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MLB Trade Rumors: Rays ask about relievers

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MLB: Detroit Tigers at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays are on the lookout to acquire a reliever ahead of the trade deadline.

The Rays have reportedly asked about just about anyone who is potentially on the trading block, which included Sean Doolittle before the Athletics traded him to the Nationals.

Yesterday there was a report that the Rays were looking into San Francisco Giants right handed reliever Hunter Strickland. Most of the other rumors have involved left handed relievers Brad Hand (San Diego Padres), Tony Watson (Pittsburgh Pirates), and Justin Wilson (Detroit Tigers).

The Rays could really use a left handed reliever with Adam Kolarek the only left hander in the bullpen and Jose Alvarado the only other left handed reliever on the 40 man roster.

Justin Wilson

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times confirmed the Rays have expressed interest in the Detroit Tigers left hander.

Justin Wilson has been a very good reliever for the past three years. This season he has posted a 2.29 ERA and 2.89 FIP. His strikeout rate has surged to 36.5% this year. His walk rate is also up but sits at a manageable 9.5%. He has been more effective this year versus right handed bats allowing a .126/.216/.289 and .223 wOBA in 97 plate appearances. His .235/.297/.382 line and .295 wOBA against left handed batters is very effective.

Over the past three seasons he has put up a 3.31 ERA and 2.92 FIP. Overall he has allowed a .223/.289/.342 and .277 wOBA. He has shown reverse splits over this period as well.

Wilson probably isn’t the best fit for the Rays, but would definitely fit in with Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, and Tommy Hunter to pitch in high leverage moments. He is making $2.7MM in 2017 and has one more trip through arbitration remaining until he reaches free agency.

Brad Hand

Bob Nightengale of USA Today posted the Rays as a match for the San Diego Padres left handed reliever Brad Hand. He suggested a ridiculous Jesus Sanchez and Lucius Fox package to land Hand.

Hand spent parts of the 2011-15 seasons with the Miami Marlins mostly in the rotation. A middling strikeout rate paired with a high walk rate, however, weren’t promising.

The last year and a half he has been working as a reliever with the Padres. Overall the results have been great. In 128.0 innings he has posted a 2.67 ERA and 2.80 FIP.

Hand’s been absolutely dominant against left handed bats allowing a .138/.243/.247 line and .223 wOBA. Against right handed bats he has allowed a .220/.281/.342 line and .271 wOBA.

Hand fits the mold of a left hander that is brought in to destroy left handed bats, but you don’t feel bad when he’s forced to face right handed bats. He fits what the Rays bullpen could really use.

Hand is making $1.375MM in 2017 and will have two more trips through arbitration before hitting free agency. The Padres have said they want a return similar to the Ken Giles trade between the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies.

Tony Watson

Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports reported that the Rays were interested in Pittsburgh Pirates left handed reliever Tony Watson.

From 2013-15 Watson was one of the most effective relievers in baseball putting up a 1.97 ERA and 2.91 FIP over 224.1 innings. He struck out 22.4% of batters and walked only 5.0%.

Over the last year and a half Watson hasn’t put up results nearly as good. He has a 3.29 ERA and 4.59 FIP. His strikeout rate is down to 19.0% and walks are up to 6.8%. He has still limited damage from left handed bats by allowing a .254/.301/.336 line and .282 wOBA. Right handers have hit him much harder.

Watson fits as a guy you want to mostly be facing left handed bats. The Rays haven’t had anybody that can fill that role since losing Xavier Cedeno to injury early in the season. Watson is making $5.6MM in 2017 and will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Hunter Strickland

Chris Haft suggested that the Rays were interested in Strickland after seeing him pitch against the Padres this weekend.

Hunter Strickland put up mostly good results for the San Francisco Giants. This year he has posted a 1.91 ERA and 3.26 FIP. His 24.8% strikeout rate is in line with his previous seasons, but his walk rate has ballooned to 13.1% after never posting a rate above 7.6%. Overall his numbers are helped by a 2.8% HR/FB rate. He’s been fortunate to post a really low number. In 2015 and 2016 he posted a 7.8% HR/FB rate. AT&T Park is one of the hardest parks to homer at, so he should see some bump if moved out of the friendly home park.

The concerns with Strickland are his inflated walk rate and the decrease in his fastball velocity, down almost two miles per hour over the last few years to 96.28 mph. It’s a pitch he counts on over 60% of the time.

Strickland comes with cheap control as his biggest selling point. He is making the league minimum and will be arbitration eligible for the first of four trips this fall.

Pat Neshek

Mark Feinsand of MLB.com mentioned Neshek as part of the Rays overall search for relief help.

The 37 year old is putting together a very good season for Phillies, possibly the best of his career. Neshek has put up a 1.21 ERA and 2.10 FIP. His 29.0% strikeout rate is his highest since 2006 and his 3.6% walk rate is his lowest of his career. The big difference in results has been Neshek’s ability to avoid homers this year with a 5.0% HR/FB rate that is roughly half of what he has allowed in his career. The year is very similar to his 2014 season with the St. Louis Cardinals. Neshek has shown very little split this year allowing a .233 wOBA to left handed bats and a .236 wOBA to right handed bats.

Neshek has been a quality right handed option out of the bullpen most years since 2011. He’s generally been much better against right handed bats, so he wouldn’t fill the need of an arm that is effective against left handed bats.

Neshek is in the final year of his contract paying him $6.5MM in 2017. He doesn’t have the track record of many others on the market, but he’s put up the best results this year.

The Rays appear to be inquiring on anybody that might be available.

I don’t expect the Rays to spend any of the prospects they really believe in. This might limit their options somewhat. The Rays will attempt to juggle and find that perfect fit to get the relief help they need today without jeopardizing their ability to compete two or three years from now.

I would be surprised if the Rays do not trade for a reliever within the next two weeks.