t have a plan in place for once Forsythe walks.

The Rays side of the trade is a bit more interesting, to say the least. Not that Forsythe isn’t an interesting player, he’s a very solid all-around guy, but many questions have been raised about what exactly the Rays are trying to do in this trade. The Rays already have a very solid rotation (Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell, Matt Andriese, and Alex Cobb), with top-40 prospect Brett Honeywell waiting in the wings. Adding De Leon to this mix seems like nothing more than starting rotation headache heading into the season, but there are worse problems to have than too many starting pitchers heading into a season. Plus, teams that are rebuilding generally should just try to stockpile as many top prospects as possible in order to minimize their overall risk; if an organization has a lot of top prospects, the probability of one of them turning into a valuable contributor is much greater. In the same vein, the probability of ending up with all busts is vastly decreased.

This brings me to my next point, though: what are the Rays trying to do? I addressed the trade specifically above, but the Rays have basically been non-contenders for three seasons. They made the playoffs in 2012 (won the wild card game and lost to the Red Sox in the ALDS), and made the playoffs four out of six seasons from 2008-2013, but in the other 13 seasons they have not finished higher than 4th in the AL East. That could be attributed to a multitude of things; the Yankees are a perennial powerhouse in the AL East, and the Jays, Orioles, and Red Sox have been contenders to various degrees over the same time span, so they aren’t in an easy situation in that regard. Even after accounting for that, though, the Rays have been dead last in all of baseball in attendance in each of the past five seasons, and the attendance is trending in the wrong direction. They really only have two good position players (Evan Longoria and Kevin Kiermaier), and have been extremely reluctant to spend money to win. Obviously spending ridiculous sums of money a la Yankees circa 2006 or today’s Dodgers is not a necessity, but the Rays have been in the bottom six for spending in each of the past five seasons, even coming in dead-last for payroll in two of those years. I could go on about how the Rays need to spend some cash if they want to win, but my idea to turn the Rays around is this: move the franchise to Montreal.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking to think that moving the franchise to Montreal would gain the fans any support, but I can’t imagine that attendance in Montreal would be any worse than attendance currently is in St. Petersburg. Ideas have been floated around of the Rays becoming a part-time team in both Tampa and Montreal (they would play 40 home games in each location) but my guess is that the owners of the team would be hesitant to make such a move, and the MLB Players’ Association would likely veto that move on the grounds that it’s too much travel for the players. The fact of the matter is that baseball seems to be unwanted in Tampa, and if they don’t want the Rays, the Rays should move to somewhere where they’ll be wanted. And a change of scenery might be just the thing the Rays need to turn the franchise around.

(Image Credit: Cliff McBride/Getty Images)

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