Baseball's non-waiver trading deadline comes tomorrow at 4 PM Eastern, and for the sixth straight year, the Rays are in a position to consider bolstering the ML roster. Until yesterday's trade acquiring Jesse Crain, the team's history of buying at the trade deadline could be summed up with this image tweeted by Jason Collette yesterday. Here is a comprehensive look back at their late season trades that added to the ML roster.
July 23, 1999: Devil Rays trade Humberto Cota and Joe Oliver to the Pirates for Jose Guillen and Jeff Sparks
Among the four players in the deal, only Guillen had spent prior time during the 1999 season in the majors, so this counts as an add. Cota was a top 10 prospect with the organization coming off a great season with the Princeton Devil Rays, and Oliver was a Quad-A player with Durham after nearly a decade in the majors. Guillen was a one time top 25 prospect in all of baseball, but he was struggling to find footing in the majors as a 23 year old. After nearly 200 unspectacular games with Tampa Bay, Guillen was released and eventually went on to become a low on base power hitting corner outfielder. Sparks pitched 30 pretty poor innings in his big league career.
Verdict: The Devil Rays hoped a change of scenery would help a talented young player, but it took a couple more changes for Guillen to catch on.
July 28, 2000: Devil Rays trade Bubba Trammell and Rick White to the Mets for Jason Tyner and Paul Wilson
Verdict: This wasn't really a buy because they traded away major leaguers for a reclamation project in Wilson, but it is an opportunity to share this anecdote about Tyner that I didn't know about until recently (in the first paragraph).
August 7, 2009: Rays trade a player to be named later (Rhyne Hughes) to the Orioles for Gregg Zaun
The Rays were seven games out of first place on the seventh, but they were still 11 games over .500 and in contention. Coming off his All-Star season, the play of Dioner Navarro was absolutely miserable, and the Rays had an opportunity to add a performing veteran for the final two months. He held up his end of the bargain at the plate with a 112 OPS+ in 99 plate appearances, but unfortunately the band-aids in the bullpen could not. The next year, Hughes would make a brief appearance in the big leagues and posted a 47 OPS+ in 51 plate appearances.
Verdict: The Rays gave up nothing to improve their catching situation, and when Zaun signed with Milwaukee that off-season, they were awarded the draft pick they used to select Drew Vettleson.
July 31, 2010: Rays trade a player to be named later (Matt Gorgen) to the Diamondbacks for Chad Qualls
The Rays were on their way to their second playoff appearance in three seasons, and on this surprising deadline deal, the Rays added to their bullpen depth. Qualls was having a pretty poor season with Arizona with an increased walk rate, decreased strikeout rate and a ton of home runs allowed. His performance did not improve with the Rays, and he finished his career in Tampa Bay by allowing two runs in .1 innings in game two of the ALDS against Texas. Gorgen had Tommy John surgery in 2011, and he still finds himself in Double-A, unable to make progress.
Verdict: Again, the Rays gave up nothing, but in return, they also received nothing in terms of ML help. Like Zaun though, once Qualls signed with San Diego, the Rays received a compensation pick, and they used it to draft James Harris.
July 24, 2012: Rays trade Tyler Bortnick to the Diamondbacks for Ryan Roberts
With the entire roster injured, the Rays made this move to add infield depth. Roberts wasn't replicating his career year from 2011, but he could still play a couple positions and hit some left-handed pitching. In 209 plate appearances with the Rays, Roberts posted an 81 OPS+ and played good defense which is probably exactly what people should've expected. Before being optioned to Durham in 2013, he posted a 92 OPS+ in 151 plate appearances. Bortnick is probably a career minor leaguer, but he has good on-base skills and is a pretty smart baserunner.
Verdict: Bortnick is a good minor league player, but a season plus of Roberts is probably more valuable than that.
August 31, 2012: Rays trade a player to be named later (still waiting to be named) for Ben Francisco
With a month left in the season, the Rays were trying to hang in the playoff race, so they picked up Francisco from Houston, not long after the Astros got him from Toronto. To be honest, I'm not sure what they expected him to bring. He's not much of a defender, doesn't really have the bat to profile in the corner outfield spots and can't really serve as a platoon option either.
Verdict: It still worked out for the Rays though. The trade was probably settled with cash instead of a player, and Francisco hit a couple home runs.
It's clear that as of now, acquiring Crain is the biggest buy the team has ever made around the deadline. I'm surprised this was even long enough to meet SB Nation's word minimum. The only time I can even think of a significant buying rumor for the Rays was five years ago, when it was reported that they traded Reid Brignac and Jeff Niemann for Jason Bay, still a Pirate. It's clear the organization prefers lower risk, smaller additions if anything, and with their limited financial resources to acquire big free agents, it's tough to blame them.