It was reported yesterday by MLB Nerds’ Jack Azoulay-Haron that the Tampa Bay Rays are “shopping” star outfielder Randy Arozarena.
Big news regarding the outfielder market: The Rays are shopping OF Randy Arozarena, and there’s a good chance that he is moved, sources tell @MLBNerds.— Jack Azoulay-Haron (@AzoulayHaron) November 29, 2023
For starters, this is who broke the rumblings of Civale to Tampa in the first place.
Arozarena, a 28 year old corner outfielder, is entering his first year of arbitration with Tampa Bay and is coming off an extremely productive 2023 All-Star campaign where he slashed .254/.364/.425/.789 with a 126 wRC+, 23 home runs and 22 steals with 3.3 fWAR.
Arozarena got off to a blistering start last season, posting a 160 wRC+ with 2.1 fWAR through the end of May, but from there, much like the Rays season, his production dropped significantly, posting just a 107 wRC+ across his final 96 games played.
That being said, Arozarena is as fun a baseball player as he is a good one, and he is a corner outfield bat who possesses power and speed from the right handed batter’s box and crushes fastballs; exactly what this Guardians lineup needs. Arozarena thrives against lefties, posting a slash of .298/.380/.544/.924 across 527 career plate appearances against southpaws. These specific reasons are why I’m singling Arozarena out above the rest: he’s a tremendous fit, he’s cost efficient (groans), and he’s under three years of team control.
So that brings me to the big question: What will it take to get Randy Arozarena in a Guardians uniform?
First, we must understand Arozarena as a player functionally. Randy Arozarena is a good, possibly budding on great, baseball player. Over the past two seasons, the Cuban outfielder has posted 6.1 fWAR, good for 15th among all primary outfielders.
As you’ll see below, Arozarena went from a guy hitting the ball hard but not maximizing his contact output in 2022 (left) to a player who was driving the ball more consistently.
Baseball, being the funny sport that it is, was not very kind to Arozarena in 2023 like it was in 2022. Arozarena’s slugging percentage dropped 20 points from .445 to .425 despite his expected slugging percentage being over 50 points higher year over.
A big adjustment for Arozarena was he became a bit more selective. It was always the obvious next step in his evolution to becoming a good player, but to execute it is a whole other thing. However, Arozarena did just that. Per the pitch info plate discipline tab on FanGraphs, Arozarena cut down on his O-Swing% (swings on pitches out of the zone) by 4.7% to 26.5%, a number resembling his 2021 result during his breakout season. He also crushes fastballs. The fit is seamless.
So, after much deliberation, let’s get into the do’s and don’t’s and what a deal could look like, starting with the don’t’s:
Do not, under any circumstances, move MLB starting players
A move for Arozarena would signal one major thing: this front office is playing to win. That’s not to say they’re ever not playing to win, but this would be a big boy move from a front office that’s waded in the kiddie pool in terms of high-end talent acquisition over the last five years.
What this means is in order to add wins, in fWAR terms, it would be detrimental to lose to gain. Also, moving MLB talent for a player who has put up a lower WAR total over the past two seasons than Steven Kwan isn’t a move that should ever even be entertained. It just feels unnecessary considering how this organization is run.
Young players in or not quite at arbitration years like Triston McKenzie, Steven Kwan, Josh Naylor, Bo Naylor, Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee, or Gavin Williams should never even be thought about. In fact, they would be my no-sell list. I’d even throw Kyle Manzardo on that as well.
Do not trade Chase DeLauter
I’ve dabbled in the Selby is Godcast discord over the past couple days, and there seems to be a disconnect in the value of Randy Arozarena. Arozarena is a very good player, and I fully anticipate him to go through positive regression next season and blossom into a 4-5 win player, but at his current level, he’s not quite there yet, and the vast overvaluing of Arozarena as if he is a year in, year out all-star due to team need and his name value should probably be reigned in a bit.
