ST. PETERSBURG — That there is a lot of chatter swirling about the Rays with the non-waiver trade deadline less a week away is logical, obvious and expected.
Chris Archer and Nathan Eovaldi are, for different reasons, two of the more intriguing starting pitchers on the market. And the Rays have several other players who could be good complementary pieces for contenders, such as shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria; relievers Sergio Romo, Matt Andriese and Jonny Venters (who will be off the DL soon); maybe infielder Matt Duffy among others. Catcher Wilson Ramos is obviously a big chip, but a hamstring strain seemingly knocked him off the market until August.
What was a little surprising was how certain manager Kevin Cash was before Tuesday's game that the talk would lead to action.
"I would say, in all honesty, we're going to be very active," Cash said. "I think we'll be very active. I know there's teams calling non-stop. I'd bet Erik (Neander, GM) and Chaim (Bloom, senior vice president) have not slept."
Don't let the Rays' barely winning 51-50 record after Tuesday's 4-0 loss trick you, because it's not going to fool them. They are 19 games out of first place and nine from the second wild card, and they know enough about the risk/reward ratio to not make the mistake of holding on to an otherwise tradeable piece.
That's also not to imply they are headed for a clearance sale.
While they should be in take-what-they-can-get mode on some of the veterans, such as Hechavarria and Romo, there will be opportunity in dealing others to add some choice pieces. And not necessarily years-away Class A prospects (which is how they got Willy Adames and Jake Bauers), but emerging, or close-to, big leaguers who can help in the immediate future.
The most interesting decision, of course, will be on Archer, who, despite unimpressive base numbers (3-4, 4.30) and a six-week DL stint, has been generating significant interest. That includes all the contending teams (including the one currently sharing the Trop) and a few others less obvious, including, as The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported, the Padres.
Archer has been through this dance for the last couple Julys and offseasons.
He knows how to handle it and what to say, such as, "Do I want to be here? Without a doubt. Is it under my control? Is it in my hands? Not at all.''
But, with the calculus on his team-friendly contract ($27.5 million total for the next three seasons) ever changing, and teams seeming putting more weight on the benefits of getting him for four playoff runs with little risk, he says the vibe has changed.
"It feels a little bit different, just because it's hard to know exactly where other teams stand,'' Archer said. "I know that the Rays value me more than any team in the league, and that's a huge part of why I'm here. And I think I can give them a lot. I have a lot more to give.
"But in each passing year — this started in 2016 at the trade deadline, so '17 there's a higher percentage chance, the offseason the chances increased and now they're increased even more. So it does feel a little bit different.''
As Archer told the Tampa Bay Times last week, what he wants more than anything is to "experience winning,'' which means to be part of a team that competes annually not just to be in the playoffs but for a championship.
That could be the Rays, if they can accelerate their transition and supplement a young roster.
"The future definitely looks bright here,'' he said. "What's going on is cool. It's fun to be a part of. But, you know, it's really not about what I want. It's about what the ownership and the front office wants.''
Or it could be elsewhere. Among contenders scouting Archer Sunday were the Brewers, D'backs, Dodgers, Phillies and Yankees, who Tuesday moved close to adding reliever Zach Britton from the O's.
Some obviously are better positioned to give the Rays the kind of promising position players they'd like to add to the core they are integrating into the majors.
A catcher and a power-hitting outfielder would seem pretty high on their shopping list.
Which is what could make the Padres, who are building toward contention, an interesting match. They do have a couple of young catchers, in Austin Hedges and just-acquired Francisco Mejia, and if they were to make available Hunter Renfroe, the Rays might see him as a nice fit.
Archer said it's "hard not to" be aware of the rumors this year, but insists he won't let it bother him, with a final pre-deadline start on Friday in Baltimore. Eovaldi, who will draw a flock of scouts for today's matinee start, similarly insists he is focused on the task at hand, and the ball in his hand.
Cash didn't sound as convinced when asked how he felt the trade chatter was being handled in the clubhouse.
"Okay," he said. "I think, okay. I think our job is when we come to the ballpark we talk and focus about winning the game that night. And if we get away from that, then we're not focusing on the things we need to focus. The people that want to talk about it, they're entitled to do that. We're sensitive to all players, and what they go through, their families, their livelihood, all those things.
"But you step foot in the ballpark, you step between the lines, it's time to win a game. You've got to be big enough to be able to remove that."
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.