Over the next week or so, we'll be breaking down different topics related to the upcoming trade deadline, talking about which players the Rays might trade away and which they might look to acquire. Mr. Neg did a great job of kicking us off this morning, and we'll delve into each topic more in detailed posts. But for now, I want to talk briefly about the Rays' recent public comments about the trade deadline.
The Rays are in an odd place -- they're six games out of the division and five games out of the Wild Card, but they face the Yankees and Red Sox a large number of times in the second half. Their team is good enough to hang in there against the Sox and Yanks, and to possibly make a run for the Wild Card, but five games is a lot to make up against any team. Impossible? No. But the Rays are somewhat stuck in the middle -- close enough to compete, yet not so far back to justify a large-scale sell.
With the trade deadline less than three weeks away, the Rays' placement in the standings takes on a whole new meaning. Are the Rays close enough to make a run? Should they sell off and make a run next season? The Rays seem to feel that this is a false choice; Andrew Friedman has recently stated that he's interesting in both buying and selling at the deadline this season.
But what does this mean? "Buy and sell" is simply a new way of expressing what the Rays have always done: buying low and selling high.
If the Rays think they can get a good deal for an major-league players, they'll likely give it a shot to try and acquire them; however, since prices are normally inflated at the trade deadline, the odds that the Rays trade for any major-league talent outside of a relief pitcher are rather slim. If the Rays haven't made an big-ticket acquisitions over the last few seasons, when they were much closer to contention, I don't see them doing it this season.
Instead, the Rays will probably focus on the "sell" aspect of their strategy. They have historically fared very well when trading players midseason -- the Huff/Zobrist and Kazmir/Rodriguez trades are prime examples -- and the Rays have a wide range of players that could make attractive trade targets for other teams. If the Rays can get good deals for Upton, Damon, Kotchman, Shields, etc., then I wouldn't be surprised to see them make a trade or two.
That last part is very important, though: "IF" the Rays can get good deals. At the moment, the Rays are in the driver's seat. They have a good enough team right now to stick in the race, and there's no pressing financial need to trade away any of these players. Even though they'll both be more expensive next season, both Upton and Shields will still paid less than they are worth to the team, so the Rays would be fine if they held onto both. There's no reason for the Rays to force a trade....but if they happen to get some overwhelming offers for Upton (especially considering his impressive first half), they're in a good position to trade. The Rays have leverage right now, which is a dangerous thing to give Andrew Friedman.
Trading away players wouldn't necessarily mean the Rays are "giving up" on the season. Lots of fans bought into the narrative of doom-and-gloom over the offseason (not here, but elsewhere), but the Rays are great at trading away players while working to improve their team in the short-term as well. I mean, seriously -- the Rays have the 7th best record in baseball right now, even after losing a huge part of their roster over the offseason. They have Desmond Jennings, Brandon Guyer, and Alex Cobb waiting in Triple-A, so I wouldn't call any trade by them an act of concession.
Buy or Sell. Win Now or Later. The Rays refuse to fall into the narrative that you must do one or the other: why can't they have their cake and eat it too?