The buildup to this July 31 trading deadline is different for the Rays, for the rudimentary reason that they are working — feverishly, from what we hear — to add on to a team they feel has a legitimate chance to make a playoff run.
That's right. Rather than being their usual sellers, or seeking fringe additions, the Rays are looking to be buyers — for an impact reliever and maybe a bat, too.
Not likely top shelf, but they have been in the conversations for most of the candidates on the market. While still operating under the proviso of being "responsible," they seem willing to take on some salary and part with some good — though not their elite — prospects and maybe a player off the current roster.
That nothing happened through Saturday afternoon isn't particularly encouraging, though, as it seemed the Rays were better positioned to deal somewhat preemptively rather than get involved in bidding wars with the clock ticking.
Teams tend to evaluate their own prospects higher than others, and the Rays may have to decide whether it's more important to hang on to a player who might make an impact in the future or one who can help them convert a legit chance to make the playoffs after three straight losing seasons.
Save for the players who'd lose their jobs, most Rays seem eager to see what their bosses do.
"We've been sellers the last couple years and seen some good faces go, so it's really interesting to be on the other side of that," injured CF Kevin Kiermaier said. "These next 10 days will be interesting and very exciting. … Everyone is talking about it. There's no way around that. We want to see our front office at least make an effort. … It's fun to think we're really throwing all our eggs in one basket, and trying to win with this great group of guys. An addition would be a bonus, but we're happy with the guys we have in here and we can win with them."
Said RHP Chris Archer: "Whatever the front office wants to do, that's up to them. To this point they've really showed they're in this thing as much as we are. So we trust them to do the right thing."
Been there, done that
Deadline deals can be exciting for fans and team execs but shocking and stressful for players. Current Rays INF Matt Duffy, RHP Tommy Hunter and C Wilson Ramos, plus bench coach Tom Foley, were all involved in such deals.
Duffy, from Giants to Rays, 2016
Shocked was a pretty good word for Duffy, who was on the DL, rehabbing at Triple-A Sacramento, at the time. Over breakfast that day, girlfriend Rachael Crow had asked if he'd had any thoughts about getting traded. Explaining that injured players rarely get dealt, and that contenders looking to add on like the Giants usually swap prospects rather than subtract from their big-league team, he told her, " 'I'm not going to say for sure, but I'm like 99 percent sure I won't get traded.' And like an hour later, (Giants GM) Bobby Evans calls." Duffy finished his rehab and played 21 games for the Rays but wasn't right and needed September heel surgery, which due to several complications — "a nightmare" — has kept him sidelined, though he is under control through 2020. Moore went 6-5, 4.08 to help the Giants into the '16 playoffs, though he is 3-10, 5.81 this year.
Hunter, from Rangers to Orioles, 2011; from Orioles to Cubs, 2015
Going from first to last place in 2011 and one middling contender to another in 2015 made for two disappointing Julys. "It's not always fun," Hunter said. "It depends on what your situation is. I didn't want to get traded either time. So you just put your head down and go play baseball." While on the wrong side of the 2011 deal (part of the return with Chris Davis for bullpen-boosting Koji Uehara), Hunter was acquired to bolster the 2015 Cubs crew, which did make the playoffs. "I didn't help them at all (2-0, 5.74, 19 games) and I got hurt," he said. "The thing about getting traded is you always try to do too much when you go to another team. Maybe I tried to do that, and it backfired quickly."
Ramos, from Twins to Nationals, 2010
As Minnesota's promising (though blocked by Joe Mauer) catching prospect, Ramos was obviously shocked to get called off the field during warmups for a Triple-A game and told he was dealt for closer Matt Capps (who helped the Twins win the AL Central). He didn't feel any better when he realized the Nats had a pretty good catcher in future Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez: "I said, 'Oh my goodness, why am I going.' I didn't know what was going on." But Rodriguez proved to be a tremendous mentor as Ramos took over as the starter the next season and launched a pretty good career of his own. "It was a sad moment the first time but an exciting moment after that," Ramos said.
Foley, from Phils to Expos, 1986
According to Foley, he "of course" was the key to the deal, especially since the return included Skeeter Barnes (a longtime Rays minor-league instructor) and LHP Dan Schatzeder. Then the light-hitting Foley said, "The Phillies needed more lefty pop, so they traded me for the lefty pitcher because he could swing the bat pretty well." In reality, it was two teams with no chance to catch the Mets moving spare parts around. "They just wanted to get me the heck out of there because they were playing Steve Jeltz" at shortstop, Foley said.
