The Rays have a reputation for winning trades, with good reason. They’ve proven especially adept at picking up undervalued assets from other organizations. Just this month, MLBTR’s Connor Byrne has covered three key players on the current roster who were acquired either in minor deals or were seen as lesser-regarded players in a more notable swap.
There’s one prominent example, though, of a player whom the Rays gave up as a secondary piece in a bigger trade, only to watch blossom in his new surroundings: right-hander German Márquez. Even the smartest organizations have their share of misses.
At the time the Rays and Rockies completed their January 2016 four-player swap, it was generally seen as the Corey Dickerson–Jake McGee deal. Dickerson had put up fantastic offensive numbers in parts of three seasons in Colorado, hitting .299/.346/.532 (124 wRC+) with 38 home runs in 921 plate appearances. Even after adjusting for Coors Field, Dickerson looked like a fantastic hitter. There were questions about him defensively, but there was obvious appeal to adding a potential middle-of-the-order bat with four seasons of team control for Tampa Bay.
On the other side, the Rockies most visible acquisition was the final two arbitration seasons of McGee. He’d carved out a masterful run at the back end of the Rays’ bullpen in the four years prior. The Rockies envisioned a left-handed strikeout arm anchoring their relief corps. (That didn’t happen, as McGee has fallen off, particularly after signing an ill-fated three-year deal to return to Colorado as a free agent after 2017).
Despite McGee’s prior dominance, the deal seemed tilted in the Rays’ favor. Dave Cameron, then of Fangraphs, opined that the Dickerson-McGee framework “just doesn’t make any sense for the Rockies.” As MLBTR’s Steve Adams and Jeff Todd explained, “it’s somewhat surprising…the Rockies felt comfortable parting with four years of Dickerson for two years of a reliever, however excellent he may be, and one mid-level pitching prospect. Colorado, of course, may see considerably more in Marquez than others in the industry.”
Maybe the Rockies were truly outliers in evaluating the then-20-year-old pitcher more favorably than the rest of the league. If they were, credit to them. Over the past four seasons, Márquez has handily been the most valuable player in the swap. He’s racked up between 10 and 12 wins above replacement despite not reaching the majors until that September. His curveball, merely projected to average as a prospect, has actually proven one of the better swing-and-miss offerings of its type leaguewide, per Brooks Baseball. Increased reliance on his slider in 2018 coincided with a second big uptick in his strikeout rate. Long an elite strike-thrower, Márquez now has bona fide swing-and-miss stuff to back it up. Colorado doubled down on their faith in him with a $43MM guarantee last spring that could keep Márquez around via club options through 2024.
On the other side, Dickerson was merely a good hitter over two years in Tampa, undone a bit by an aggressive approach. He hit .265/.310/.480 (109 wRC+) in 1177 plate appearances from 2016-17. With his arbitration costs rising, the Rays somewhat surprisingly shipped him to Pittsburgh for Daniel Hudson, whom they subsequently released, and second base prospect Tristan Gray. Both Gray and Kevin Padlo, the second player the Rockies sent to Tampa four years ago, remain in the system as decently-regarded prospects.
The Rays figure to recoup some long-term value from Padlo and Gray, but that’ll likely pale in comparison what Márquez has achieved in Colorado. He stands out as the one who got away for Tampa.