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Rays’ trade of Nathan Eovaldi is one for the now, not future

Nathan Eovaldi, traded to the Red Sox on Wednesday, says the Rays got a "really good" left-hander in return, Jalen Beeks. (BRONTE WITTPENN | Times)
Nathan Eovaldi, traded to the Red Sox on Wednesday, says the Rays got a "really good" left-hander in return, Jalen Beeks. (BRONTE WITTPENN | Times)
Published Jul. 26, 2018
Updated Jul. 26, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' first move in what's looking like manager Kevin Cash's promised "very active" trade deadline was to ship veteran starter Nathan Eovaldi to the Red Sox on Wednesday morning.

The trade was Eovaldi for Jalen Beeks, a 25-year-old promising pitching prospect.

But here's the deal:

What matters most isn't whether Beeks shows the lefty stuff, wide repertoire and pitching savvy that excites the Rays when he makes his expected debut this weekend in Baltimore — or even if he does it in the remaining two months of this season.

What does matter is that the Rays got him. Or someone like him.

Beeks is a 25-year-old ready and seemingly able, based on his success at Triple A, to help at the big-league level now, to be part of the team the Rays are currently cobbling together to compete in 2019-20. He is not another young piece who might be there in the distant future that seems to be at the end of the treadmill.

The Rays acted similarly later Wednesday in getting Martin Perez, a catcher with enough Triple-A success that he'll join them Thursday, as part of the return in sending miscast reliever Matt Andriese to the Diamondbacks.

"Our intention, it's been on creating a wave and a group of players who can come up, compete, grow together and win together. That's starting to show up on our major-league roster now,'' general manager Erik Neander said.

"And I think now there will be an added emphasis on trying to enhance that group further.''

That doesn't mean the Rays are going totally all-in on the now, that their next big deal won't be for Class A prospects, like many of their previous ones. "You've got to be careful not to close off too many possibilities,'' Neander said. "If there is the next Willy Adames or Jake Bauers that's in A ball that we really like, you should grab him.''

But it does mean that they are at the point of assessing what they have and what they need to win.

Eovaldi was understandably a popular trade commodity, given how well he was pitching (3-4 record, 4.26 ERA) since returning from his second Tommy John surgery and spring arthroscopic elbow surgery, and how little he makes (less than $1 million) as a two-month rental before free agency. Plus, as Cash and others raved, he is about as good a teammate as there is.

Trading Eovaldi at the deadline was a given, as long as he was healthy, essentially the plan since the Rays signed him and paid him $2 million to spend 2017 rehabbing.

"I was assuming I would get traded,'' Eovaldi said, acknowledging his excitement in joining the MLB-best Red Sox and his appreciation of the Rays for giving him the opportunity. "I do think it was fair. They're going to get a really good left-handed pitcher in return for me.''

With just about every contender expressing significant interest in Eovaldi, the Rays had their choice of directions and players.

So why Beeks?

His work in the minors has been impressive (though in two big-league outings, not so much, with a 12.79 ERA). He was the Red Sox's minor-league pitcher of the year in 2017 and was 5-5 with a 2.89 ERA at Triple A this year, with an eye-catching 117 strikeouts in 871/3 innings.

And his repertoire is intriguing: a fastball topping out only in the low 90s but a cutter, curveball and changeup that he can command, control and compete with. "There's a lot of mix there, a lot of setting up, a lot of sequencing,'' Neander said. "He's a guy that we think has a chance to be a major-league starter.''

With Eovaldi and Andriese gone, the Rays still have several more veterans to move. Who's next to go?

That could always change in one call, or a couple if it's about Chris Archer, but surprisingly, it may be catcher Wilson Ramos.

His quick recovery from a hamstring strain, given the dearth of available catchers and an expiring contract, have kept him a hot topic. Though the Nationals' interest has dropped a bit, along with their playoff chances, other contenders have stepped up, the Astros, Brewers and Yankees among them, the D-backs, Red Sox, Rockies also possibilities.

Also on the to-go list are shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and reliever/third baseman Sergio Romo.

With each deal, the Rays have an opportunity to keep working on the relative now rather than only the distant future.

"I hope that the current look and feel of this team and this roster, that there's a different vibe to our fans than there has been the last few years,'' Neander said. "I really hope that. There is for us. There is in the clubhouse. Will we win more games this year than we did last year? I don't know. But there's a trend line on this, there's an arrow that's pointing up instead of neutral with this group and what's ahead of them, and it gives a lot of hope and excitement for the future. And that's different.

"That changes the focus a little bit, to just being a little more balanced to the now than the future than I think we have been.''

Sounds like a deal.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes@Rays.