Typically, Rays deals leading up to the deadline are about selling and/or building for the future. A look back at the main ones in the Stuart Sternberg regime that started in 2006:
Deal: Traded SS Julio Lugo (right) to Dodgers for OF prospects Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza.
Dish: Rays dumped money after Lugo declined extension, neither prospect panned out.
Deals: Acquired RHP Grant Balfour from Brewers for RHP Seth McClung; acquired RHP Dan Wheeler from Astros for INF Ty Wigginton; traded INF Jorge Cantu to Reds for minor-league RHP Calvin Medlock, LHP Brian Shackelford.
Dish: Wheeler and, later in the season, Balfour played huge roles in Rays' 2008 turnaround. The Cantu deal seemed more like a dump, though not money related.
Deal: Acquired RHP Chad Qualls from D'backs for PTBNL (minor-league RHP Matt Gorgen).
Dish: With Grant Balfour hurt during batting practice horseplay, Rays scrambled on deadline day to add a replacement, Qualls pitching 27 games as they won AL East and went to the playoffs.
Deal: Acquired INF Ryan Roberts from D'backs for minor-league INF Tyler Bortnick.
Dish: Roberts got lots of ink for filling in at 3B and 2B as Rays dealt with injuries to Evan Longoria and others, but they fell three games short of playoffs.
Deal: Acquired RHP Jesse Crain (right) from White Sox for two PTBNL (LHP Sean Bierman, INF Ben Kline) and cash.
Dish: Was a gamble since Crain was on DL and failed (at low cost) as he never pitched for Rays.
Deal: Traded ace LHP David Price to Tigers for LHP Drew Smyly (left) INF prospect Willy Adames and INF Nick Franklin (from Seattle).
Dish: Best player Rays ever traded, so question always will be if they got enough. Adames may be the determiner as Smyly was inconsistent and injured (15-15, 3.95) and traded after three years and Franklin dumped this spring.
Deals: Traded OF David DeJesus (right) to Angels for minor-league RHP Eduar Lopez; traded RHP Kevin Jepsen to Twins for RHP prospect Chih-Wei Hu and minor-league RHP Alex Tapia.
Dish: Rays got some grumbling from clubhouse about trading veterans while on fringe of race but got a big-league arm in Hu. Lopez and Tapia are at Class A.
Deals: Traded LHP Matt Moore to Giants for INF Matt Duffy, SS prospect Lucius Fox, RHP prospect Michael Santos; traded RHP Steve Pearce to Orioles for minor-league C Jonah Heim; traded OF Brandon Guyer to Indians for minor-league OF Nathan Lukes and RHP Jhon Salinas.
Dish: Moore was the biggest name of three veterans dumped to clear present/future salary; the return was diminished by Duffy's extended injury absence, though Fox has much promise. The others, not so much.
In talking about his innings race with RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Chris Archer set a pretty high bar, saying "people that have been around here a long time have been comparing us to (ex-Rays top starters James) Shields and (David) Price." … After finishing a 12-game stretch vs. sub-.500 teams Wednesday, the Rays step up in class, with their next 18 against the contending Yankees, Astros, Brewers, Red Sox and Indians. … As much as Tuesday's comeback in Oakland seemed a defining win, Friday's loss could be one to remember if the season turns bad. … Yep, rookie RHP Jake Faria really was on national TV the other day explaining why he travels with a rubber duck, telling MLB Network it has been a good luck charm since he came into pro ball. … Before Tim Tebow-mania hits Tampa and Clearwater next month, his St. Lucie Mets will be in Port Charlotte facing the Stone Crabs for four games starting Saturday. … Former Rays/current Cubs manager Joe Maddon is featured by Harry Smith on NBC's Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly (7 tonight), focusing on his efforts to help his hometown of Hazleton, Pa. … LHP Jonny Venters' remarkable comeback from repeated elbow issues could lead to a September callup. … It's surprising that ex-Rays 1B James Loney, released from the Tigers and Braves Triple-A teams, couldn't find a better gig than going to play in Korea, and reportedly just for $350,000. … MLB.com's Joe Posnanski chose Manny Ramirez's No. 24 as the Rays' "irony jersey" — repping "great players nobody remembers playing for them" — but I'm with blogger Jason Collette in picking Jose Bautista's No. 59.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.