1. Rays

Believe it! Rays are buyers, trade for reliever Dan Jennings and 1B/DH Lucas Duda

Lefties are batting only .169 (12-for-71) off Dan Jennings this year. Lucas Duda hit .246 with 17 HRs and 37 RBIs for Mets.
Lefties are batting only .169 (12-for-71) off Dan Jennings this year. Lucas Duda hit .246 with 17 HRs and 37 RBIs for Mets.
Published Jul. 28, 2017

NEW YORK — Dan Jennings' ability to render lefty hitters useless with a sinker that gets beaten into the ground and Lucas Duda's power to blast baseballs off and over outfield walls should make the Rays better.

But beyond their specific skills, the bigger story Thursday was the bigger picture:

The Rays went out and added two frontline veteran players in advance of Monday's trade deadline, taking on some salary and giving up promising prospects.

The Rays, buyers.

"This has been a great group to watch play and to play themselves into the position that we are in, where we're coming up on the trade deadline right in the thick of the playoff race," senior vice president Chaim Bloom said, "and the way they've gone about it, the way they've been able to accomplish it, really makes you want to go out and reinforce this group however you can."

Jennings and Duda certainly weren't the biggest names on the market, and the deals weren't blockbusters that dropped jaws around the game.

But for the Rays to go out and fill two needs, in a lefty reliever and a run-producer, and to take on about $4 million in salary, and to part with prospects Casey Gillaspie and Drew Smith, that makes them big deals.

And it was big news in the clubhouse before Thursday's game against the Yankees, even though players knew then that only the Jennings deal was done.

RAYS FALL TO YANKEES: New York's Brett Gardner hits a leadoff homer in the 11th.

"When you hear how hard the front office is working to acquire maybe some piece that can really contribute, and one of those pieces kind of comes to fruition, it takes that little thought we've had, that belief that we've had in each other and in this team and makes it real," said veteran starter Alex Cobb, who likely would have been dealt at the deadline had the Rays not been contending.

"Like, okay, it's not just us that sees it. The front office — you know just from being around this organization they have to really see something to go out and be buyers — and that's now been confirmed. When we start giving up pieces to contribute to the team that's now — since I've stepped foot in a big-league clubhouse all I've heard was win now and the future, we have to protect the future, the future, the future. It's like, man, when is the future? I've been here for seven years waiting for that future. When you see they go out and take a risk and acquire a guy that they are believing as much as we are in each other."

On the other side of the clubhouse, the even more veteran Evan Longoria had a similar view.

"It definitely shows the commitment from the front office in this team, so I think we're pretty excited," he said. "I don't remember another year where we were talking about adding a specific type of piece and actually gone out and acquired one and traded a prospect away in the process.

TOPKIN'S TAKEAWAYS: Beat writer Marc Topkin's takeaways from Thursday's Rays-Yankees game.

"It takes a big commitment. It takes trust in the team that you have in here and trust that they have the potential to be in the playoffs at the end."

And the Rays might not be done.

There could still be room for another experienced reliever, and they are continuing talks. Absurdly high prices on some of the top-shelf arms have held up the market to a degree, but at some point before Monday's 4 p.m. deadline there will be some movement, and the Rays could get in on that action.

Plus, with the addition of Duda as the primary DH against right-handers (with Corey Dicker­son becoming the full-time leftfielder), the Rays now have a surplus at second base, so it could be they look to move either Brad Miller or Tim Beckham. Otherwise, one will be unhappy pretty much each night, which won't be a good thing.

To get Jennings, who has held lefties to a .169 average and has been trending up as the season has gone on, the Rays gave up Gillaspie, their 2014 first-round pick, a borderline top-10 prospect who plateaued a bit this year at Triple A. But after faking it much of the season, they realized they needed a proven lefty in the bullpen and another trustworthy option to join Alex Colome, Tommy Hunter and, they hope, Brad Boxberger. Plus, they control him for two more seasons.

Duda is a free agent after this season, so the price wasn't as high, the $2.6 million or so left on his contract, and relief prospect Drew Smith, who was acquired in April to complete the Mikie Mahtook deal with Detroit. So, yes, the Rays turned Mahtook into Duda.

Whether Jennings and Duda are enough to push the Rays into the playoffs will play out over the next two months — and especially with their rigorous schedule the next three weeks.

But just the fact that the Rays tried makes it something of a win already.