The Rays typically don't make a big deal of — or make many big deals at — the July 31 deadline for nonwaiver trades.
With last year's dispatching of LHP David Price the exception, most of their past July dealings under Stuart Sternberg's ownership have been on the margins, acquiring bit parts while making major deals in the offseason.
So though Sternberg dropped the O-word, saying they will "try to be opportunistic," and though baseball operations president Matt Silverman (in his first deadline in charge) and staff will have myriad conversations, and though the Rays will be rumored to have ubiquitous "interest" in dozens of players, the most probable outcome by Friday's 4 p.m. deadline is that they won't have done much.
Though their offense has sputtered for months, any significant deal they make is more likely, as the Tampa Bay Times reported Friday, to involve trading away one of their top relievers — Brad Boxberger, Kevin Jepsen or Jake McGee — than bringing in a big-time bat. And trading a starting pitcher is not out of the question.
Here, as they work the sliding scale of making moves and remaining in the playoff race, is a breakdown:
Why not get a bat?
Obviously the offense needs help, ranking near the bottom of the AL in all the key indicators.
But the Rays still, at the 100-game mark today, seem to believe the improvement can come internally, that the players they have (such as C Rene Rivera and SS Asdrubal Cabrera) can and will do better, and that the expected August return of OF Desmond Jennings will make a difference.
Further, that the acquisition cost to bring in a player who can truly make an impact — say, Justin Upton or Yeonis Cespedes — would be excessive (in terms of players traded and/or salary) given the competition for the handful of legit options. (As for Ryan Howard, they just don't seem to think he can help.) Making a slight upgrade doesn't seem to do much for them, including the effect on clubhouse chemistry.
And given their priority on run prevention, the Rays don't seem interested in adding a player who might be an upgrade offensively but a step down defensively. Going into play Saturday with a minus-16 run differential, though, might make that position worth reconsidering.
Why trade a reliever?
Simply, because they can.
Part of dealing at the deadline is to try to improve the current team. But another part, especially for the Rays, is looking at ways to improve for the future.
Sternberg called last year's trade of Price — to Detroit for LHP Drew Smyly (who is on the DL), INF Nick Franklin (who is back at Triple A) and prospect INF Willy Adames (who is with advanced A Charlotte) — an "ideal" deadline move because they didn't have to do it, but he felt it "made the team better in the future and didn't really weaken us at the deadline."
And of the players that would bring the biggest return — apart from the ones they wouldn't want to trade, such as RHP Chris Archer — moving a reliever makes the most sense. If a team wants to make a big pitch, the Rays will consider it, figuring it wouldn't hurt them that much now as they have enough bullpen depth.
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Boxberger would seemingly fetch the highest price, based on his performance (24 saves, 3.18 ERA) as well as his age (27) and contract status — he doesn't make any real money until 2017 and won't be a free agent until 2020, giving a team 41/3 years of control. Those are all, of course, also reasons for the Rays to keep him.
But LHP Jake McGee could be of even more interest, perhaps the second-most dynamic closer-type on the market behind Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman. And for most teams his contact status is favorable, a raise to $5 million or so next season and not eligible for free agency until 2018. McGee, who came up with the Rays and hopes to stay, said "it's hard to think about that stuff, but you see guys who do get traded."
The third option, and probably the easiest to deal, would be RHP Kevin Jepsen, who has served them well in high-leverage situations, but is also headed to $5 million territory next season, his last before free agency.
Of the many teams seeking relievers, one that could match up well with the Rays is the Cubs, given their abundance of young hitters. So, too, could the Astros. The Blue Jays and Rangers are also possibilities.
Who else could be dealt?
The Rays' mantra is that no player is untouchable and that all have their price.
That said, it's hard to imagine them getting offered anywhere near enough to part ways with Archer (signed to a team-friendly deal that could run through 2021) or OF Kevin Kiermaier (under control through 2020).
Also, they aren't going to trade 3B Evan Longoria, not just due to the seven years and $105.5 million left on his contract, but because of the commitment he made to them and how they view him as the face of their franchise.
But they have rebuilt some depth in starting pitching, with the potential for a logjam if/when Smyly comes off the disabled list and prospect LHP Blake Snell joining RHP Matt Andriese at Triple A, so they will at least listen in what could be a strong market for second-tier starters.
And they might be better off moving some position players now if they could get something, and others that teams will at least ask about.
Pitchers: It would take a lot to give up RH Jake Odorizzi or RH Nathan Karns, as they are young, affordable, controllable and successful thus far, but maybe their ceilings are factors. … Not as much for RH Erasmo Ramirez, who has been a pleasant pickup, and similarly, a good deal, under control through 2020. … RH Alex Colome was bumped from the rotation and is out of options, but his arm is big enough to draw interest.
Field players: The Rays knew 1B James Loney didn't have a lot of power, but a drop from 13 to nine to three homers (albeit with two DL stints), plus a 40-plus point decline in batting average, might offset his solid defense, and getting out of his $8 million 2016 salary would be big. ... Cabrera has been a disappointment with his .223 average, but, if he comes off the DL this week, he could appeal to a team needing a steady veteran glove, and is on a one-year, $7.5 million deal. … OF/DH David DeJesus could help a team seeking offense, and has a reasonable 2016 option at $5 million. But the Rays need all the offense they can get. … Same for DH/OF John Jaso, though he is a free agent after this season. … The Rays see INF Logan Forsythe as a front-line second baseman under team control through 2017. Other teams see a valuable utility guy, but probably not enough to pay to get him.
. As much as the offense continues to struggle, and as much as fans target hitting coach Derek Shelton, management doesn't see him as the problem, nor do the players. 3B Evan Longoria said blaming Shelton or manager Kevin Cash is wrong: "The reality of it is we're coaching ourselves just as much as they're coaching us, and they're working twice as hard as us to try and figure out what's going on."
. Will RHP Jake Odorizzi's public bristling at being pulled after five innings (and 83 pitches) last week make a difference to the decision-makers who engineered and endorsed the plan of routinely going to the bullpen so early?
TV play-by-play man Dewayne Staats' interesting book — Position to Win: A Look at Baseball and Life from the Best Seat in the House, written with Dave Scheiber — is out Monday, available through Amazon. … Executive VP Chaim Bloom is on the Journal-Sentinel's list of potential candidates to replace Brewers GM Doug Melvin. … After sharing memories of the rough treatment the Rays got during the 2008 World Series in last Sunday's Times, 1B coach Rocco Baldelli was ripped on Philadelphia sports radio and by Phillies fans last week. … Triple-A 3B/1B Richie Shaffer, who has 23 homers, is potentially a September callup but likely not before. … Would think LHP Matt Moore has today's start, maybe one more, to show he can help by staying in the rotation. … How weird would it be for David Price, slated to start Tuesday, to get traded by the Tigersers this week while at the Trop? … LHP Blake Snell was named the top starter in the minors in milb.com's mid-season awards.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays