Monday, April 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

With Kiermaier sidelined into July, time for Rays to make some big moves

ST. PETERSBURG — As they got confirmation Monday of the worst-case scenario regarding Kevin Kiermaier's right thumb injury — a torn ligament requiring surgery and a three-month absence  — the Rays made a few decisions.

Mallex Smith, rather than Carlos Gomez, will get most of the playing time in center in Kiermaier's absence. Chih-Wei Hu was brought up to bolster the again taxed bullpen, then replaced by Hunter Wood, leaving the bench a man short. The potential to add another outfielder — though not one of their touted prospects — will depend on the state of their pitching, or they could wait for Brad Miller to come off the DL on Friday.

As they fully accept the reality of playing to the mid-July All-Star break without their best position player, the Rays might as well start making some other calls.

To the Mets, to see if they'll take catcher Wilson Ramos, and a nice chunk of his $10.5 million salary. To teams that could use a slightly off-kilter closer, in Alex Colome. Or any of their pending free agents, such as shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, reliever Sergio Romo, outfielders Denard Span and Gomez. And anyone else making big bucks, save for Chris Archer, who'd be better off to hold for a June/July auction.

Before the Kiermaier injury, the Rays' chances to realistically contend for the playoffs this season were extremely slim. Even team officials, in candid moments, acknowledged it would take a lot of things —  beyond their short-staffed rotation plan — to go right to compete against the mighty Red Sox and Yankees.

Most likely, they'd be out of the race by the July 31 trade deadline and start clearing space for the pending arrival of those promising prospects they expect to lead them back to the success they enjoyed what seems like a long time ago.

So, why wait?

Without Kiermaier, they have even slimmer of a chance to make anything out of this season —  except an unwanted run at 100 losses, even the franchise record of 106 set in 2002. Wouldn't that add to the 20th anniversary celebration?

After Monday's 8-4 win over  the equally woeful Rangers, the Rays are 4-12, and 16 games into the season somehow already 9 1/2 games behind Boston.

So start making those calls. Sure, waiting could increase the value of some tradeable players. But also the risk of injury. Deal whoever they can now. Bank whatever money they save. Start looking to the future.

(And in doing so, bring up the true core prospects, such as Willy Adames, Christian Arroyo and Jake Bauers, not four-A fillers. They're safely past the date for the Rays to have the seventh year of control; deal with the service time and Super 2 clocks ticking.)

Manager Kevin Cash talked Monday about how he and the staff have to continue to remain positive despite the "rut" they're in. How maybe the players will "rally around" the predicament. That "maybe the mindsets will change guys will do the little things to help us win some ball games.''

He tried to sound convincing. But, to his credit, he's not the type to spin this into some disingenuous galvanizing moment: "I'm realistic in the fact that KK is probably our best player on the field and we're missing him.''

Kiermaier had a pretty good sense when he went to see Rays hand specialist Dr. Doug Carlan on Monday he was looking at an extended DL stint for the third straight season. He broke his left wrist diving for a ball in 2016 and missed 48 games, the Rays going 14-34. He broke his right hip last year sliding into first and missed 61 games, the Rays going 29-32.

"For this to happen a third consecutive year, another freak type of accident, it's hard to put into words,'' Kiermaier said. "I'm shocked. Surprised. And sometimes it just doesn't feel real just because it's like this has to be some kind of sick joke.''

Kiermaier will have surgery on Friday to repair the torn ligament, with the injury being to his throwing hand a reason the return time is at least 12 weeks. (Angels star Mike Trout had a similar injury and surgery to his non-throwing (left) hand last year and was back in seven.)

The time on the DL will be miserable. The labeling as "injury prone" will make him mad. The chatter that he should play less aggressively — which he already said he won't — will be annoying.

And, once again, the Rays – or whoever's left – will play on without him.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays

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