Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays Tales: Solid deadline pickups

The Rays made only one acquisition before last week's trade deadline, and though there's always a chance for more via waivers through August, they feel pretty good about their move, confident RHP Jesse Crain will recover from a shoulder strain and have an impact pitching high-leverage innings down the stretch and potentially into the postseason.

Crain, 32, is equally excited about the opportunity, raving about how "refreshing" it is to join the Rays from the last-place White Sox and intrigued by his first turn as a pennant-race pickup.

"Being with the Twins and the White Sox, you see it happen to other guys or where we brought in guys, so now to be that kind of player late in your career, it's different, but it's fun," Crain said. "I couldn't be happier."

Though the Rays usually are considered one of the less active teams at the deadline, they actually have done pretty well, executive VP Andrew Friedman making 17 late-June/July/August deals in his seven seasons.

So, which one has worked out the best? Well, that depends on how you define "best":

Best impact? RHP Chad Bradford, 2008

The Aug. 7, 2008, acquisition of RHP Chad Bradford from the Orioles (for cash) paid off immediately, as the submarine-style thrower became a valuable groundball-inducing weapon in the run to the American League East title and World Series. Bradford pitched in 21 of the Rays' final 47 games, posting a 1-0 record with a 1.42 ERA, with five holds and making 18 scoreless appearances, including his first nine. Bradford then pitched in seven of the Rays' 16 postseason games, allowing one run.

Best influence? RHP Dan Wheeler, 2007

At the time, the July 28, 2007, trade with Houston seemed as much about another dead-end Devil Rays team getting something for INF Ty Wigginton as the return. But getting Dan Wheeler proved to be the start of something significant. Manager Joe Maddon routinely credits Wheeler with initiating the culture change that led to the team's 2008 turnaround, leading by example with a professionalism, winning mentality and team-first attitude that were sorely lacking. Also, Wheeler pitched pretty well during the 2008-10 seasons, including saving 18 games.

Best player? INF Ben Zobrist, 2006

Rays officials, to their credit, admit now they didn't know Ben Zobrist was going to be this good when they acquired him and right-handed pitcher Mitch Talbot from the Astros in dumping Aubrey Huff and his salary on July 12, 2006. Then a 25-year-old light-hitting shortstop who hadn't been above Double A, Zobrist has turned into one of the core players in the Rays' six-year run of success. Zobrist also is one of the league's most valuable players, a two-time All-Star who can hit and play quite well anywhere he is needed.

Best return? RHP Grant Balfour, 2007

For all RHP Seth McClung's potential, it seemed obvious for several reasons he wasn't going to make it with the Devil Rays, and it was a bit of a surprise the team got anything for him. But that was not as surprising as what Balfour — to that point a relatively ineffective, injury-plagued part-timer with the Twins, Reds and Brewers — turned into: a huge force in the Rays' bullpen from 2008-10 and now an All-Star with Oakland.

Other summer acquisitions of note


. LHP J.P. Howell from Royals for OF Joey Gathright and INF Fernando Cortez

Howell became a key piece with 2008 move to bullpen.

. C Dioner Navarro, OF Justin Ruggiano, RHP Jae Seo from Dodgers for C Toby Hall, LHP Mark Hendrickson, cash

Though his tenure didn't end well with Rays, Navarro was a huge part of '08 success.


. C Gregg Zaun from Orioles for player to be named (INF Rhyne Hughes)

Zaun stepped in behind the plate and helped win a few games. And his departure yielded a valuable supplemental draft pick: OF Drew Vettleson.

. INF Sean Rodriguez, LHP Alex Torres, INF Matt Sweeney from Angels for LHP Scott Kazmir

Salary dump was vital, contributions from S-Rod, Torres a welcome plus.


. RHP Chad Qualls from Diamondbacks for player to be named (RHP Matt Gorgen)

Stealth move to boost bullpen after Grant Balfour was hurt in batting practice. Plus, Qualls' departure netted '11 supplemental draft pick: OF James Harris.


. INF Ryan Roberts from Diamondbacks for minor-league INF Tyler Bortnick

Versatile pickup provides depth given injuries to Evan Longoria.

About Jesse Crain

Age: 32

Born: Toronto (where his American father had business; moved back to the United States after three months)

Grew up: Boulder, Colo.

Lives: Sugarland, Texas, near Houston

Family: Wife Becky; kids Hunter (7), Avery (almost 5), Caleb (21 months)

High school: Fairview (Colo.); played baseball (state player of the year), football (QB), basketball

College: University of Texas, San Jacinto Junior College (primarily a shortstop for two years), University of Houston (SS and closer, named All-American)

Drafted: 2002, second round, by Twins

Border wars: Played for U.S. Olympic qualifying team in 2003 but Canada in 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic; would have played this year but was injured.

Career: With Twins 2004-10, including four trips to postseason. … Signed three-year, $13 million deal with White Sox; was 2013 All-Star. … 45-30, 3.05 ERA, four saves in 532 games.

Rays rumblings

ESPN's Jim Bowden gave Rays exec VP Andrew Friedman a "B" for his trade deadline work, calling the acquisition of Jesse Crain "brilliant." … This week's trip to Dodger Stadium is the first in the Rays' 16 seasons and also a reunion with LF Carl Crawford and LHP J.P. Howell. … Ben Zobrist is speaking and wife Julianna singing at Sarasota's Church of the Palms at 7 tonight; see churchofthepalms.org. … OF Sam Fuld is one of several players in a video reciting favorite lines from the movie The Sandlot; see mlbfancave.com.

Got a minute? Jesse Crain

Best meal you can make? I make a great mac and cheese for my (three) kids.

Must-see TV? With the kids, Good Luck Charlie.

Band you'd like to be onstage with? Kings of Leon.

All-time favorite movie? Forrest Gump.

Celebrity crush? Jessica Biel. She's from Boulder.

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