Trade for Siri gives Rays boost in center field

Tampa Bay acquires 2nd-year outfielder from Houston in 3-team deal

August 2nd, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG – With Kevin Kiermaier sidelined for the season and Manuel Margot out for at least a few more weeks, the Rays believe they found an upgrade in center field on Monday by acquiring Jose Siri from the Astros as part of a three-team trade that cost them two well-regarded pitching prospects.

After making the difficult decision to remove fan-favorite outfielder Brett Phillips from the roster, Tampa Bay will install the 27-year-old Siri in center field and play him there regularly moving forward. To get Siri, the Rays shipped Minor League right-hander Jayden Murray to the Astros and right-hander Seth Johnson (their No. 6 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, who will undergo Tommy John surgery this week) to the Orioles as part of a deal that also sent Trey Mancini from Baltimore to Houston.

Rays get: OF Jose Siri (from Astros)
Orioles get: RHP Seth Johnson (Rays' No. 6 prospect) and RHP Chayce McDermott (Astros' No. 12 prospect)
Astros get: 1B/DH Trey Mancini (from Orioles) and RHP Jayden Murray (from Rays)

Siri’s numbers don’t exactly jump off the screen. In 69 games for the Astros, he hit .210/.265/.381 with 14 extra-base hits, nine steals and 65 strikeouts compared to 10 walks.

But the Rays have been impressed by his raw talent, including his elite speed (evidenced by his 100th percentile sprint speed, according to Statcast), outfield range (97th percentile by Outs Above Average) and extra-base power (.470 slugging percentage in the Minors). If he’s given more regular playing time, Tampa Bay believes, he could turn his untapped potential into more consistent production.

“The physical abilities are off the chart,” Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander said. “The defensive abilities, the athleticism and the power, and some of the growth we're seeing in some other areas, it warrants just being a little bit more patient.”

Specifically, the Rays are enthralled by Siri’s defense in center field. Despite having only played 315 innings in center over 41 games this season, Siri is tied for the Major League lead among center fielders with eight Defensive Runs Saved. The Rays have long placed a premium on that ability at that position; it’s why they’ve long valued Kiermaier more than perhaps any other club and why they’ve used Margot, Phillips and most recently Roman Quinn in center.

In Siri, the Rays think they’ve found someone with just as much game-changing potential there -- and, given his limited service time, someone they could have around a long time if he reaches that potential.

“We've spent a lot of time watching Jose Siri this year, last year, and just his coverage out there ... we'd put it up there with anyone,” Neander said. “I think [he's] as good of a defensive center fielder as you're going to see. … We have a really good group, but I think we're bumping up against the upper limits of what someone can do defensively at that position, when it comes to the range and the coverage.”

Siri has not performed well at the plate in the Majors this season, however. The right-handed batter hit only .178/.238/.304 with 48 strikeouts in 48 games for Houston, with only four hits in his last 56 plate appearances. But Siri put up good numbers over 21 games with the Astros last season, and he put together a .296/.346/.775 line with nine homers over 16 games for Triple-A Sugar Land this year.

“All in all, the power that he has offensively and some of the things we're starting to see him growing into, [we] believe that it's more than enough -- given his defensive abilities -- to be an everyday guy for us out there,” Neander said. “I think we'll give him a really good look.

“We do believe that there's the potential there. The extra-base power is real. The ability to impact the baseball is real. Looking forward, I think with reps, just to continue to find ways to connect a little more frequently.”

If Siri can hold his own at the plate, the Rays believe they’ve added a potentially dynamic center fielder to play alongside recently acquired left fielder David Peralta and Randy Arozarena.

“He hasn't, certainly to this point, established himself as a Major League player, but we think he is deserving of that opportunity, and we intend to give him one and see where that goes,” Neander said. “The potential reward of that is pretty big for us.”