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MLB Trade Deadline: Who are the Rays top trade targets?

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If the team decides to buy, several non-contenders might have appealing options available.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins
Trevor Rosenthal
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Today is August 25th, and we are six days away from the MLB trade deadline. As of this morning, the playoff odds at FanGraphs have updated to put seven teams at playoff odds below 10%, so let’s walk through what each franchise may have to offer in case the Rays decide to become sellers in the next week.

Refresher on the Rays needs

The Rays needs are most likely at catcher — although that’s a shaky place to look to add, with so few games remaining and a lot of information to learn about the pitching staff it’s have to be a veteran — and pitcher (starters and high leverage relievers).

If the Rays do go after a pitcher, I’ll caveat that we are looking for X-Factor types. The Rays have beaucoup depth overall, and the Shane’s at the Alternative Training Site who can come in and light up the post-season if necessary. If the Rays are in on an arm, it needs to be top flight to move the needle.

Let’s dive in.

Pirates (Playoff Odds: 0.7%)

Ok, this is a bad place to start, the Pirates are bad for a reason.

Pittsburgh’s pitching situation is dire and the only real upgrade likely to be available from them is reliever Richard Rodriguez (3.09 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 37.2 K%, 2.3 BB%). He’s cheap (making the league minimum), but he’s old (30), and his HitF/X look terrible, with a 12.5% barrel rate and 58.3% hard hit rate (which is worst in baseball). His average exit velocity allowed is 95.6 mph, so his results do not seem sustainable.

If the Rays are talking to the Pirates, it’s could be about Jacob Stallings, a 30-year old catcher who ranks 6th on the Baseball Prospectus Catcher Defense Leaderboard and boasts a 120 wRC+ through 59 plate appearances (18 games), but like Rodriguez this is some overachieving for Stallings, who is still only making the league minimum this season because he has only 113 appearances in his career.

This likely isn’t a veteran catcher the Rays would trust to step into the catching platoon.

Mariners (1.6%)

The Mariners have sold off most of their veterans. The only rentals on the active roster are SP Taijuan Walker and RP Yoshihisa Hirano.

Walker has been one of the starters at the center of trade rumors recently. Through five starts he’s posted a solid 4.00 ERA/4.91 FIP/4.77 xFIP. His 22.3% strikeout rate and 7.1% walk rate are in line with his career norms. His homer rate is up marginally. He’s a fine five inning starter, but the Rays should be looking higher.

Hirano made his season debut this weekend after recovering from COVID-19. In 2018-19 for the Diamondbacks he posted solid mid 20% strikeout rates and walking slightly more than average at 9.0%. Looks like a fine middle reliever if you think he’s back to full strength.

If the Mariners are willing to move an older breakout reliever then Taylor Williams is very interesting, who was flagged in the most recent episode of Rays Your Voice. In 12.0 innings he’s struck out 17 and walked 4. He has a 3.00 ERA/2.88 FIP/4.27 xFIP in this young season. There’s not much track record but the slider does get whiffs.

Like Rodriguez, his barrel and hard hit rates are not great, but he would be a decent consolation prize for the trade deadline.

Because this is Jerry Dipoto we are talking about, we can’t discount him trading anybody though, so it’d be nice if the Rays inquired on — *spins wheel* — Yusei Kikuchi?

Red Sox (5.5%)

Boston has already traded its two “best” relievers to the Phillies, which means their remaining blue chips are Xander Bogaerts and JD Martinez, who are now being rumored to have availability. Both have big contracts so don’t expect the Rays to be involved.

Xander Bogaerts is an unnecessary pipe dream. There’s no need to pay $20 million per season for what would be the Rays third baseman when you have Wander Franco, the perennial top prospect in baseball, waiting in the wings.

Chaim Bloom is welcome to trade these players out of the division, though. In fact, we’d welcome the opportunity to not play Boston’s best players anymore!

Tampa Bay could inquire on Christian Vazquez, who ranks second on the BPro Catcher Defense Leaderboard this season, but his bat is not an upgrade over the in-house options and anything in-division is likely to be expensive.

Tigers (5.6%)

The Tigers got off to a quick start, but things have gone in the opposite direction as they’ve now caught the Royals at the bottom of division and are 5.0 games behind the top three in the AL Central. The Tigers don’t have anything all that interesting on the offensive side, but they have some interesting pitchers that they might be looking to move as they give their prospects led mostly on the pitching side opportunities.

The two notable pitchers are Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris, both discussed at length earlier this week. Like many other pitchers available, the Statcast numbers ain’t what you want.

Boyd got off to a quick start last year but has had a major problem giving up homers since. In 214.0 innings since the beginning of 2019 he has a 29.3% strikeout rate and 6.6% walk rate. His 2.0 HR/9 and 18.9% HR/FB rate are the major reasons he has a 5.09 ERA/4.52 FIP/3.98 xFIP.

He’s a left handed pitcher that has shown effectiveness in the majors, so some team is going to believe there’s something they can do to get better results. Maybe that team is the Rays or maybe it’s one of a dozen or more that needs pitching, and Boyd isn’t worth a bidding war.

