Kevin Kiermaier may be among the most obvious possible trade chips in the sport, though he isn’t the only Rays outfielder that may be available. According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier and Austin Meadows are the “most likely to go in a trade” and Manuel Margot could “maybe” also be floated to other teams.
Since the Rays roster is in constant flux, it isn’t surprising that the club is at least open to discussing anyone short of Wander Franco. We examined Margot as a potential trade candidate last week, citing his appeal to other teams as a similar glove-first type of player to Kiermaier, except younger, less expensive, and with a less-checkered injury history. Meadows bring a different skillset to the table, plus more long-term control since he is controlled through the 2024 season via salary arbitration.
Meadows hit .234/.315/.458 with 27 home runs over 591 plate appearances in 2021, bouncing back from a rough 2020 season that saw him post only a .667 OPS over 152 PA. That 2020 campaign was hampered by both a case of COVID-19 during Summer Camp and then an oblique strain in late September, though Meadows was able to return for much of the Rays’ postseason run.
Despite the rebound year, however, Meadows’ 2021 numbers weren’t without some concerns. Quite a bit of his production was contained within a red-hot stretch from May 2 to June 6 that saw Meadows hit .275/.365/.625 with 10 home runs. In the 345 PA after that hot streak, however, Meadows was only a .224/.290/.406 hitter. The left-handed hitting Meadows had posted pretty good numbers against lefties over his career, but his 2021 splits saw him deliver just a .563 OPS in 189 PA against southpaws (as opposed to an .871 OPS in 351 PA against right-handed pitching).
Defensive shifts played a big part in these splits, as teams shifted 75% of the time against Meadows in 2021, a marked increase from the previous two seasons. The result was a .304 wOBA against the shift (with a .402 wOBA in normal defensive alignments). Meadows also made much less hard contact in 2021 than he did in the previous two seasons, with a 37.9% hard-hit ball rate that put him in only the 32nd percentile of all batters.
Meadows has been mostly utilized as a left fielder over the last two seasons, with mixed results depending on your metric of choice. Defensive Runs Saved (+2) and UZR/150 (+4.2) give him positive grades, while Outs Above Average puts Meadows at only a -1 for his 799 2/3 innings in left field. While not bad defensive numbers by any stretch, the Rays still gave Meadows a lot of DH time before Nelson Cruz was acquired prior to the trade deadline.
Dealing Meadows would be a very intriguing move for a Tampa Bay club that is no stranger to aggressive trades, even of players who seemed like building blocks in the recent past. It can be argued that Meadows still is or should be a building block, considering the power he brings to the table, his former top-prospect status with the Pirates, and his three years of team control.
The increasing price tag of those arbitration years, however, might also factor against Meadows’ longer-term future in Tampa. MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projects Meadows to earn $4.3MM in his first arb-eligible year, and barring any changes to the arbitration structure in the next CBA, traditional counting stats like home runs and RBIs may continue to play an outsized role in determining a player’s future salary. If the Rays feel they can get a more productive overall player into the mix now, they could opt to deal Meadows while he may still be able to command something close to a premium return.
With some more established veteran outfield bats available in free agency, Meadows stands an interesting alternative for teams that might not be willing to pay big money to sign a Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, or Michael Conforto. Meadows’ three years of control would put a different type of high price tag on his services, though an enterprising team could tempt the Rays with any number of offers. Whatever the move, Topkin figures a larger-profile trade is likelier to come closer to the start of Spring Training if the Rays can help it, since the team would like to avoid “the disruption” involved with trading an established member of the roster later in camp.
Outfield prospect Josh Lowe is ready for a larger role in 2022, able to step into the Rays’ outfield mix in the event that any of Meadows, Kiermaier, or Margot is traded. Replacing a left fielder is easier than replacing a premium defensive glove like Kiermaier or Margot, so Tampa Bay could also look elsewhere if it isn’t satisfied with an outfield mix of Randy Arozarena, Brett Phillips, Kiermaier, Margot, and Vidal Brujan. Topkin also reiterates that the Rays are hoping to find a right-handed hitter who can play first base, and if such player is also outfield-capable, that would only help the depth chart.