ST. PETERSBURG — As most of the Rays reassembled at the Trop on Thursday for an optional workout after what their bosses hope was a cleansing All-Star break, manager Kevin Cash delivered the opening stanza of what for at least the next few weeks will be their mantra:
They still have some things to play for.
As impossible as it looks after losing 22 of 25 and dropping to 34-54, they have to believe — or at least say they believe — they can still find a way to get back in the playoff race. Competitiveness — not to lose 100 games, not to finish last — should be a motivating factor. Personal pride, even stats, as well.
But for a handful, and maybe up to a half-dozen, it's legitimately possible they are playing for the chance to play more meaningful games elsewhere.
Welcome to the vortex of baseball's trade rumors over the next 18 days.
The Rays' predicament presents more promising possibilities for contenders than perhaps any other team, as they are a squad with a bad record that has a fair amount of good players, most of whom are extremely affordable and eminently available.
Interest has been excessive, with two-thirds, maybe three-fourths of the roster already asked about — starters, relievers, infielders, outfielders. Some talks are advanced enough that one more phone call could seal a deal, and you can be sure president of baseball operations Matt Silverman is keeping his battery charged. Expect an extreme amount of speculation, with a good chance for some, and maybe a lot, of action.
Though the Rays never say never, a few players are at least very, very unlikely to be dealt: Gold Glove centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, rookie starting prospect Blake Snell, franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria, who, by the way, says he has no interest in going anywhere.
Chris Archer is probably in the group as well, as much for his team-friendly contract ($18.5 million total for 2017-19, options for $9 million, $11 million), as the potential to recapture his 2015 form and presence, though the right package could be alluring.
Otherwise, the Rays are very much open for business.
And that call sheet most days starts with their starting pitchers.
The Rays are ready to deal, taking advantage of the lack of depth on the pitching market, enticing teams with the chance to get a couple of extra starts. Though there might be a surcharge, they would deal with their AL East rivals as well.
Matt Moore and Jake Odorizzi have been talked the most about, and are the most likely to go. Probably one, maybe both.
There seems to be a fair discussion over who has more value and thus would bring more in trade. Ideally, the Rays could get two really good (though not elite) prospects or young major-leaguers for each. Age and experience level are negotiable, positions a little less so as they seem set at third with Longoria and first and shortstop with prospects for the near term. A catcher might be nice. Heck, maybe a couple.
For what it's worth, both Moore and Odorizzi seem a safer bet than Drew Pomeranz, for whom the Red Sox on Thursday gave up their top young pitching prospect. And there are plenty of teams, starting with the Rangers, who need help.
An evaluator from one outside team says Odorizzi offers more consistency over the long term, though he has been inconsistent this season. Another says Moore, despite the Tommy John zipper on his left elbow, has higher upside, and has been pitching the best for the past month.
The Rays would seem more motivated to trade Moore based on his contract status, options of $7 million, $9 million and $10 million over the next three seasons. But Odorizzi, who will be arbitration eligible for the first of three times next season, could end up making around $20 million, so the gap isn't as large.
As poorly as Drew Smyly has pitched, he, too, has been talked about. Teams are always confident they can "fix" players, and he was pretty good to finish last season and to start this one.
Infielder Steve Pearce, expected back from a hamstring injury next week, has broad cache given his bat, versatility and one-year deal, so they might as well get something for him.
First baseman Logan Morrison could fill a hole somewhere. Shortstop Brad Miller has appeal to a team looking for left-handed pop. Erasmo Ramirez's versatility to start or relieve makes him enticing. And, depending on your size and style, the Rays can offer outfielders from Desmond Jennings on the low end to steady Brandon Guyer to enigmatic and high upside Steven Souza Jr.
As usual, the Rays aren't in a position where they have to make a deal. And they won't unless it's the proper return, knowing the market for starters will be thin in the off-season, so they can hold their arms and deal then.
But something seems different this time. Expect more than just talk.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.