BALTIMORE — Welcome to baseball’s crazy season.
With 2 ½ weeks until the trade deadline, and 19 teams entering play Saturday sitting in or within 2½ games of a playoff spot, there will be a staggering amount of speculation, analyzing and even some consummation.
Lists of top trade candidates, best fits and the one deal each team has to make are flying around. And the Rays are right in the middle of it.
They have motivation, trying to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Clear needs for improvement, seeking experienced relievers, maybe a bat and possibly a starter. And the capital to do so, in terms of prospects to give and salary to be taken on.
Given the situation it would be surprising if they didn’t make at least a couple deals.
“What we think of this group and the way they’ve played so far it certainly motivates us to want to help them out however we can,” senior VP Chaim Bloom said. “We want to make sure we do that responsibly, that we’re staying true to our goal of competing sustainably and be able to do this consistently over a number of years. Anything we can do to help them out is something we’re certainly going to look at.”
The overall process will be interesting to watch. Some moves will be made sooner, as teams seek to jump the market, or get an extra week or two of their return. But most deals will come closer to the July 31 deadline. Shoppers can wait to see if prices come down. Teams on the fringe of contention can decide whether to sell. Others, like the Rays, have to be aggressive given the standings.
So what will the Rays do?
Honestly, there’s no way to know yet. Even they don’t know how they’ll look come Aug. 1.
A strong case can be made to try for a couple of “been there, done that” relievers, especially with Jose Alvarado out six to eight weeks. They could use a right-handed power bat. And given the uncertainty over Tyler Glasnow’s return and innings concerns with Charlie Morton and Brendan McKay, and their overall lack of depth, a starting pitcher might be a good addition.
Availability, acquisition cost and impact on their roster — now and going forward — will all be factors.
Would they go for a big name or two? Edwin Diaz as a reliever? Jose Abreu as a bat? Matthew Boyd as a starter?
Or take more of an approach they used in 2017, making a series of lesser moves to improve overall (though ultimately not enough) in adding Sergio Romo, Dan Jennings, Steve Cishek and Lucas Duda?
Here are some things we feel we do know:
• The Rays are going to be “in” on just about every available player, and some others because that’s how they roll, being as prepared, thorough in their scouting and open to scenarios as any team. So plenty of names will be floated. You’ll hear and read about who they’ve “had internal discussions about” (realistically just about every player), are “open to considering” (same), have “asked about” (same), and other craftily constructed buzz words and phrases.
There’s also a version of the “telephone game” — ask your parents — where reporters or scouts pass on something they heard from someone who heard it from someone else and the details get changed slightly each time.
• Whoever is the top-rated or most sought-after player at a certain time is not who the Rays are going to get. Winning bidding wars, in terms of taking on money or giving up prospects, is not their business model. Their recent pursuits of Craig Kimbrel and Edwin Encarnacion showed they had interest, but also limits.
• The players you hear the Rays most linked to are typically not the ones they end up getting. That could be because the initial info was wrong, or they were on the right player but the cost soared. But there can be strategic benefit in creating some misdirection, to keep other teams off the player they truly want, or to buy time to explore a more complicated or three-way deal.
• Deadline deals can be made for more than the obvious reasons. Sometimes the Rays are seeking young players to fill future roles. Or to trade players who need to be added to the 40-man roster or otherwise could be lost as Rule 5 draft picks. That group could include Vidal Brujan, Jake Cronenworth, Lucius Fox, Ronaldo Hernandez and Kean Wong. (Nick Solak also, until being traded Saturday.)
• Given how the Rays have made out in recent deals *cough, Pirates, cough* some teams may be a bit hesitant, or even wary, of dealing with them.
The 2017 model
Most Julys, the Rays have been sellers, or swappers, including last year. In 2017, they were buyers, which could be a model for this year. A look at those acquisitions:
• Reliever Sergio Romo, from Dodgers, for cash.
• Reliever Dan Jennings, from White Sox, for minor-leaguer Casey Gillaspie
• First baseman Lucas Duda, from Mets, for minor-leaguer Drew Smith
• Reliever Steve Cishek and cash, from Mariners, for pitcher Erasmo Ramirez.
• Minor-leaguer Tobias Myers, from Orioles, for infielder Tim Beckham
The Rays are evaluating extending protective netting toward the foul poles for 2020. … Shortstop Wander Franco was No. 1, two-way Brendan McKay 11th, infielder Vidal Brujan 23rd and starter Matt Liberatore 32nd in Keith Law’s midseason top 50 prospect rankings for ESPN. …Blake Snell recently bought an $800,000 waterfront home in northeast St. Petersburg, and it’s only right if it’s in the neighborhood known as Snell Isle. … Given logistical concerns already expressed by numerous players to the Rays’ planned time-sharing in Montreal, commissioner Rob Manfred said owners are aware “there would have to be provisions made to make that solution tenable” to the players. … Houston’s Alex Bregman had a most practical answer when asked about the Rays having two homes: “I hope when we play ’em we’re in the better hitters’ ballpark.’’ … Because he was called up before the All-Star break, Ian Gibaut technically spent six days in the majors before making his debut Friday, and not for nothing, earning nearly $18,000. … McKay got back his dog, a miniature English bulldog named Diesel, he had left in Durham in the care of Bulls coach Quinton McCracken’s son. … Rays batboy Jerry Culkin won one of the two $10,000 scholarships given from the MLB Clubhouse Managers Association, which was presented to Charlie Morton on his behalf at the All-Star Game. … Late draft signings included 16th rounder Joe Gobillot, a lefty who threw only two innings for Vanderbilt this past season as a redshirt freshman. … The 13th annual Rays on the Runway fashion show, benefitting the Children’s Dream Fund, is July 21 at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront