Buyers or Sellers? It's a popular question. Standing in possession of the Wild Card lead and 2.5 games behind first place in the AL East is enough to make any team a buyer, but there aren't glaring holes in this team. Normally we'd be calling for another arm or another bat to round the team out, but where would you add?
Short of a drastic injury, and allowing some generalizations, the offense is locked in. James Loney (career year), Ben Zobrist (All-Star), Evan Longoria (Evan Longoria), Yunel Escobar (better than MVB), and the outfield (Joyce, Jennings, Myers, Johnson) are all worthy starters. Jose Molina continues to frame like a champ, and Jose Lobaton has rising defense and offense behind the plate. AND let's not forget the renaissance of Luke Scott (135 wRC+!). The offense is fine.
The starting rotation consists of David Price (Cy Young, back from injury), Matt Moore (All-Star), Jeremy Hellickson (FIP god), rookie Chris Archer (sub-3.00 ERA), and Roberto Hernandez (3.52 xFIP), with Alex Cobb (ACE) preparing for minor league rehab starts.
The bullpen has even been generally successful as of late. Using June 1 as an arbitrary cut off date, we can see that Joel Peralta slipped into some control issues (11% walk rate, 2.14 K/BB) and that Cesar Ramos has been somewhat hit-able (22 hits, 18.2 IP), but the bullpen has generally improved. The rest of the pen -- Rodney, McGee, Torres, Farnsworth, and Wright -- own stellar ERA's (Rodney being the highest at 2.04), and the former three have 38% K-rates.
Where do you improve? There's two places I can think of.
Jamey Wright is boasting his worst groundball rate since 2004 at less than 52%, and Cesar Ramos is not striking batters out like we were accustomed to last year, but neither are horrible. The cost of upgrading at either position requires losing something else of value. Promoting a minor leaguer to take either's slot requires cutting that player, as neither has options, and the cost of trading means losing a prospect of some kind. Even then, we're talking about marginal improvements for two players who will likely regress back to where they should be in the near future. (Wright held a 67% GB-rate last season, Ramos a 24% K-rate)
It's worth noting that the Rays have plenty of relievers in the wings. Guys we've seen (recovering Brandon Gomes, improving Josh Lueke), and guys we haven't: Futures Game participant C.J. Riefenhauser, the dominant Kirby Yates, and the protected Frank De Los Santos. Any of these five could be suitable replacements at the end of the pen.
But let's back up.
The Rotation Conundrum
Alex Cobb is returning to the rotation, and one of Archer or Hernandez is leaving the starting five. What are the implications? Certainly not to remove one of these players from theater league roster.
Chris Archer's above 4.00 FIP looms a dark cloud, but it's worth looking at Archer's five most recent starts leading into the All Star break (or since his rough outing in Boston on June 18). In those five starts, the Rays have won every game. Only once did Archer throw less than 6.0 innings, allowing 6 runs, 7 walks, and striking out 22 for a 1.69 ERA. Archer can be sent down with his option, but as Michael mentioned earlier, that may not be best for his development or psyche.
Roberto Hernandez is holding the other spot Alex Cobb could occupy, and in spite of high HR/FB rates and low strikeouts, he shows signs of improving. Furthermore, removing Fausto from the rotation requires cutting him from the team, and the Rays aren't ones to remove pitching depth.
The easy solution is to move one of these two players to the bullpen as a long reliever, which would essentially take the role of Cesar Ramos, who would need to be DFA'd... That's one too many relievers.
Solution: TRADE A BULLPEN PIECE
This isn't just blogger posturing. Someone has to go to make room on the 25-man roster.
As opposed to sending caution to the wind and trying to slip a player through waivers, why not trade one of the bullpen pieces now? That will keep Archer and Roberto promoted by freeing up space for one of their relief roles, and return value. The Rays are in the rare position of boasting bullpen depth. Let's take advantage.
Cesar Ramos is capable enough to fill a long-man role and spot start when needed, Kyle Farnsworth has been improving and has increased his trade value, or even Jamey Wright, if you think his GB% is stagnant enough to be replaceable.
Specifically, I'm thinking Ramos. A longman lefty like Ramos fits the needs of pleanty of teams due to the glut of righties on the trading block. It shouldn't be difficult to find a suitor. The Braves come to mind, or the Diamondbacks will take about any bullpen piece to push back against the Dodgers in their division race. If you can flip Ramos for a guy like Brandon Drury, you do it every time.
What do y'all think?