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Rays trade rumors: They could still be buyers!

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What would it look like if the Rays back up their claims of competitiveness?

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Looking at "years past," (as principle owner Stu Sterberg has suggested the public do as a clue to how this trade deadline would go), it's clear the Rays have been hesitant to do much in the way of acquisition at the trade deadline.

Sure, Sternberg once said his biggest regret is not acquiring another bat for the 2010 post-season run, but this 2015 iteration is no where close in terms of talent level to the 2010 squad, and at the most recent trade deadlineDavid Price was flipped for Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin, and prospect Willy Adames.

The former two succumbed to injuries that prevented their seasons from getting underway, and the latter has turned into a consensus Top-50 prospect in baseball, but overall it was a decent talent grab for a player beyond the Rays' pocket book while the team was 7.5 game back in the division. The Rays were sellers and they acquired much.

If the Rays can climb up from where they stand today at 6.0 game back, tied for third in the division and only 3.5 game back from the wild card, it's easy to see how they are in the mix for postseason play, though.

As a road map, something more comparable might be 2013, when the Rays tried to acquire bullpen arms to help a just-in-case postseason run at the deadline, then added a quality bat in David DeJesus through waiver-trades in August.

Sure, Jesse Crain was never healthy and Wesley Wright wasn't a perfect fit, but the blueprint is there to show that the Rays will consider bullpen arms and worthy veterans. So, if the Rays are not traditionally aggressive at the trade deadline in terms of acquisitions, can they can fix a glaring need by following that 2013 model?

A reasonable option -- Photo credit: Don Feria/Getty Images

Problem 1: The Bullpen

The Rays relief core is letting them down. As I've mentioned previously, the overused relief core has dropped to 24th in ERA and 28th in FIP. To be clear, I say overused as a manner of comparison to average bullpen use.

As of publishing, the Rays lead baseball in relief innings, but not in a great way. Here's the top five in innings pitched:

Team IP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Rays 321.1 3.84 4.24 4.04 -0.2
Diamondbacks 317.2 3.43 3.73 3.90 1.6
Phillies 313.0 3.65 3.63 3.72 1.9
Royals 312.2 2.22 3.08 3.49 3.7
Rockies 307.1 4.57 3.78 3.86 1.5

One of these things is not like the other, both good and bad. One of the five teams is a serious contender as the best team in baseball, the others are not. That's the Royals. Additionally, one of the five teams is sporting negative wins despite frequent bullpen use. That's the Rays. On that figure alone the team is approaching insanity.

The Rays have some bullpen arms that have risen above, but a plague of injuries and the releases of Grant Balfour and Ernesto Frieri have made this Rays 'pen not what it was built to be.

Among the players on the Roster, only one player has been attributed more than 0.2 WAR, and that's Jake McGee. Closer Brad Boxberger had some pitch tipping to correct, and Steve Geltz has been a revelation while shouldering the most innings on the team (42.0), followed by Kevin Jepsen (39.2) and Boxy (38.0). The Rays can't go on like this, particularly if manager Kevin Cash continues to have a quick hook.

In my opinion, if the Rays truly feel they can be competitive in this rather-even division, the team needs to go out and find another Jesse Crain (except, you know, one with health on his side, and by his side I mean his shoulder).

As it happens, the only closer on the market as of right now is the much-vilified-in-TB Jonathan Papelbon. The same guy who just shut down the Rays yesterday. He's been on the trading block for months and no one will bite, so maybe we can get creative.

No one wants him? Convince Philly to cover some of the cost.

Rays brass were willing to give Grant Balfour $12M, but they could have an actual closer for something like $18M. Of course, there needs to be a lot of money in the transaction to make this work for the small market Rays. Crashburn Alley says Philadelphia shouldn't have a problem with that.

Unfortunately, I would imagine the Phillies are asking for something incredibly unreasonable to make a deal work, which is why the talks with them appear are dead on all other fronts, and in a way it's hard to blame them. If the Braves can pick up Touki Toussaint for also taking Bronson Arroyo's $10M salary from the Diamondbacks, surely the Phillies can pick up a similarly valued kid. Something in the 45-50 future value range (or a player who projects to become an average major leaguer), might work for this.

Playing armchair GM, I'd offer something like Andrew Velazquez and hope they like the same things the Rays saw in the infield utility prospect when he was acquired over the winter. Instead they'll surely ask for Taylor Guerrieri or Justin O'Conner and at that point you tell them no and look elsewhere.

Of course, there are other options out there if the Rays are truly looking to make a deal. You never know, maybe the two M's are selling! The Mariners have a glut of relievers and may be willing to deal, while Steve Cishek is back to his former ways in Miami after a mid-season demotion.

Then there's the Wesley Wright portion of a 2013 playbook.

Picking up a new arm on waivers is worth our attention. There aren't many other than previously used Preston Guilmet, but R.J. Anderson points to Giants late-bloomer Jean Machi as a reasonable candidate. After sporting ERA's of 2.38 and 2.58 in the previous two seasons with full work loads, Machi was sporting a 5.14 ERA with a 4.21 FIP before a demotion on Monday. His velocity is the same, but he's been distributing his pitches a bit differently this season, so perhaps there's something to be dissected for the splitter-heavy reliever. there's also none other than Wesley Wright floating out there, released by the Orioles just yesterday.

A third interesting approach could also be to acquire a stop-gap starter (for until Drew Smyly if/when's his way back into the rotation) and to convert Alex Colome to a relief role, where he's destined to be sooner or later. Someone like Clayton Richard could fit that bill, as he looks for opportunities to resurrect his career. The early-hook of Kevin Cash could benefit his pitch-to-contact arsenal.

Jonathan Lucroy - Photo credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY

Problem 2: Offense at Catcher

Oh, you mean the problem with every major league team in baseball? That black hole in the Rays lineup that squandered five baserunners between the second and fourth innings yesterday? Small sample size theater is in full effect by dwelling on the loss to Philadelphia, but it truly felt like a turning point. The Rays could be buyers, but that's hard to fathom after dropping this particular two-of-three.

At the moment, the only plausible upgrade out there is the sudden availability of the slumping Jonathan Lucroy, who we will likely write about more in the near future. He's been hit with injuries (hamstring, toe), the Brewers have been hit with bad press over not entertaining a long-term extension with him.

The situation is contentious and unfortunate. Hopefully that all lowers Lucroy's trade value to a plausible level, because I can't think of anything else on the market that could provide more of a jolt for the Rays lineup. And if Lucroy were to be acquired, the Rays would surely retain Rene Rivera and simply option Curt Casali to work on his reps in the batter's box.

I'm not convinced this is a fixable issue, but you have to inquire on what the Brewers are asking for in a Lucroy deal. Probably the moon, and with only two years on the catcher's deal, that's not realistic either.

Trade Deadlines are far more boring when we all over-value our own prospects, huh? Obviously, Lucroy will command far more than David DeJesus did, but a veteran pickup might be reasonable for the Rays.

It's here I'd expect a name from the Rays' top ten prospects would be a requirement, and the tradeoff would be for 2.5 years of a veteran catcher coming off injury who may or may not actually help the offense this year, or a prospect that may or may not be able to stick at the major league level. That's a lot of risk, and probably prohibitive.

No, we can't expect the Rays to target a bat like Lucroy in such an aggressive manner, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Rays do watch the waiver wire for the likes of a DDJ pick-up if they remain 3.5 games back of the playoffs come August.