Several Rays players told MLBTR that the departure of mainstay James Shields in an offseason trade was easier to take than it might have been if the deal had happened in the middle of the year. That’s not the only way timing could play a significant role in determining how successful the transaction will become for Tampa Bay.
There’s always been judgment involved when a team calls up a prospect, like the four whom the Rays acquired as part of the Shields trade. Now, as teams try to balance their needs of the moment with worries about heading to arbitration a year too soon with a player they project as a star, there’s often a layer of decision-making that transcends on-field performance.
Rays manager Joe Maddon expressed confidence during spring training that the team’s front office would let baseball acumen alone determine when 22-year-old Wil Myers, the most coveted prospect in the Shields deal, makes his major league debut. Rays executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman didn’t directly say whether that will be the case, but when MLBTR asked whether Maddon’s belief is correct, Friedman repeated comments he made recently to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com indicating that competitiveness and baseball readiness are his chief concerns.
“With any potential move there are a lot of factors to consider — the fit on our roster, what it means for our depth, and so on,” Friedman said. “We also have to be really mindful that our goal is to compete year in and year out in the toughest division in baseball with almost no margin for error. The AL East will expose very quickly any weaknesses that you have. So when we bring someone here, we need to feel that he’s ready to step in and help us win right away. As Joe has touched on already this spring, if we add someone who’s not ready, not only will it hurt the team but it can really set the player back as well.”
If Myers isn’t yet ready, it doesn’t seem like he’s far off. Last year the outfielder spent a third of the season at Double-A and the rest at Triple-A, and altogether he blasted 37 home runs with a slash line of .314/.387/.600. He opened the season as the No. 4 prospect on the Baseball America and MLB.com lists, though his 2013 performance has lacked sizzle so far. His OPS of .762 in 17 major league spring training games is similar to his .768 OPS in 10 games at Triple-A. Still, that’s significantly better than Tampa Bay’s AL-worst .569 OPS.
Ben Zobrist, one of the bright spots in the Rays lineup this year, told MLBTR he accepts the club’s decision to keep Myers on the farm for now.
“He’s going to be ready when he’s ready,” Zobrist said. “The organization’s going to make that decision. He’s obviously an exciting player. He’s done a lot of really good things so far in his minor league career, and I think if all goes well, he’s going to be an exciting player at the major league level, too, but he’s still got some seasoning to do, from their standpoint, and we’ll see what happens as the year goes on. But he’s definitely an exciting player to watch.”
Alex Cobb sympathizes with Myers. The right-handed starting pitcher improved his ERA each year in the minors after making his pro debut at rookie ball in 2006. As is often the case with young arms in the Rays organization, Cobb spent time at each level of the system, finally reaching the majors in 2011. Last season, at the age of 24, he made double-digit appearances in the big leagues for the first time. Still, Cobb came to embrace the club’s deliberate approach to call-ups, as he explained to MLBTR.
“I’ve been victim to it as much as guys in the past, but you understand it,” he said. “There’s pros and cons of being in this organization. That’s one of the minor cons of being a player in this organization. There are so many pros of just everyday life in and out of the clubhouse here. And so, when that does happen to you, you understand that you just have to pay your dues. Chris Archer’s going through it right now. It’s not a bad thing, once you’ve beaten that. It’s very discouraging while you’re going through it, and you try to put on as good a front as you can, but it is tough. But, going through it, it makes you a stronger person on and off the field. So, it’s only going to make you better between the ears when you get up here and finally do stick. You really do appreciate it.”
Cobb, who’ll be 30 by the time he’s eligible for free agency, certainly doesn’t hold any grudge against the organization for the pace of his ascent up the minor league ladder, and doesn’t think Myers or other prospects will, either.
“Initially, maybe, that’s their first instinct, is to get mad,” Cobb said. “But I think when your head cools down, you prevail from whatever the emotions you’re going through, and you realize that it’s a smart business decision. And it is, because from the outside looking in now, you realize how much they need to do those type of things to stay competitive. I think it’s become an understanding that now you pay your dues, and you do it, and you eventually become a better big leaguer for it, and you have a great career afterwards.”