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A’s acquire pitcher Brent Honeywell from Rays

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Former top prospect gets fresh start in Oakland

MLB: APR 24 Blue Jays at Rays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Oakland A’s offseason will probably involve saying goodbye to a lot of players, but on Friday they added a new one.

The A’s acquired pitcher Brent Honeywell in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN and later confirmed by the team. Oakland sent cash considerations in exchange, so no other players were involved.

The right-handed Honeywell was once one of the top pitching prospects in the sport before injuries stalled his progress. He reached national Top 100 prospect status entering 2016 and bumped up to the Top 20 entering 2018, but he then missed three straight seasons due to four elbow surgeries including a Tommy John procedure. He returned to action in 2021, and even made a brief MLB debut for three games in April before heading back to the minors for the rest of the year.

  • Honeywell, 2021 AAA: 3.97 ERA, 81⅓ ip, 67 Ks, 24 BB, 13 HR, 4.78 FIP
  • Honeywell, 2021 MLB: 4⅓ ip, 4 runs, 4 Ks, 3 BB, 2 HR, .447 xwOBA

Before his injuries, he posted much higher strikeout rates throughout the minors, all the way up through Triple-A.

His pre-surgery scouting report featured a wide arsenal with a low/mid-90s fastball, several highly regarded secondary offerings (changeup, screwball, slider), and plus control to tie it all together. Upon his return this summer he appeared to still have his velocity during his MLB cameo in April, averaging 93.8 mph on his heater in short stints and topping out at 95.4 on a couple occasions. In July he began stretching out to start in the minors, working as long as six innings at a time.

Now Honeywell will look to continue his bounce-back in Oakland’s organization, entering age 27 next season. He joins the 40-man roster and he’s out of minor league options, and he already used a special fourth option due to long-term injury, so he’ll need to make the team out of spring training next year because he can’t be sent down.

Analysis

Great move! Honeywell is a high-ceiling lotto ticket, and the A’s got him basically for free. If he doesn’t work out then all he cost was a roster spot, and in the meantime he offers tons of upside at a minimum salary.

It’s normal to use a few offseason roster spots to take flyers on busted prospects or waiver claims, but not all of them are this promising. It wasn’t long ago that Honeywell was in the prospect echelon of Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk, and after missing tons of time he hasn’t been back long enough to give up on him yet.

However, the contending Rays had their hand forced by timing. They needed roster space for other immediate purposes, specifically protecting newer prospects from the Rule 5 draft before today’s deadline, so Honeywell got squeezed out. The A’s are likely to be rebuilding this winter and have plenty of room to give him his next chance.

For what it’s worth, this is similar to how Oakland nabbed Ramon Laureano from the Astros. Houston didn’t have roster space to add Laureano and protect him from Rule 5 so they traded him away, whereas Tampa Bay dealt Honeywell off their roster to make space for Rule 5, so it’s not identical, but in both cases the A’s picked up a highly rated but stalled prospect simply because they had a spare roster spot at an opportune moment in November.

Assuming Oakland is about to rebuild, this is an excellent start. They’ve added potentially impact talent to their pitching staff before even beginning to sell off any stars. Do that enough times and you end up with a pretty good team. Ironically, this is exactly the kind of acquisition the Rays themselves would make, if the two teams’ situations were reversed.

Can Honeywell bounce back from a multi-year injury layoff, like James Kaprielian and Daulton Jefferies began to do this past summer? It’s worth a try to find out.

Welcome to Oakland, Brent!