HOUSTON — With the halfway point of the season coming Wednesday, executive vice president Andrew Friedman is for the most part pleased with what the Rays have done.
He considers the starters "real solid," says the bullpen has pitched "extremely well" and calls the defense "as good as it's ever been, if not better."
He feels they're "a better offensive team than what we've shown" and figures that since several players "haven't performed up to their watermarks," there will be "organic improvement." (And he has only praise for the work the coaches and players are doing.)
But with five weeks until the trading deadline — and their standard stance of not being classified buyers or sellers — he is also looking to make the team better.
"We're going to explore the market," Friedman said. "If we can add to the core that we have, we'll be aggressive to do so."
One need is for another high-leverage reliever to take some of the workload off right-handers Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta.
"We'll be fairly aggressive in combing the relief pitcher market," Friedman said. "Ideally it's a long-term fit, but if it's a short-term fit, we'll factor it in accordingly." (Mets right-hander Francisco Rodriguez, who says he'd waive his no-trade clause for a setup role with "good teams like the Yankees or the Rays," is unlikely given his $11.5 million salary and potentially vesting $17.5 million option/$3.5 million buyout.)
The other is for a bat, either a DH (that sounds familiar) or an outfielder. That's more likely, given the limited options and extensive cost, than significant upgrades at catcher (where they continue to rave about the job Kelly Shoppach is doing with the pitchers) and shortstop (where they need Reid Brignac to produce more).
If the Rays get a DH, he'd have to be a big enough bat for them to be comfortable with Johnny Damon in leftfield. If they get a corner outfielder, he has to be enough of a two-way player to not diminish their defense. Promoting Desmond Jennings or Brandon Guyer is an option, but realistically neither is likely to immediately have a major impact.