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Rays Tales: Opportunity knocks as Rays add veterans, salaries

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 29: Lucas Duda #21 of the Tampa Bay Rays hits a solo home run to right field in the eighth inning to tie the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 29, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Rays 5-4. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) 700011797
Published Jul. 30, 2017

This has been a season of change for the Rays, no better evidenced than by their unexpected and pretty much unprecedented buying spree — which may not be over — heading into Monday's 4 p.m. deadline for nonwaiver deals. In the past four days they have traded for veteran RHP Steve Cishek, DH/1B Lucas Duda and LHP Dan Jennings, after previously adding SS Adeiny Hechavarria, INF Trevor Plouffe and RHP Sergio Romo.

Why? Well, because they could, starting the season with a $70 million payroll that ranked among the game's lowest — though also with the worst attendance in the majors.

But, perhaps more importantly, because they wanted to, recognizing that they had both the opportunity competitively to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 (and under this management team) and the proper mix of talent, dedication and confidence in the clubhouse to do so, and they wanted to do what they could to take advantage.

"The impetus?" principal owner Stuart Sternberg said. "This is a special group of guys who have the talent and are hungry."

The moves weren't massive, but for the Rays to take on more than $7 million in payroll (though while saving about $2.5 million when OF Colby Rasmus took leave) and to give up prospects (such as 2014 first-round pick Casey Gillaspie for Jennings) was unusual.

And they are looking to keep adding, still shopping for another bullpen arm, as well as possibly dealing one of their second basemen, Tim Beckham or Brad Miller.

"The money and the talent we no longer have hurts, and makes us a bit weaker in the future," Sternberg said. "In a perfect world there will be more to do to improve the club. It's hard to see how that presents itself, though I have confidence (we) will explore any and every opportunity."

In addition to making these trades, the Rays have also been willing to make tough decisions, ditching or demoting seven players from their opening day roster and promoting prospects for trial runs. Overall Cishek will be their team-record 28th pitcher and 49th player, three shy of the team mark.

Longo's Eastern view

In his 10th year with the Rays, 3B Evan Longoria has pretty much now played the equivalent of a full season against each of their AL East opponents. His numbers against the Yankees tend to get attention on the New York stage, but he has been fairly consistent against all four, ranking among the most damaging active opponents:

Team G

Avg. HR-rank RBI-rank OPS

Blue Jays 164

.283 24-3 107-2 .842

Orioles 156

.270 38-1 104-2 .864

Red Sox 163

.283 31-2 102-2 .866

Yankees 160

.281 35-1 104-1 .866

(Through Friday)

Feeling ducky

Baseball is a game of routine, and there are a lot of players who when things are going well will become a bit superstitious, whether it's wearing the same shirt under their uniform or taking the same route to the ballpark or doing the same pregame workout in an effort to increase their karma.

And then there are players like rookie RHP Jake Faria, who carry around a rubber duck as their good luck charm — and are willing to talk about it publicly.

Faria got the duck — which he calls O.G., as sort of the original guy — when he was in high school. It was in a we're sorry gift bag from a hotel that bumped him and his dad as they were attending a tournament. He tossed it in his equipment bag and pretty much forgot about it as he played well enough to get drafted by the Rays and make his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League.

"So the next year I was in Princeton and having a bad year, and I sat back to think what do I have right now or what don't I have this year that I had last year, and that was really all I could think of," Faria said. "So the next year when my dad shipped my car to me, the duck was in the car and I had a great year, and it's been pretty good ever since."

Faria, 24 today, keeps the duck on the down low, bringing it just on start days in his bag (or his new rubber duck-themed backpack he bought recently at the Tyrone Square Mall Tilly's) or leaving it with fiancee Jessica Soto to bring. "Just as long as it's in the building, it's all good," he said.

Fans send and bring him ducks now, and at his last home start a couple of guys brought duck calls. Plus there is a @FariasFlock Twitter account. "It's cool that fans have taken it and run with it," Faria said. "I didn't think at any point I'd have my own thing like that."

Rays rumblings

One theory is the Rays didn't call up prospect RHP Brent Honeywell due to roster considerations, another because he wasn't ready. To that, Honeywell tweeted, "Ready as I'll ever be … lol" … Good comparison from a Rays person on free-spirited new reliever Sergio Romo: a right-handed J.P. Howell. … MLB has aggressive plans for future spring and regular-season games internationally (Asia, Mexico, England, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic), and the Rays are interested in participating. … Credit to the front office for turning fringe OF Mikie Mahtook into RHP prospect Drew Smith who got them DH/1B Lucas Duda. … 1B Casey Gillaspie was available due to a lack of progress and expendable due to first base depth include Jake Bauers, Joe McCarthy, Nathaniel Lowe and top pick Brendan McKay. … 3B Evan Longoria and Duda were teammates before — on a Connie Mack league team growing up in SoCal. … With the Rays visiting the Astros this week, shouldn't there be some corporate competitive tie-in between stadium sponsors Tropicana and Minute Maid? … Curious to see if current Astros/former Rays broadcaster Todd Kalas is wearing cowboy boots yet. … Seven Rays made MLBpipeline.com's midseason top 100 prospects list: Honeywell 14, INF Willy Adames 18, 1B/LHP McKay 23, OF Jesus Sanchez 77, Bauers 85, RHP Jake Faria 95, RHP Jose De Leon 99. … RHP Chris Archer and 1B coach Rocco Baldelli stopped in to visit with ex-Ray Fernando Perez, who is teaching creative writing and sports trends classes to gifted high schoolers in New York.

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