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What we learned about the Rays at the trade deadline

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline has come and gone like a whirlwind, and for us Rays fans, it’s time to catch our breath and say “What happened? What does this mean?” There was a lot of smoke around a Chris Archer trade, but the specific one, to the Pirates, wasn’t what most of us expected. And while there had been rumors last offseason that the Rays were interested in Tommy Pham, the trade-deadline timing caught everyone off guard.

So what can we learn from the busy day?

The Rays think they can win within the next few years.

If you needed confirmation that the Rays believe they can compete for a playoff spot in the near future, now you have it, in the form of Tommy Pham, Austin Meadows, and Tyler Glasnow.

First, Pham. He’s 30 years old, and a potentially-excellent major league outfielder, under team control for three years. Trading three lower-level prospects for major league production alleviated a looming 40-man roster crunch, but it also said something about where the Rays think they are on the win curve—when you compete for the playoffs, major league production matters.

Enjoy 2019, Rays fans, as it’ll be the only uncomplicated season of Pham you get. After that he’ll be a (hopefully) valuable player reaching the end of his contract, and that means trade rumors.

As for the peices from the Archer trade, Meadows is major league ready, and should be the starting left fielder for most of 2019. Glasnow might be great, or he might not—there’s a super wide range of projection—but whatever he is, he’ll mostly be it in the majors.

The Rays window is open, and while Chris Archer could have been a part of a contending team in 2019 and 2020, so too can the pieces he brought back.

The Rays were both buyers and sellers.

Before the deadline, we debated whether the Rays were buyers or sellers, or if we should be framing the deadline in binary terms at all. Well, after the deadline we can still do that.

The trade for Tommy Pham was a buy, improving the Rays expected win total in 2018 (my definition of a buy). The trade of Chris Archer was a sell, depressing that win total, although, as noted above, Meadows and Glasnow are major league pieces who the Rays hope will produce soon. The trade of Wilson Ramos is definitely a sell, but depending on when he returns from the disabled list, it may have minimal effect. The trade of Hunter Schryver for international bonus pool money is just entirely out of left field.

So what does that make the Rays? Non-binary. Their position on the win curve is interesting, both for this year and for next year, in that they have a shot of contending but are far from a lock. That makes it difficult to figure out how to play their hand, and the half-in, half-out, all-assets-are-liquid-assets approach is probably the right way to go about it.

These Rays have managed to rebuild their major league team and their farm system without ever cratering the way the Astros and the Cubs did. That’s neat.

MLB: Game Two-St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs
Tommy Pham high fives Harrison Bader, who in part forced him out of the St. Louis line up.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays are making a push in the international free agent market.

Who is Hunter Schryver? He’s a 23 year old left-handed minor league reliever who the Rays traded to the White Sox for the right to spend an extra $1 million on international free agents (team spending on international free agents is capped by the collective bargaining agreement). They also collected the right to spend an extra $500 K from the Cardinals in that trade for Tommy Pham.

We’re not totally sure how much money the Rays can spend on the IFA market this upcoming year (we’re working on that), but they’re definitely making a push to raise that total.

The most well-known prize right now is Cuban phenom Victor Victor Mesa, and there are other teams with money to spend that will be in on him as well. Beyond the top names, though, there’s a wide range of options. The IFA market is a place where teams can get potential top talent at an affordable price, so it’s fascinating to watch the Rays pivot in that direction.

The Rays need to pull some pitchers out of a hat.

You may have seen a picture of the Rays depth chart floating around twitter that shows the Rays as having zero healthy starting pitchers. That’s very unfair to Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos, and Jalen Beeks—just because they sometimes enter the game in the second inning as a headliner, and just because they’re sometimes only asked to pitch 2-3 innings as part of a bullpen day, doesn’t mean that they’re not essentially a starting pitcher.

On the other hand, if Yarbrough, Chirinos, and Beeks are the only starting pitchers you have, are you happy?

The Rays are going to make it work through the end of 2018, but then they will have to answer the question of how to replace the 200 innings they used to be able to pencil in from Chris Archer.

Blake Snell will be back. Wilmer Font will hopefully be back. Jacob Faria will be back tonight. The Rays hope Brent Honeywell will make an impact at some point after fully rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Anthony Banda probably won’t be ready to return from his own surgery until late in the year. Newly acquired pitcher Tyler Glasnow will be in the mix.

So yes, there are options already in the organization, and yes, the Rays have done well in their experiment of spreading innings out over their bullpen this year, but the baseball season is long. Trading Archer makes the innings puzzle more difficult.

The Rays currently have a very low salary commitment for 2019, and one wonders if they should invest some of it in a dependable veteran innings eater.