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Will the Rays execute an August trade?

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Rays front office changed it's normally quiet trade deadline ways, acquiring OF David DeJesus and a few relief pitchers along the way: Wesley Wright's change up and Jesse Crain's slider. The rest of the season did not go as planned, with previous signee Juan Carlos Oviedo and newly acquired Jesse Crain failing to return from injury to bolster the bullpen.

This year, the Rays seem farther out from contention, currently 10 games back in the division, 6.5 games back from the Wild Card (sixth in line for the final slot), and with a mere 5.0% chance of playing in October. Through June 29th, the Rays had the worst record in baseball, thanks to a .293 wOBA in May and several injuries along the way.

But we know better than to lose hope. The Rays put together a few impressive win streaks and have been steadily climbing back into contention ever since.

Can the Rays make a dramatic run to post-season play? Crazier things have happened, and the odds of replicating 2011 are better now than they were back then. Better yet, the setting will be similar.

Starting this Friday, from Aug. 15th to Sept. 17th, the Rays will play 29 of 32 games against AL East opponents. Destiny is in their hands. And while many would point to the David Price trade as the Rays "giving up on the season," that may not be an accurate summation.

The Price trade bolstered the future by bringing in two high ceiling infielders in Triple-A Nick Franklin and Class-A Willy Adames, but did not forgo today, thanks to the acquisition of southpaw Drew Smyly (who makes his second start for the Rays tonight).

Using Dan Szymborski's rest-of-season projections at Fangraphs, we can see an expected performance just a hair below what Price should contribute overall, culminating in one earned run's difference between the two.

Price 3.56 3.36 8.66 1.80 1.02 72.8% 63.0 9 4 3 .313
Smyly 3.77 3.61 8.64 2.63 1.00 71.7% 40.0 7 3 3 .303

ZiPS also carries the expectation of Smyly pitching two fewer games than Price, a product of his previous innings limits. Whether the Rays will use some sort of innings limit remains to be seen, but we haven't heard any indications thus far from the front office.

Also to the Rays credit, this was the only change they made at the deadline.

Speaking with's Bill Chastain this weekend in Chicago, Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg reiterated that while the deal wasn't pleasant from a fan standpoint, "it seems like people get it." He continued:

"I think a lot of the things that David had done here will stay with us a long time, but it was David. It wasn't three, four, five, eight guys. And I think people got that and understood that we're still in it to win it. It really was the classic one eye on the present, one eye on the future deal."

Admittedly, "It doesn't make things easier today," Sternberg added to those thoughts, but his point was clear. The Rays didn't hold a fire-sale. They traded one man, and added three quality pieces to compete tomorrow, as well as today. The Rays may not be "All In", but they haven't backed out either.

Which brings us to today. Will the Rays execute an August trade out on the waiver wire?

20140318_mjm_an4_163.0_mediumLast year's mid-season acquisition, David DeJesus -- Photo credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I once had the pleasure of meeting the Rays' Coordinator of Baseball Operations James Click at the annual Saber Seminar, which takes place next weekend in Boston, and which I will unfortunately miss this year due to family vacation plans. I had a thousand questions I wanted to ask him that day, but the most indicative answer I received was when I asked him 'what keeps you up at night?' His answer was immediate:

"All the trades we almost made."

Finally landing on the exact trade that is the best move for the Franchise, today and tomorrow, is one of the most laborious tasks of any front office. Scouting and statistics and strategy coalesce into the highest profile decisions possible, all with the complicating factor of dealing directly with you competitor. And when it's your livelihood at stake, the pressure is surely unreal.

Half a decade ago, R.J. Anderson held an Interview with Dan Feinstein, the Tampa Bay Rays' Director of Baseball Operations, which covered similar ground:

Finding an overlap with another team on a trade is one of the most difficult things to do in this industry. We are always thinking of ways to improve our club and so we've been very active on this front over the past few years. We pride ourselves on being forthright and approachable, and we're always looking for different ways to match up.

That sort of mentality has led the Rays to match up with Dave Dombrowski's Detroit Tigers, who pride themselves on a similar strategy, in several trades over Andrew Friedman's tenure as de facto GM, culminating in David Price. Trading the ace away to land a similar arm with four years of control (instead of one), and near-ready infielder Nick Franklin, kept the Rays afloat for the next few years as more talent cycles through the system.

But was that enough to satisfy this season?

On offense, the Rays already have several names on the way, other than Franklin, with Wil Myers and David DeJesus and Ryan Hanigan all slotted to return from the disabled list some time in the next month. Hanigan takes the place of recent call-up Curt Casali, which theoretically should provide an upgrade across the board in offense and defense behind the dish, but the former two complicate the roster.

Myers and DeJesus were effectively replaced on the roster by Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer to impressive results thus far. Mid-season call-up Cole Figueroa is surely a name to be sent down, but the roster crunch between August and the end-of-season September call ups may force the Rays to demote Kiermaier for a week or two, something the team would rather avoid, given his stellar defense (Brandon Guyer is out of options).

If there is a place to improve, it will certainly be the bullpen - the same weakness that felled the Rays last season in the Divisional Series against Boston.

20140419_mta_sv7_158.jpg.0_mediumStu Sternberg and Andrew Friedman talk with relief prospect C.J. Riefenhauser -- Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When the Rays make trade is an important reminder.

In Jonah Keri's book about the Rays, The Extra 2%, he focused on Andrew Friedman and Co.'s strategy of "positive arbitrage" -- the financial concept of acquiring a cheaper asset while selling a more expensive one. In baseball, that process works itself out in not just contracts, but overall value; what Sternberg referred to as, "that extra 2%, that 52-48 edge."

That process worked itself out in the acquisition of J.P. Howell and the first iteration of Grant Balfour. The second version of the Mad Australian, the older Grant Balfour signed to a two year deal this Spring, owns a gaudy 5.36 ERA, has been removed as closer, and has walked 33 batters in just 44 innings. Surely there is an upgrade to be made from the performance of Grant Balfour thus far, but given the cost of contract, and the cost in acquiring a talented bullpen arm at market value (see Andrew Miller), the reality may be that the Rays are stuck with what they've got.

Fortunately, the Rays have been able to lean on some incredible bullpen depth in the minors, including Brad Boxberger, Kirby Yates, and Jeff Beliveau. Others will be ready to supplant the roster as well, with Brandon Gomes, C.J. Riefenhauser, and Adam Liberatore in the minors, as well as some electric starting arms that could convert for September call ups in Enny Romero, Alex Colome, and Mike Montgomery.

In all likelihood, the Rays will stand pat and look to the pipeline to fulfill August and September needs. The extra 2% is about keeping an edge, not just winning a deal. Sometimes not paying a cost today is what it means to, as Sternberg told Keri, "not screw that up."


In the same interview in Chicago last weekend, Stu Sternberg was asked if he had any regrets in trading David Price. His answer made head lines, including 48 hours on the front page of ESPN:

"I've probably had only one regret. I think of only one regret as an owner that really fell on us that would have been meaningful and made a difference," Sternberg said. "Back when we lost the [2010 Division Series] to the Rangers, it was clear we had a use for a bat at that point. And that will stick with me for as long as I have the team."

By explanation, Sternberg is already asserting that he does not expect the Rays playoff opportunities will be hindered by the swap of Price for Smyly. The hope is that we will not have any regrets should everything fall into place between Aug. 15th and Sept. 17th.

Quotes from pg. 13 of the Prologue -- The Extra 2%, by Jonah Keri