Compare him to Houston’s Chas McCormick. McCormick is a 29 year-old centerfielder who is also beginning his first year of arbitration and is projected to make much less than Arozarena. McCormick was a better hitter than Arozarena in 2023 and is a better defender. I think both have similar trade value. The perception of Arozarena, when you combine the 2020 Postseason run, 2021 Rookie of the Year, and an All-Star appearance, overshadows the results: a very good, not quite great player...yet.
Why do I bring this up? Chase DeLauter.
Chase DeLauter was Cleveland’s first round pick in 2022, and depending who you ask, fans either love him and don’t think his swing will create a long-term issue, and those who aren’t as high on him and do think his injury history and swing pose a severe long-term value threat. Both are entirely fair, I fall into the first camp.
DeLauter is the best prospect in the Cleveland farm system, he’s just not ranked accordingly yet. DeLauter has been banged up...a lot. It cost him a shot at going R1:P1 in a draft with Jackson Holliday, and it cost him a lot of playing time in 2023. Then he stepped on the field, and everyone put that on the back burner.
The numbers speak for themselves. As someone who isn’t one to prospect hug, and this absolutely could read as “don’t trade the prospects I think are good, trade the ones I don’t fully buy into” (and I’ll explain why that’s not the case later) I’ll latch onto Chase DeLauter in this situation. He is only going to rise up prospect boards as he gets a bit older and climbs the minor league levels. He has so much potential that I just don’t think i’m willing to relinquish in this trade.
Now, the do’s:
Empty the clip on the middle infielders
Cleveland has so many good middle infield prospects, namely Brayan Rocchio. It’s hard to say what Rocchio’s role on Cleveland’s major league roster, but he is at his peak value right now, and it would make a ton of sense to move him this offseason, and this deal would be ideal for both sides. Rocchio is a top 40-60 prospect by virtually every outlet (MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, FanGraphs, etc.). He hit for high average in Triple-A, and while he struggled to hit a bit in his sparse 81 at-bats at the MLB level, his value is still very high.
Tampa Bay, amidst the ongoing ugly situation with Wander Franco, doesn’t have a shortstop. Between Osleivis Basabe and Taylor Walls, it went from a position of great strength to a total vacuum. Top prospect Carson Williams isn’t ready yet, and Rocchio gives you at least the potential for a near league average, switch-hitting, bottom third of the lineup bat with good defense at a premium position right away that can play alongside Brandon Lowe up the middle.
Use every other prospect to get the deal done
Now that I’ve gotten my singular instance of mushy prospect hugging out of the way, everyone else is fair game.
Two years ago, Daniel Espino was untouchable. Now, he more than makes sense as a piece in a deal like this. Espino would be a buy-low headliner alongside Rocchio in this trade for Tampa Bay, and if he can even reach 70% of his potential, they have another very good pitcher. However, we just don’t know what he looks like right now.
The unspoken elephant in the room is that the front office has been brutal at drafting position players for a while now. For years, they spent draft picks trying to find high contact guys who might develop power (José 2.0 theorem) and then bulk up on taking a ton of pitchers (a fair strategy), and it’s finally catching up to this farm system’s position player depth (see: Carson Tucker, the entirety of the 2019 Draft sans Brennan, Richie Palacios, Milan Tolentino, etc.). That being said, there are still some high-end players available to move. Prospects such as Juan Brito, George Valera, Joey Cantillo, and Jaison Chourio should absolutely be on the table here. Exercise your depth of farm system over the top tier talent in it. I would also throw in newly drafted Ralphy Velasquez as a trade piece despite our lack of catching depth across the farm system, and just to convince them, I would send this clip and have the first 30 seconds on loop.
Let’s make a deal
At the end of the day, getting Arozarena is expensive. A guaranteed 3+ fWAR, 120+ wRC+ bat with easy 20 homer power and three years of control just hitting his prime years will cost a good bit, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. I’m going to use Baseball Trade Values solely to provide visual aid for a trade in this scenario, but any of these four trades would be a massive thumbs up from me.
This team needs to make moves like these. They owe it to this roster, namely José, to go out and try to win. There is no concrete window for the Guardians with this pitching staff, and making moves to build up the lineup to be its equal while also having Manzardo and DeLauter in the hip pocket makes this team an instant divisional contender and beyond.