Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Fennelly: With playoff chase in high gear, it's time for Rays to make a move

ST. PETERSBURG

Thursday was an off-day for the Rays, who are coming off a solid western swing. I assume there was no rest for the tag-team Rays baseball brain trust of Matt Silverman, Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom, whose job it is to improve this team in advance of the trade deadline. They've done a good job building this pleasantly surprising club.

Time to build some more.

A proven reliever. A right-handed bat.

Some help.

There can't be any sitting on hands.

The Rays have to make moves, solid moves, balancing the future as best they can, but with the marching order to make this team better. Small market is no excuse at this point.

The Rays have no choice.

Other than the runaway Astros, the American League playoff slots are up for grabs, so wide open that the Rays have a fighting chance to crash the postseason for the first time since 2013. Tampa Bay is 2½ games back of first-place Boston in the East and first in the wild-card race, a game and a half up on the Yankees.

RELATED: Alex Cobb feeling safer as Rays make playoff push.

There is no time to waste. The Yankees have picked up a bat (Todd Frazier) and an arm (reliever David Robertson) and might not be done. The Red Sox will make moves. A lot of contenders will. I mean, who doesn't need help out of the AL mud?

I'll say it again: I won't believe the Rays are in the postseason until 10 minutes into batting practice before their first playoff game. Every stretch between here and September seems fraught with peril, even in the upcoming homestand against the Rangers and Orioles.

Then eight games on the road, four at the Yankees and then four at the Astros, on into August, followed by a nine-game homestand against current division leaders Milwaukee, Boston and Cleveland.

The Rays need to strike. They owe it to their fans. They owe it to their players. They even owe it to a stadium deal, if such a thing can ever exist. Owner Stu Sternberg owes it to the franchise he once helped raise from the dead into prideful contention.

And, methodical as Silverman, Neander and Bloom are, like their boss, the three of them owe it to the good work they've already put in. This is where this franchise wants to be, with a fighting chance.

The Rays brought in catcher Wilson Ramos in the offseason, and he has generally been worth the wait. The Rays brought in Mallex Smith, and he has been a huge bonus with Kevin Kiermaier injured. The Rays gave Logan Morrison a second chance, and he has delivered a career year. The Rays grabbed shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria when the Marlins made him available. And on and on.

But there are more moves to make.

RELATED: MRI exam shows 'no damage' to Steven Souza Jr.'s hip.

No, you don't want to lose top prospects such as Willy Adames and Jake Bauers, but Silverman, Neander and Bloom have to find the middle ground between present and future, and make a deal. The recent acquisition of Triple-A reliever Chaz Roe can't be the end of this.

Some decisions already have been made for the Rays because of their success. They can't begin to think about trading pending free agent Alex Cobb, who seemed as good as gone before the season. The Rays have a history of dealing pitchers (Scott Kazmir, James Shields, David Price), but they have to ride Cobb, into free agency and goodbye, if they stay in the race. That's a good problem short term.

Think of where the Rays could be. We could be saying so long to Cobb and wondering, right now, if last season was the season to trade Evan Longoria, who was in the middle of a resurgence (actually, I still wonder that). Longoria, in the middle of his 10th season and a 10-year contract, isn't going anywhere. There are games to win, a playoff race to run.

Long-term thinking might not be in effect at the moment. The here and now demands action. Silverman, Neander and Bloom need to get it done. In the process, this franchise could prove it can be a playoff team with a Maddon or Friedman in sight. Keep working. Surprise us. Think like contenders.

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