The Devil Rays had to do something about the majors' worst bullpen. After deciding the relievers they had weren't necessarily going to get better, they went out and got what they hope are better relievers.
They acquired four pitchers in a dizzying 24 hours with the prime acquisition being right-hander Dan Wheeler, a former Ray who has had great success with Houston, though it cost them slugging infielder Ty Wigginton.
The Rays also added Triple-A relievers Calvin Medlock and Brian Shackelford for disgruntled infielder Jorge Cantu. That came a day after getting experienced reliever Grant Balfour for Seth McClung. Plus, they sent struggling Shawn Camp to the minors, with another pitcher set to go when Wheeler arrives Monday, and recalled infielder Ben Zobrist.
"I think our bullpen is a lot better than it was two days ago," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.
The key will be Wheeler, 29, who was one of the National League's top setup men from 2004-06 (going 5-8 with 12 saves and a 2.38 ERA in 160 games for Houston) but has struggled this season with a 5.07 ERA to go with a 1-4 record and 11 saves.
"We really wanted to add somebody we felt could pitch in high-leverage situations late in the game, whether it be critical outs in the seventh inning, the eighth inning or the ninth inning," Friedman said. "Danny's a guy that instantly helps a bullpen. He has experience pitching in pressure situations and has excelled in those roles."
Friedman said Rays officials (including former Astros pitching coach Jim Hickey) are confident Wheeler has the same stuff he had the past three seasons.
"He's still showing great command. He's still striking out a lot of guys (56 in 492/3 innings). He's given up a few too many home runs (eight)," Friedman said. "We think he's got a chance to have a lot of success in the later part of '07 and beyond."
Wheeler said the problems were behind him, nothing more than misplaced pitches.
"I went through a little bit of a rough stretch," he said. "I've been throwing the ball pretty good the last couple times."
Wheeler, who makes $2.1-million this season and is a free agent after 2008, said he was surprised to be traded and even more surprised to be coming back to the Rays, who drafted him in 1996 and for whom he pitched 30 games from 1999-2001.
Wigginton, who had 16 homers (second most on the team) and 49 RBIs (third most), was the Rays' top trade chip, and they seemed determined to get a proven reliever for him, especially because they were unlikely to re-sign him next year, when arbitration boosts his salary above $4-million. He made $2.7-million this season.
Rumors swirled for more than a week, but Wigginton, 29, said he was still surprised to be dealt and leaves with mixed feelings.
"I definitely enjoyed it here," Wigginton said. "And I know that I also look forward to moving on and getting on with playing baseball."
Medlock, 24, looks to be the better pitcher acquired from the Reds, though neither appears to be a top prospect. But the Rays, obviously, no longer thought much of Cantu, their 2005 MVP who spent most of this season on the bench or in the minors. Cantu, who agent Steve Canter said was "very happy and very excited" about the deal, joined the Reds' Triple-A team Saturday and singled in his first at-bat - against the Rays' Durham team.
"He was outwardly frustrated, and obviously, we didn't want somebody who doesn't want to be here," Friedman said. "So we have been exploring things on him for quite a while. And something emerged."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.
The Dealing Rays
In less than 24 hours, the Rays:
Acquired: RHP Dan Wheeler; RHP Grant Balfour; LHP Brian Shackelford; RHP Calvin Medlock
Traded: INF Ty Wigginton (to Astros); INF Jorge Cantu (to Reds); RHP Seth McClung (to Brewers)
Promoted: INF Ben Zobrist
Demoted: RHP Shawn Camp