MLB trade deadline: Why acquiring Tommy Pham from the Cardinals makes sense for the Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays traded three prospects to the Cardinals for outfielder Tommy Pham on Tuesday. The deal came as a surprise, since the Rays aren't in the playoff race and Pham is in the midst of a disappointing age-30 season.

Yet it makes sense for reasons beyond Pham's potential to rebound.

While the Rays have one of the better farm systems in baseball, their system is built more on depth than top-end talent. To wit, MLB.com has 18 Rays prospects with OFP (overall future potential) of 50 or better ... yet none with an OFP over 60. In English, that means the Rays have a lot of players who could become average or better, but few who project as stars. That puts the Rays in a difficult situation as it pertains to roster management.

Baseball has mechanisms in place to prevent talent hoarding. The 40-man roster, minor-league free agency and the Rule 5 draft all exist as a means to create opportunity for the players and other teams. Teams like the Rays, loaded to the gills with solid but not great prospects, have to figure out a way to maximize their war chest through more creative means. They can't protect everyone -- remember, there are only so many slots available for prospects since teams need to field a 25-man big-league roster and have a number of ready-and-waiting stand-ins -- and it would be a waste to allow talented players to be plucked for little return.

One way to avoid that fate is to do what the Rays did Tuesday, combining a few prospects who are or will be eligible into a package to another team for a single player -- likely a big-league talent, since prospect-for-prospect trades are so rare. Sure, Justin Williams is already on the 40-man roster, but both Genesis Cabrera and Roel Ramirez are Rule 5-eligible this winter. Cabrera figures to need protecting, as he has already reached Double-A and has the stuff to pitch in the majors sooner than later.

Heading forward, the Rays would've had to devote spots to Williams and Cabrera, limiting their flexibility and their potential to add and/or protect other players who were likely to be selected in the Rule 5 draft. (You can check out those names here.) By swapping them out for Pham, they're saving a spot and adding a potential impact player to their big-league roster.

The Rays have been (rightly) questioned and criticized throughout this and previous seasons for questionable management. The Pham deal, though, is sound for reasons obvious and not. 

CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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