Even before the lockout ended, it was reported that the Rays would be open to moving Austin Meadows once transactions were allowed to resume. That’s apparently proving to be the case, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal tweets that Meadows is being “prominently” mentioned in trade discussions around the league. This morning’s four-year deal between the Phillies and Kyle Schwarber is expected to help the outfield market begin to move, Rosenthal adds.
Any team that missed out on Schwarber would figure to at least have some degree of interest in the 26-year-old Meadows, who swatted 33 home runs for Tampa Bay in 2019 and 27 long balls this past season. A poor showing in the shortened 2020 season has dragged down his overall line over that three-year term, but it still checks in at a healthy .256/.334/.493.
Meadows pounded left-handed pitching in his brilliant 2019 campaign but has looked overmatched against southpaws in each of the past two seasons. Some clubs will surely view him as more of a platoon candidate, but even if that’s the case, he’s a high-quality option. In his career against right-handed pitching, Meadows is a .271/.351/.525 hitter.
From a defensive standpoint, Meadows is best-suited for work in left field, where he has serviceable if unspectacular ratings from metrics like Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and Outs Above Average. He’s seen limited action in center and another 600-plus innings in right field but doesn’t rate well at either position.
The Rays currently control Meadows through the 2024 season, and he’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $4.9MM this coming season. That’s plenty affordable for any team, even the Rays, but Tampa Bay has a deep crop of outfield talent. Randy Arozarena, Kevin Kiermaier, Manuel Margot, Josh Lowe, Brett Phillips and Vidal Brujan (a top infield prospect who’s seen some time in the outfield) give the Rays the flexibility to make a move if the return for Meadows is convincing enough. Second baseman Brandon Lowe, too, has some experience in the outfield.
More interesting is that the Rays have been somewhat surprisingly tied to more expensive targets on the market. The Rays were linked to Oakland’s Matt Chapman before he was traded to the Blue Jays and had interest in NPB star Seiya Suzuki before he agreed to terms with the Cubs. More recently, they’ve been rumored as a long-shot landing spot for star first baseman Freddie Freeman, who penned a farewell message to Braves fans today and remains unsigned.
Clearing Meadows’ projected $4.9MM salary isn’t going to seismically change the team’s payroll outlook, but for a Rays club with designs on aiming bigger than it typically might in a given offseason, moving a roughly $5MM outfielder when the team has ample depth to replace him could free up some resources to address other pursuits. Even if the Rays don’t ultimately make a big splash with whatever resources are saved in a theoretical Meadows deal, part of the reason they remain so successful on a perennial basis is their willingness to market quality regulars like this even before their salary reaches the point that it becomes a legitimate payroll encumbrance.