Over the past few weeks the Rays have obviously not played up to their standards. They've gone from having a five game division lead to now being tied with the Yankees. Many people are going into panic mode. While it's still too early to go all Chick Little on the season, the team's struggles, particularly on offense, have been aggravating. Players like B.J. Upton (.346 wOBA) and Sean Rodriguez (.349 wOBA) struggled early on, but have used recent hot streaks to pull their numbers up to respectable levels. Others, namely Willy Aybar, Jason Bartlett, Pat Burrell, Hank Blalock, Gabe Kapler and Dioner Navarrohaven't been so lucky, each posting a wOBA below .300 thus far.
The DH position, as it seems to be throughout the league this season, has more or less been a non-factor. As a whole, Rays' DHs have a slash line of .255/.314/.390 with a .312 wOBA. What's more amazing is that they have a Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) of .315, which ranks third in the AL, but an Isolated Power (ISO) of just .134. That's an amazing disparity. For comparison, the BABIP of the Ranger's DH's is .317 and they're ISO is .200. And before you cry out about their hitter friendly ballpark assisting that total, the Orioles' DH BABIP is lower at .313 and their ISO is higher at .218. Ties were cut with incumbent DH, the aforementioned Pat Burrell, a few weeks ago after a severely disappointing year and change in Tampa Bay. His replacement was fan favorite Blalock, who has actually been worse than Burrell, albeit in less at bats. Aybar has also started a few games at the position, along with John "You're Not Sending Me Down" Jaso. In any case, the position remains a revolving door and the cast of characters the Rays have thrown into the mix have yet to produce. This leaves me with one question.
Is this the time for the Rays to make a big move?
A window to win a title is not something that is left open for long, and thus shouldn't be taken for granted. Sure, the Yankees and Red Sox seem to have championship windows the size of the Tony LaRussa's ego, but they're the outliers. For all intents and purposes this is the best shot the Rays will ever have at winning a title. Key players such as Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Rafael Soriano are in the last seasons of their contracts, the bench has never been deeper, and the rotation is the strongest it's ever been 1-5. Eventhough the organization has built up excellent depth to still be able to field a competitive team when those key players do depart, it's hard to project they'll be as good as their predecessors. The time to win is now.
The Rays are one of the few teams who could get virtually any player they targeted in a trade. I'm not saying the Rays wouldsell the farm to get one player, but the pieces are there if they so chose to go that route. The most popular names being thrown around by fans are Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, and Luke Scott. Adding any one of their bats to the middle of this lineup would surely (ok, hopefully?) give the Rays a big enough boost to put them over the top. It's hard to pin that on one player, but you understand the thought process. It would likely take more to get Gonzalez because he is signed to an extremely club friendly contract through the 2011 season. He's currently making $4.75 million and has a team option for $5.5 million in 2011. The Padres would be right to ask for a lot in return for the slugger, so it makes me reluctant to want to do such a deal. Fielder is in nearly the same boat, though he makes substantially more than Gonzalez this season ($10.5mm). That leaves Scott looking as the more viable option. The Oriole outfielder currently makes $4.05 million, but would be arbitration eligible after the season. He'd be looking at a salary in the $6 million and up range, making it highly doubtful the Rays would offer him arbitration.
Keep in mind that the first big in season trade Andrew Friedman makes will be his first, unless you're giant fans of Chad Bradford and Gregg Zaun. I do not envy Mr. Friedman at this moment. He's faced with one of the toughest decisions of his young tenure as a General Manager. Making a call that turns out to be correct could propel this team to the top of the baseball universe. Making a call that turns out to be wrong could burn the franchise for years to come. What would you do in his shoes? I know my answer.
*All contract info courtsey of Cot's Baseball Contracts