Trading Adames 'especially hard' for Rays

Starting shortstop, emotional leader sent with Richards to Brewers to help boost bullpen

May 22nd, 2021

The Rays have grown used to making trades that might be difficult emotionally even if they’re understandable and perhaps necessary from a baseball standpoint. The deal they completed Friday ranked among the hardest they’ve made in that regard.

The Rays traded shortstop and right-hander to the Brewers in exchange for right-handers and . The deal clears a path for a talented trio of switch-hitting middle-infield prospects in Triple-A Durham, but that did not make it any easier for Tampa Bay to part with Adames, a key part of the infield since his debut in 2018 and an emotional leader in the clubhouse.

“You can't create a better human being than what Willy is; that makes decisions like these especially hard,” general manager Erik Neander said. “We've watched him grow up in our organization. We've watched him be a part of winning clubs through the Minor Leagues, with our Major League team as well. And we wouldn't have accomplished all that we've accomplished over the last several years without Willy.”

The move came as a surprise to the 25-year-old, who said his goodbyes on Friday afternoon while the Rays prepared to face the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla.

“It’s a mix of feelings. I'm sad but excited,” Adames told reporters. “I'm excited for this new opportunity, new team, new beginning. I'm sad because I'm leaving my boys, leaving the Rays, leaving the fans.”

So why make the move now, especially with the team playing well and already boasting a great deal of pitching depth? Neander pointed to two main factors.

1. What’s on the way
For one, the Rays already barely have enough playing time to go around. Their infield includes Ji-Man Choi at first base, Brandon Lowe at second, Yandy Díaz at the corner spots and Joey Wendle at second, short or third base. Additionally, the Rays have a crowded outfield/DH mix with Kevin Kiermaier, Randy Arozarena, Austin Meadows, Manuel Margot and Brett Phillips.

But there’s no denying that what Neander called the Rays’ “ascending talent” played a big part in this decision.

Switch-hitting, slick-fielding Taylor Walls, Tampa Bay's No. 7 prospect, will get the first shot at the shortstop job when he’s recalled on Saturday. But this move seemingly marks the official start of the countdown to top overall prospect Wander Franco’s arrival. And infielder/outfielder Vidal Bruján, Tampa Bay’s No. 2 prospect, is banging down the door as well.

“We've got a lot of talented players in Durham,” Neander said. “We're aware of that. I think y'all are aware of that. That's certainly a factor in this.”

Walls is the best defensive prospect in Tampa Bay’s system, and club officials said from the beginning of the year that he was the most likely option to hold down the spot if the Rays were in need of an everyday shortstop in the event that Adames was traded or injured.

Franco is bound to arrive at some point this summer, but Walls is a better defender, has more experience, already owns a spot on the Rays’ 40-man roster and got off to a better start at the plate than Franco, slashing .327/.468/.490 with 13 walks and 18 strikeouts for Durham.

2. What they got back
The Rays have a high opinion of Feyereisen and Rasmussen, two pitchers who possess “end-of-game potential,” Neander said.

“The driving factor, the reason you make a deal, is because of the return you're getting and how you believe that's going to help you moving forward,” Neander said. “These are guys that we expect to be big contributors.”

Feyereisen (FIRE-rye-zehn), 28, will immediately join the Rays’ big league bullpen, and Neander believes the righty is “close to another gear or two upon getting here.” Feyereisen is 0-2 with a 4.08 ERA in 27 career games, all out of the bullpen, including 0-2 with a 3.26 ERA in 21 appearances this season. He has pitched even better than those numbers might indicate, as he allowed only one earned run while striking out 19 in his first 18 innings this season.

Neander said the Rays and Brewers have been discussing trade possibilities for months, and he believes both clubs dealt from areas of strength to match up on this move. Tampa Bay has been tracking Feyereisen closely over the past year, and the club’s evaluation of him became more optimistic during Spring Training. The Rays believe he has a fastball that plays better than its velocity due to its carry through the strike zone, and they are intrigued by his breaking ball and changeup as well.

“He just does some unique things, some special things. We think he's really good now,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We'd like to think that whatever we can do, Kyle [Snyder] can do, Stan [Boroski] can do with some of the messaging, that he can help us win games.”

Rasmussen, 25, will report to Triple-A, where Tampa Bay’s front office can get a better sense of how he recovers after outings and what role he might be best suited for. He has a 5.01 ERA in 27 career games, all in relief, and a 4.24 ERA with one save in 15 appearances this season.

The Rays drafted Rasmussen 31st overall in the 2017 Draft, but he failed his physical and underwent his second Tommy John surgery that September. The Brewers took a shot on him, selecting Rasmussen in the sixth round of the 2018 Draft, then watched him zoom through their system in 2019.

Neander compared Rasmussen’s fastball/breaking ball combination to that of Rays high-leverage reliever Pete Fairbanks. While Rasmussen could ultimately settle into a one-inning relief role, Neander said “there’s a chance we explore some longer roles as well.”

“We don’t make this trade without thinking really highly of him,” Neander said.

Seven years ago, then-Rays executive Andrew Friedman said something similar about a young shortstop prospect from the Tigers' system named Willy Adames. Tampa Bay made him the centerpiece in another one of the club’s challenging trades, acquiring him as part of the return for ace David Price.

Adames grew into everything the Rays expected: a dynamic defender and an integral part of their clubhouse culture who contributed throughout their 90-win season in 2018, their return to the postseason in 2019 and their run to the World Series last year.

“As much as he’s helped us on the field, just can’t say enough about him as a person,” Neander said. “One of the harder conversations to have just because of how much he’s meant to all of us personally, above and beyond what he’s done on the field.

“I think there's an understanding and there's an unfortunate reality at times that this is a business. Some of these decisions have to be made, and they're really tough. But no, that's not anything that was lost on this decision and was factored in very heavily.”

"Every stop, everybody has always raved about Willy Adames the person. And that says a lot about him,” Cash added. “And that's what makes it tough, and at times tear-jerking, for a lot of us.”