How well have the Rays done with player moves in 2021?

It’s been a while since we’ve last posted articles on the site and in that time, the Rays have been quite busy moving players around.

With the amount of moves this team has made, we’re here to look at them from an overall standpoint and give them some grades for what they’ve done.

We will talk about the Willy Adames trade in a larger context, but here is what we’ve thought of Tampa Bay’s recent player moves.

Yoshi Tsutsugo was the first name of note to leave the Rays this season (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

Yoshi Tsutsugo DFA’d: A+

The Rays made a calculated risk signing the then 28-year-old first baseman from the Yokohama BayStars in Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. He was one of the best sluggers in NPB during his career, and Tampa Bay hoped to get that kind of production in MLB after signing him to a two-year, $12 million contract in December 2019.

Unfortunately, Yoshi’s career in Tampa Bay, while promising to start, took a nosedive once the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the 2020 MLB season indefinitely. Not only was Tsutsugo still adjusting to life in the US, but he was unable to train for this season correctly as the pandemic wore on and lockdowns and quarantines sprung up nationwide.

He never quite got adjusted to MLB and despite hitting eight home runs during the 2020 season, he hit just .197 at the plate with a sub-.400 slugging, a .708 OPS and a 0.3 WAR. Rays fans were hoping for a return to form for Yoshi in 2021, but that didn’t happen, and after just 26 games played, he was DFA’d and eventually traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 15.

This move, however, was in the best interest of the Rays and Yoshi as this freed up another roster spot for the team, which has since been filled by Ji-Man Choi, who has returned from his rehab stint, and it allows Yoshi to hopefully flourish in another market. Win-win for both parties.

Hunter Strickland, while performing well in 2021, was moved to the Los Angeles Angels in May (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

Hunter Strickland to Anaheim: B-

This does seem like quite the low grade for this deal, as there truly wasn’t any telling as to what former San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Hunter Strickland would bring to the table coming into the 2021 season. Since his five-year stint in San Francisco ended, Strickland has bounced a bit, landing on three different teams before the Rays signed him to a minor league deal on February 2.

In 13 games with the Rays, Strickland was a fantastic relief option, topping out around 100 MPH on his fastball with some great breaking pitches. He recorded a 1.69 ERA with a 3.05 FIP in 16 innings pitched, striking out 16 and walking just six. His K/9 rate was the highest in any season he had appeared in 13 games or more and was rivaling numbers he put up in his first three seasons in San Francisco.

However, on May 15, the Rays sent him to the Los Angeles Angels for cash considerations or a player to be named later, but this trade just seemed weird at the time. The Rays have dealt with injury problems to its pitching staff arguably worse than any other team in MLB this season. Having fortified arms in the pen is a big positive, but knowing Strickland was just on a minor league contract, his time in Tampa Bay was limited to start.

The grade is lower because honestly, despite the arms the Rays have back in the bullpen, it would’ve been nice for Strickland to have stayed on the team until the trade deadline, where they could’ve gotten a more in a trade package for him. However, the Rays did fortify the bullpen more in a later deal we will discuss.

Fan favorite Willy Adames became the next big Rays name to leave via trade after heading to Milwaukee on May 21. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

Willy Adames & Trevor Richards to Milwaukee: A-

We can’t possibly give this trade an A+, and giving it an A- seems like a bit too much, but this is honestly a win-win for both sides of this deal. As much as Rays fans love Willy Adames, the shortstop of this team since 2018, we all knew that his time in Tampa Bay was going to come to an end soon, and most thought it would have been at the trade deadline this season.

Tampa Bay’s farm system is the best in baseball, and players have been chomping at the bit to come up, and this trade freed up just that. Adding in Trevor Richards to the deal balanced it out on the end of the Brewers, who have been in desperate need of bullpen arms.

Trevor Richards’ stint in Tampa Bay was short-lived, but in Milwaukee, he should be a key reliever. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays)

It seems like much more of a throw-in piece as Richards has struggled since the second half of the 2019 season, immediately after he was traded, along with Nick Anderson, to the Rays from Miami for Ryne Stanek and Jesus Sanchez.

In return, the Rays received relievers Drew Rasmussen and J.P. Feyereisen, two fireballers who should feature in “The Stable” soon. Feyereisen has already appeared in a few games for the Rays and has looked good, aside from his blown save in Game 2 of the Royals series earlier this week.

The Brewers get an arm for a struggling bullpen that has seen a decline in star reliever Devin Williams, and a franchise shortstop to build around in Adames, so another win-win. 

Stay tuned for our larger article focusing on the departure of shortstop Willy Adames.

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