Should The Rays Trade Davis Or Niemann?

By Mark Hock

While you can never have too much pitching, the Rays are fortunate enough to have nearly 8 major league calibre starting pitchers. And according to Marc Topkin, if the Rays plan on moving any of them it’s likely that Niemann or Davis will be traded. With very few starting pitchers available in free agency who are better than Niemann or Davis, the Rays should be able to move them for something of significant value.

The Rays could use their pitching depth to improve their offence, which ranked 8th in the AL last season. They got virtually no production out of their first basemen last year, as Tampa’s 1B ranked 13th in the AL with a 745 OPS. Their DH production was a nearly identical 744 OPS, so it’s clear the Rays have some room for improvement. Flipping one of their starters for a big bat would go a long way towards helping them make their fourth playoff appearance in five seasons.

Another spot they could upgrade is SS, where Reid Brignac showed he was completely overmatched. The Rays shortstops hit…no, flailed to the tune of a 193/256/282 line, ranking last in the majors. You have to wonder if GM Andrew Friedman would really give Brignac another shot at short, or if they have another move up their sleeve. Heading into 2012 Brignac might be the worst SS in the game.

The Rays would be best suited to trade Jeff Niemann. He’s very injury prone, a major reason why he’s never thrown more than 180 2/3 innings at the major league level. He’s arbitration eligible, and might be overvalued because of his low ERA and strong record. The former due to the ballpark he pitches in and his stellar defence, while the latter is a result of playing for a winning team. The Rays can’t afford to spend more on a player than he is worth, especially for a non-elite, injury prone one like Niemann.

Unfortunately, those same concerns are why many expect Wade Davis to be traded before Niemann. Davis is only guaranteed $11.6M over the next 3 seasons, followed by 3 club controlled option years for $25M. Davis has struggled to strike batters out while showing poor control, a scary combination for a starting pitcher. Davis’ swinging strike rate has decreased in 3 straight seasons, which means that batters are no longer fooled by his stuff. With pitchers like Alex Torres and Alex Cobb ready for the majors, Davis won’t be able to keep his job for much longer if he doesn’t start fooling more hitters.

One thing is clear – somebody is going to have to be traded. The Rays could demote Cobb and Torres to the minors, or keep them in the bullpen. But that would be a waste of their talent, and depending on how the Red Sox rebound, might just cost the Rays a playoff spot.

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