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MLB Trade Rumors: Who the Rays could target at left handed reliever

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MLB: Chicago Cubs at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

With the All-Star game in the rear view mirror, MLB teams are looking towards the the trade deadline. Decisions that could help a mediocre team make the postseason, or help a great team push towards a championship will be made.

For the Rays, who are relatively close to the middle of the Wild Card playoff situation, but have shown upside for more, getting help seems like a real possibility.

The Rays, even in the good years, were never big deadline buyers. The type of names that came up for the Rays at the deadline were of the Chad Qualls and Ryan Roberts variety (useful fill-ins). Recent acquisition Trevor Plouffe fills that same mould.

Aside from Jesse Crain, who never pitched again after he was traded to the Rays, Tampa Bay doesn’t have a history of aggressively improving their team in the middle of the season.

That is, until this season.

Erik Neander, Chaim Bloom and the Rays front office was able to opportunistically acquire an elite shortstop in Adeiny Hechavarria for little more than added salary. Combined with the returns of Brad Boxberger, Brad Miller, and Wilson Ramos from injury, who’ve boosted the team as if they were brought in major trades, there’s a little more the Rays need to stay competitive.

If there were a need, though, it is a left-handed arm in the bullpen, where the Rays have been trying out different solutions from the farm system all year long.

The market for buyers is a little quirky, but overall probably works in the Rays favor if they choose to buy.

With how close the American League Wild Card race is, most other teams may be skeptical of making big moves one way or the other. Most of the true bottom dwellers are in the National League, which in one sense helps the Rays, as those teams won’t be worried about aiding a possible adversary for the current Wild Card race, or even seeing the player traded often in the future.

That being said, quality help won’t be that cheap, as the demand for relievers is still high, and the National League can be a fairly different animal when it comes to relief pitching.

Before talking about specific deals and players the Rays can take a gander at, here’s a table of left-handed relievers likely to be available who are having productive seasons.

Left-Handed pitcher trade options

Name Team Age IP ERA FIP fWAR RA9-WAR K% BB% HR/9 WHIP Controllable Through
Name Team Age IP ERA FIP fWAR RA9-WAR K% BB% HR/9 WHIP Controllable Through
Brad Hand Padres 27 47 2.30 2.79 1.1 1.6 32.1% 7.0% 0.77 1.00 2019
Justin Wilson Tigers 29 34 1/3 2.36 2.94 0.8 1.3 36.6% 9.7% 1.05 0.93 2018
Sam Freeman Braves 30 29 1/3 3.38 3.04 0.4 0.3 24.4% 11.5% 0.31 1.53 2020
Jerry Blevins Mets 33 28 3.54 3.36 0.5 0.5 32.0% 12.3% 0.96 1.39 2018 Team Option
Ryan Buchter Padres 30 33 2/3 2.94 4.48 0.1 0.5 29.4% 11.2% 1.60 1.25 2021

Justin Wilson and Brad Hand would draw considerable packages. They’re each controllable one year this season, miss bats at a high rate, and can get right-handed hitters out (Wilson with a .126 BAA and Hand with a .203 BAA vs. righties). In relation to the Rays, pre-season Top-100 prospect OF Jesus Sanchez would be a target for the Padres and Tigers. Given the Rays need for possible star position players and trade deadline history, that type of trade is out of the question.

On the rental side, Jerry Blevins fits the same role. He had the most significant salary among the group (booked for $6.5m over the season), which could make the Rays apprehensive, especially after taking Hechavarria’s money. The value for Blevins wouldn’t be super high because of this, so a prospect the Mets and Rays could discuss are probably more along the lines of RHP Greg Harris and C Nick Ciuffo. Both are players who need protection on the 40-man roster next season but may not be quite good enough for the Rays to protect. Dealing them now saves a headache later.

The last category is Buchter and Freeman. Each pitcher is 30 years old but have extended contract control. With Sam Freeman’s track record of control (career 5.1 BB/9) his control isn’t much of a factor because of the volatility of his effectiveness. Buchter has put up effective numbers the past two seasons, but has struggled with throwing strikes this year. Along with this, his extreme fly ball style of pitching (career 55.5% fly ball%) has left him susceptible to home runs this season.

As for the price, Freeman likely draws a comparable prospect to Jerry Blevins. Buchter could be a little more costly because of his superior command and the fact that he isn’t coming off a disastrous 2016. Given A.J. Preller’s track record in the international market, he may target 3B Adrian Rondon in talks for Buchter.

In the end, the Rays will have to decide whether acquiring a left-handed reliever outweighs the prospect capital they’ll have to surrender, and whether any of these names offer a real upgrade over what’s already in the system.