Norris has worked primarily in the bullpen this year as a multi inning reliever. He has a 2.77 ERA/2.13 FIP/4.11 xFIP in 13.0 innings. He’s been a league average arm for most of his career much in the same way Trevor Richards was when the Rays picked him up as a secondary piece in the Nick Anderson trade last year. He’s unlikely to be an upgrade over fellow southpaw Anthony Banda, but he would be an intriguing depth add.

Royals (6.4%)

We also covered the Royals relief arms at length earlier this week. Trevor Rosenthal is performing extremely well, and Ian Kennedy is severely underperforming what he’s capable of due to some early problems with the longball.

Both represent arms with high leverage experience and would be reasonable gets with the slew of Rays injuries in the bullpen. In other words, as opposed to the players mentioned above here, we’re getting closer to the X-Factor type of addition that might help the Rays into the playoffs.

If the Royals were willing to deal a more long term piece, reliever Josh Staumont has the same qualities the Rays were looking for when they picked up Nick Anderson at last year’s trade deadline. His 99 mph fastball is paired with a 46.9% strikeout rate, and is supported by a 0.79 ERA and 2.60 FIP that far outweigh his 12% walk rate.

Staumont is a little banged up with a back injury and such a deal would be expensive, but if you’re going for it, a dude who can hit 102 on the gun would be fun.

Yeesh!

Angels (6.5%)

It’s shocking to see the Angels nearly out of post-season contention again, but that’s the reality we live in. How a team with Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, top infield defender Andrelton Simmons, top-five prospect Jo Adell, and 2020 MVP Contender Anthony Rendon could be bad is baffling. Also, I would expect none of those players to be available for sale.

If Joe Maddon’s Angels are shipping anything out, it’s an expiring contract unlikely to be part of the long term future.

Enter veteran catcher Jason Castro, who the Rays have a history of trying to sign in the past.

His hitting has fallen off from his hot start, but through 55 PA (16 games, wow everything is a small sample size this season), he has a respectable 108 wRC+ with a 50% hard hit rate. In his age 33-season he has 841 games under his belt, and is owed around $1.25 million to finish the season.

Like the Rays catching options already on the roster, Castro is neutral in terms of the BPro Leaderboard, but has a solid reputation on defense, so if the team feels an addition is necessary, Castro is an obvious choice.

As for a reliever, Cam Bedrosian has a Rays-type of fastball with plenty of rise. The former 29th overall pick from 2010 is under contract through 2021 on his rookie deal but is recovering from a thigh injury. It seems unlikely he’d be ready to return before the deadline.

Rangers (7.4%)

Should the Rays be calling the Rangers? They haven’t been pushovers in trades with the Rays in recent years, but if Tampa Bay wants an X-Factor, this is a team to call. Like the Angels, their dwindling playoff odds is a surprise, but opens up a great opportunity to become sellers this summer.

Last season, the Rangers had a surprise All-Star starting pitcher who finished eighth in the Cy Young voting, and one who was an attempted draftee of the Devil Rays in 2006 before he elected to attend Vanderbilt instead. He’s caught in the small sample size zone with Ian Kennedy, having allowed more hard hits and barrels than his stuff indicates should be happening. He throws 90 mph, but is a southpaw so that doesn’t really matter, and his spin rate is 97th percentile.

We’re talking about Mike Minor, and he could be an X-Factor. Minor is 32-years old and has less than $2 million left on his three year deal with the Rangers. If the Rays think they can fix him, this is a reasonable acquisition.

Of course, if you want to be a little unreasonable, a different X-Factor could be Lance Lynn. The 33-year old starter is among the best in the majors right now with a 1.59 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 28.4 K%, 8.0 BB%, and high percentile marks all around on Statcast. He’s owed about $12 million for the rest of this year and 2021, and would fill a need for the multiple lost starters from the rotation. His availability would probably force a bidding war with other teams like the Brewers who may be more anxious for a starting pitcher, though.

As for the rest of the Rangers team, former Rays catcher Robinson Chirinos was activated from the Injured List on Monday ad is one of three backstops on their active roster, he could be worth checking in on. Two of his last three seasons had wRC+ of 122 and 113, he’s a veteran with 588 games called and he might be able to hit.

Either way, if the Rays swing a deal with Texas, they should try and throw in LHP Wes Benjamin or LHP Joely Rodríguez. With Benjamin it’d be to see if they can unlock his fastball-change up combo, with Rodriguez more about shifting him to the 3B side of the rubber to revive his slider.

Concluding Thoughts

Not listed among the teams listed here as possible sellers is the San Francisco Giants, as their playoff odds remain above 10%.

As discussed previously, they have a couple starters who could be trade fodder no matter their playoff odds, but the best candidate Kevin Gausman is already a popular name and is likely to be expensive. They also have Drew Smyly, Tyler Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Dereck Rodriguez, Tyler Rogers, and Caleb Baragar that could all be worth a look.

Whether the Giants are sellers is a mystery, but they do seem likely to make a couple trades even if they’re still able to sneak into the playoffs.

As for the teams listed above, the most reasonable trade targets are C Jason Castro, RP Trevor Rosenthal, and SP Mike Minor, but there are a few names like SP Lance Lynn or RP Josh Staumont who could represent a bigger splash.