The Devil Rays have already made one trade sending Joey Gathright to the Royals for a promising pitching prospect, J. P. Howell. There are also rumors that several teams (Angels, Rockies, others?) are pursuing Carl Crawford (more on that later). In addition, the Rays have several veterans that are slated to be free agents at the end of the season, including Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo and Travis Lee. Now the Tampa Tribune is reporting that the Rays are close to completing a deal that would send Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall to the Dodgers for catching prospect Dioner Navarro.
Navarro was one of the prospects sent to the Dodgers in the three-way trade that sent Randy Johnson to the Yankees and Shawn Green to the Diamondbacks. Navarro is young (22) and is considered a very strong defensive catcher, that is yet to develop as a hitter. He was named the Yankees 2003 minor league player of the year after splitting the season between Tampa and Trenton where he hit .341 with 3 home runs in 58 games. He is considered the Dodger’s catcher of the future and has played 25 games in Dodger Blue this season batting .280 with 2 home runs. Navarro is considered expendable with the emergence of Russell Martin. Navarro recently spent a stint on the DL with a bone bruise in his foot and when he was activated was optioned to AAA Las Vegas where his hitting .175 in 11 games.
The question is…Is Hall and Hendrickson too big a price to pay for a catching prospect? We have no trouble trading Hendrickson, who just turned 32, and would be considered to be worth a lot on the trade market as a left handed starter who eats up innings and has a strong ERA if not a record to reflect how well he has pitched this season. His contract for this season is reasonable at approximately $2 million. The problem is Hendrickson is arbitration eligible at the end of the season and likely would command a hefty raise. Toby Hall is in a similar boat making slightly more this season ($2.3 million) and is also arbitration eligible at the end of the season. We can’t see Hall increasing his salary too much, but he will command a raise. Where our concern lies is in how the loss of Huff will affect the pitching staff. A pitching staff as young as the Rays’ with the likes of Kid K, James Shields, Tim Corcoran, Edwin Jackson and company, needs a veteran presence behind the plate. In addition, Hall is starting to develop into a solid offensive contributor. He will never be an all-star at the plate, but we can see him becoming a .280-20-80 hitter. Then again, Hall is 31 himself, and his shelf-life as a catcher we begin to decline in the next couple of years. But by then, the staff will have matured
So…is Hendrickson and Hall too big a price? Hard to say. The team will save a lot of money from the 2007 payroll. We would guess that team would save $8-12 million by moving both players, which could be used to bring in one or two veteran pitchers. The other reason this trade makes sense, is that catcher is the one position in the minors that the Devil Rays lack a strong major league prospect. Navarro would likely immediately step in and become the Rays’ starting catcher for the next decade. The move would make more sense if the team can bring in a veteran backup catcher for the 2007 season at a cheap price.
Of course there could be a small bidding war for Hendrickson and Hall. The Yankees have shown interest in Hall, having scouted him several times. Now that Vince Naimoli is no longer running the team, there is a better chance of the Rays and Yankees working together, considering the animosity between George Steinbrenner and Naimoli. However, we find it hard to believe that the Yankees can generate a package that would be strong enough to entice the Tampa Brass.
So then who is next if this trade goes through? The logical and obvious choices are Huff and Lugo and to a lesser extent, Travis Lee. Huff has started his traditional second half surge in the last couple of weeks, in which he has raised his average from below the Mendoza Line to .242, batting .325 in June after a .175 May and .182 April. Huff and Lugo have been the object of other team’s affections for over a year and will be moved before the July 31 trading deadline. Huff could be a target for the Detroit Tigers who could use a DH. Moving Lugo (several teams are interested) would open the door for B. J. ‘Don’t Call Me Melvin’ Upton. The team needs to see if Upton is a Major League shortstop and could use the second half of this season to make that determination. His bat and speed are ready, and need to be in the bigs. The wildcard is Travis Lee. Lee could command a mid-level minor league prospect from a contending team, looking for a solid defensive first baseman that could come off the bench late in games (New York Yankees?).
As the calendar is about to turn to July, the next 5 weeks could be the busiest trading month ever for this young franchise. The new regime has already shown that they are not afraid to pull the trigger on a trade and we would not be surprised if on August 1st, Lugo, Huff, Hendrickson, Hall and Lee are all playing elsewhere.