Sometimes you win trades and sometimes you lose trades, but what about the rumored trades that never actually go down?
While we can never be sure if these nationally reported trading rumors are in fact true, it’s a fun exercise to look back at reported discussions. This rumor of 2018 contains a trade that makes us question the validity of the report, but was one I could not help thinking of, so let’s dive in.
What did the rumored deal look like?
Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported this the Rays focused on Jeff McNeil in trade talks during the 2018 off-season. He goes on to speculate that a hypothetical trade in which New York may have been interested might look like this:
- Mets received: Kevin Kiermaier, Yonny Chirinos
- Rays received: Jeff McNeil
At the time of these talks, Kiermaier was 28 years old and four years left on his contract while Chirinos was only 24 years old with five years of team control left. Jeff McNeil was 26 years old and had just come off his debut season in which he hit .329 / .381 / .471 and yielded 2.7 fWAR in just 63 games. He also had another six years of team control, which made him very valuable in the trade. McNeil mostly played second base in New York, but has some experience on the third and in the outfield corners.
The confusing part is that Tampa Bay is just promoting and expanded another left-hander hit second basemen in Brandon Lowe at this point, making McNeil’s potential fit on the roster unclear. Joey Wendle (another left-hander hitting second baseman) also came off a terrific first season with Tampa Bay in which he scored 3.8 fWAR in 139 games.
If these talks did indeed have merit, the Rays were clearly not too concerned about the possible construction of the roster, but were rather focused on trying to acquire a player with a bright future while later figuring out the bottleneck.
What actually happened?
McNeil turned out to be a quality player in New York and definitely one who could have helped the past few Rays teams. In his first three major league seasons, he placed wRC + values of 136, 144 and 131, respectively, before faltering to a 93 wRC + in 2021. FanGraphs even ranked McNeil at 39 on their top 50 list of players with the most trade value just one year later in 2019.
The Rays eventually stuck with both Yonny Chirinos and Kevin Kiermaier as they are both still with the team at the moment. If we know what we are doing now, we can see this hypothetical trade from the lens of WAR:
- McNeil has been producing 6.4 fWAR and 8.0 bWAR since the beginning of 2019
- Chirinos and Kiermaier have combined for 6.9 fWAR and 9.9 bWAR since the beginning of 2019
Most of the upliftment on the Rays side of this comparison was done by Kevin Kiermaier, who still showed that he is a capable producer when he is healthy. Chirinos put together a strong 2019 season (133.1 IP, 3.85 ERA), but unfortunately tore his UCL in his third appearance of 2020. He is also will be expected to miss the first few months of 2022.
Although the Rays side of this agreement seems the best end to this point, another remark to consider is that McNeil would have earned only a fraction of the salary that Kiermaier and Chirinos made together.
Are the rays better suited to it?
Sure, the McNeil side of this trade won from a WAR per dollar perspective, but there was no indication that the Rays were struggling at this point in time from a budget perspective.
Tampa Bay had just come out under Evan Longoria’s contract in the previous off-season, which greatly freed the payroll. In 2018, The Rays used this new spending power to ink Charlie Morton to $ 30M contract as well as include cash in trades as they did land Yandy Diaz of Cleveland. Why does the team make it worse just to save a few dollars at a time when the Rays were not tied up for cash?
Aside from the money, McNeil simply did not match the production that Kiermaier and Chirinos provided for Tampa Bay. You could argue that the gap in production is even greater than the WAR values indicate because of how highly the Rays value Kiermaier’s defense.
Kiermaier’s name has been in the rumor mill for years now, but Tampa Bay was reluctant to trade him, probably because his defense is more valuable in the eyes of Rays executives than it is in the public sphere. If Kiermaier had been handed out, it would have been difficult for the Rays to find a replacement in midfield, as Avisail Garcia was the only other internal option capable of there.
In addition, the subtraction of Chirinos would have made a hole in the rotation that the Rays would probably have to fill externally as well. Would it have been worth it to create those gaps just to add another second baseman (probably the teams’ deepest position)?
These reasons make it hard to believe Joel Sherman’s report. Perhaps the two parties did indeed discuss McNeil in trade talks, but perhaps with a different idea of a return. Would Joey Wendle’s return to the deal have made sense for New York? What about a highly regarded prospect like Brendan McKay, who was able to show his hit instrument along with his abilities in the national league games?
The reality is that this deal would have been an awkward fit from the start, even though McNeil looked like a promising player and did become one. Accidental, It has been reported that McNeil is back on the trading block this off-seasonwe will have to wait and see if an agreement is finally reached.