LAS VEGAS -- First baseman Jake Bauers was one of the young players to help turn the Rays around in 2018, and they believed he could be a cornerstone type of player on their roster for years to come. To trade him here at the beginning of his Major League
LAS VEGAS -- First baseman Jake Bauers was one of the young players to help turn the Rays around in 2018, and they believed he could be a cornerstone type of player on their roster for years to come. To trade him here at the beginning of his Major League career is not something the Rays thought would happen in this offseason.
That they sent him to the Indians on Thursday as part of a three-team deal that also included Seattle speaks volumes about what the Rays think of Yandy Diaz, a 27-year-old infielder with just 299 Major League plate appearances for the Indians.
"He's a guy we've been on for a while," said Chaim Bloom, the Rays' senior vice president of baseball operations. "We really like his bat. Yandy really hasn't had a chance to establish himself at the Major League level."
To complete the deal:
• Bauers and cash go from the Rays to the Indians.
• Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and a Competitive Balance Round B Draft pick go from from the Indians to the Mariners.
• First baseman Carlos Santana and cash go from the Mariners to the Indians.
• Diaz and Minor League righty Cole Sulser go from the Indians to the Rays.
"I was very surprised," Diaz said through an interpreter. "I'd spent my entire few years with the Indians. But I'm excited to have a new opportunity with the Rays."
The Rays are sending the Mariners $5 million as part of the deal. Interestingly, the Rays have interest in Encarnacion, who could be dealt by the Mariners. Rays officials say there's no secondary deal in place to acquire Encarnacion.
In Cleveland, Diaz was blocked by veteran stars. Now, the Rays get a full look at a player who hit the baseball hard more consistently than almost anyone, according to Statcast™.
Of 504 players over the last two seasons -- those who've made contact at least 100 times -- Aaron Judge's 54.6-percent hard-hit rate is No. 1. Diaz ranks 19th at 47.6 percent.
So why has Diaz hit one home run in 265 at-bats? Because he has the eighth-lowest launch angle and 25th-highest ground-ball rate. If the Rays can get him to elevate the ball, they could have a star.
"We like him as is," Bloom said, "but any time you get a guy who hits the ball really hard, there's always additional upside, to the extent they can drive the ball a little bit. Even if he doesn't do that, we think he's a very polished hitter."
Here's more from Statcast™ on Diaz's hard-hit rate:
2017: 50.0 percent (MLB average 33.3 percent)
2018: 44.4 percent (MLB average 35.3 percent)
2017-18: 47.6 percent (MLB average 34.3 percent)
And there's this: Of the 504 players with 100-plus batted balls, three of the top 26 have been acquired by the Rays in the last six months:
• Diaz (19th), 47.6 percent
• Tommy Pham (23rd), 46.6 percent
• Mike Zunino (26th), 45.9 percent
"We're excited about his ability," Bloom said. "He fits in to what we have been doing, in terms of taking a player who we think is really talented, has a lot of ability and giving him a chance to establish himself."
The 2018 Rays were ninth in the American League in runs and lost 14 games in which their pitchers allowed two runs or fewer.
"Obviously, giving up Jake in this deal is not easy to do," Bloom said. "We love Jake and feel really strongly about him, too. That was just the price we needed to pay to get Yandy. We thought, all things considered, it was the right thing for us to do. It's good for our roster going forward."
Diaz was signed out of Cuba to play third base, but he can also play first and has played the outfield a bit. He could end up at first base for the Rays, depending on which other moves are made. In the end, Bloom said this trade was simply about getting a player the Rays like and one who gives manager Kevin Cash additional roster flexibility.
"I think it's premature to say we know exactly where he's going to play," Bloom said. "We'll have to see how things unfold from here. But the versatility he has does give us more options and more possible paths for our roster to go."
"I'll pretty much play anywhere they put me," Diaz said. "As long as I'm able to play, I'll take advantage of the opportunities. I've always been a hard-working player, and I plan on doing the same thing with the Rays."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.