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Grading Aaron Civale trade for Rays, Guardians

We go over who won the deal for Aaron Civale prior to the MLB trade deadline on Tuesday.

Aaron Civale of the Cleveland Guardians pitches during the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on July 14, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

A trade deadline season that’s to this point been dominated by starting pitching saw yet another big deal for an arm on Monday afternoon, as the suddenly-fading Tampa Bay Rays sent top first-base prospect Kyle Manzardo to the Cleveland Guardians for righty Aaron Civale.

With Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen and Josh Fleming already down and Eflin suffering a knee scare last week — though he’s expected to make his scheduled start on Tuesday — the Rays found themselves very much in need of starting pitching depth behind Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow and Taj Bradley, and Civale was one of the best still available on the market. They paid a premium to get him though, as Manzardo currently ranks as MLB Pipeline’s No. 37 overall prospect — a big get for a Guardians team that’s been hamstrung by its offense over the past few years.

This is a big swing on both sides, Tampa parting with one of its best prospects and Cleveland shipping off a quality Major Leaguer in the midst of a pennant race. So: Who came out ahead here? What does this deal mean for each team? Let’s break it all down.

Aaron Civale trade grades

Rays: B+

This is certainly a hefty price to pay — but maybe not as hefty as you might think just be looking at Manzardo’s ranking on prospect lists. For starters, the Rays really, really needed the rotation help: Glasnow and Eflin have lengthy injury histories, while top prospect Taj Bradley has been inconsistent in his rookie season and will likely run up against an innings limit at some point down the stretch. That leaves very little in the way of known quantities behind Shane McClanahan for a team that’s gone just 7-16 in July and risks getting left behind in the AL arms race.

Civale is enjoying a career year so far in 2023, with a 2.34 ERA and 3.55 FIP across 13 starts and a microscopic 1.45 mark in July. He doesn’t rack up a ton of strikeouts, but he’s a sturdy big-league starter with postseason experience. And, even more appealing for the Rays, he isn’t a rental: The 28-year-old is set to enter arbitration for the first time next season and is under team control for 2024 and 2025. 2.5 years of quality pitching doesn’t come cheap, and is worth even more for a Rays team that isn’t going to make a habit of outbidding people in free agency.

Plus, while Manzardo is a very good prospect, Tampa is uniquely suited to weather his loss. The Rays have among the deepest collections of young talent in the sport, and they’re especially chock full of infielders — from Yandy Diaz to Brandon Lowe to Taylor Walls to Luke Raley to Junior Caminero to Carson Williams to Jonathan Aranda to Curtis Mead. Manzardo was about as blocked as blocked can get in Tampa, and while he’s crushed the ball in the Minors, his is a risky profile as a first base-only player who’ll contribute little to no defensive value. This was a smart bit of business for this front office, cashing in a player they could afford to lose to plug a big hole in the Major League roster.

Guardians: B+

This is the rare trade where both sides should come away feeling awfully good about both process and result. While Manzardo was expendable in Tampa, he’ll be a crucial part of the future for a Guardians team that churns out quality young starters — but hasn’t been able to find much of any oomph on offense for years now. We’ve seen that limit their ceiling come October time and time again, and Manzardo should be a big help, a potential middle-of-the-order bat who’s driven the ball in the air consistently at every level of the Minors. (His offensive profile is awfully reminiscent of young Royals star Vinnie Pasquantino.)

His numbers have come back to Earth a bit this season in his first taste of Triple-A — he has a .783 OPS with 11 homers so far in Durham — but that’s more due to a fluky .269 BABIP than anything. Manzardo is among the best bats Cleveland could’ve hoped to come away with at the trade deadline, and while it’s odd to see a team just a half-game out of their division trade an established big leaguer for a prospect, the cupboard is never bare for the Guardians rotation. Rookies Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams and Logan Allen have flashed big potential this season, and if any team can do more with less on the mound, it’s Cleveland. This deal may represent a small step back in the short term, but not by as much as you think, and it could change the long-term trajectory of the organization if Manzardo turns into a star.