Friday was not a great day in Rays land. Those plucky, lovable, underdog Yankees (I hope you can taste the sarcasm through your computer screen) ground out a 4-3 win — the grit! the heart! — on the back of Gio Urshela (yes, that Gio Urshela), and Rays early-season ace Tyler Glasnow exited the game in the sixth with what has been diagnosed as a forearm strain (he’s expected to miss 4 to 6 weeks).
All that on the back off the news earlier in the day that Mike Zunino would be out longer than anticipated, leaving the Rays without their top two catchers for nearly a month (backup Michael Perez picked up an oblique issue earlier in the week).
However, the good news is the Rays front office appears to have decided they’re playing for keeps in 2019.
Not content to rely on former top-25 prospect Nick Ciuffo and 29-year-old debutante Anthony Bemboom, the Rays went out and acquired ex-prospect and current lottery ticket Travis d’Arnaud for cash considerations on Friday.
It was the exact type of move that Rays fans wanted. Resting on their laurels would’ve been easy. It’s only May, you’re realistically not going to lose more than a game or two in the standings by relying on a pair of backup backstops for three weeks. But this move was symbolic. It showed that the Rays are Going For It in 2019, something they haven’t always done.
The team came into the season with the lowest payroll in baseball but vague promises of saving that capital for moves to be made during the season. I’ll be honest, I had my B.S. fly swatter out and wasn’t buying it. It looked like just another case of the Rays being thrifty to a fault.
Well, I love to see that I may well have been wrong. As noted, d’Arnaud isn’t going to be the move that wins the Rays a pennant. He’s a 30-year-old who has amassed 1.9 career rWAR and is slashing a robust .083/.154/.083 in 26 plate appearances this season. Still, he’s a familiar name, with a solid reputation, who, from 2014-2017, was basically a league-average bat (99 wRC+) from behind the plate — a significant upgrade over what the Rays were looking at during this important stretch of upcoming games.
But really, to me, its the symbolism of this move that is noteworthy. Baseball injuries happen, and while the Rays farm system has plenty of depth, it can’t always give a perfect solution to these problems. Say Glasnow does end up missing a significant amount of time (say if his recovery is slower than expected), I now have less fear that the Rays will be fine slotting Faria into a second bulk role and calling it a day. Maybe they poke around for available names (Mike Minor in Texas carries some intrigue) to re-solidify the rotation. Maybe they follow Farhan Zahidi in San Francisco and break the typical mold of waiting until later in the season to make these types of deals. I now have a lot more faith in that being a possibility.
d’Arnaud may well play a dozen games for the Rays and then fade into the oblivion as one of the many players making just a brief pit stop in St. Petersburg. Even if d’Arnaud the player has minimal impact, d’Arnaud the symbol of a commitment to winning will be remembered.