Rays Tales: Trade needs seem clear, but will they make the deals?

With July 31 deadline approaching, Rays could use a proven reliever and a right-handed hitter. Here are some thoughts.
Will Rays GM Erik Neander have any big deals to announce by the July 31 trade deadline? [Times photo 2019]
Will Rays GM Erik Neander have any big deals to announce by the July 31 trade deadline? [Times photo 2019]
Published July 20, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Ask Blake Snell what moves he’d like to see his Rays bosses make by the July 31 trade deadline and he’s got a clear answer.

“The team we have is very, very talented and very capable, but if we’re trying to win this, and that’s what we’re trying to do, I think we need probably two legitimate pieces,” he said. “That’s definitely what we need: A big bullpen arm — a legit, every day closer — and a big righty bat. … We know what this division is like. It’s really tough to compete without going to get some legitimate dudes.”

Ask the man in charge, GM Erik Neander, and he offers a less specific but somewhat similar answer.

“Probably the most visible thing that stands out is through the guys we have or potentially through upgrades, we have to find a way to either separate tight games offensively or lock them down on the pitching half of innings, certainly late,” he said. “It’s one of those two things.”

So, simple right?

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The Rays go out, spend some of the unused money that principal owner Stuart Sternberg said back on opening day would be available in July, or dip into that pool of prospects so crazy deep they can’t keep them all anyway, and reel in a proven closer or veteran middle-of-the-order power hitter?

(Or, heck, just walk down the hall to the White Sox clubhouse and get both in ex-mate Alex Colome and Jose Abreu.)

Nah, probably not.

The calculus for the Rays’ deadline strategy is an amalgam of factors:

Who can they get? What is the acquisition cost — and future control/financial obligation? How much better are the new guys than the players they have, and will replace? How is their roster impacted short and long term? What else could they do with the resources in the future? How does it impact their goal of sustained success? And, the big one, and the hard one, how much better will that deal make them?

Having tumbled from the best record in the majors in early May (23-12) to leading the AL East as late as mid-June (42-27) to sixth best in the AL after Friday’s loss (56-44), Neander knows they need to get better. (And also that a soft August schedule should help.)

So his staff’s task is weighing how much improvement can come from the players they have and believe in doing better, plus those coming back from injury (Matt Duffy) or in the minors, vs. what they can realistically acquire elsewhere.

At this point, the guess is they don’t make a big deal for a big name.

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Thus far in MLB’s first year of a single July 31 deadline (with no August waiver deals), there has been limited trade inventory due to the large number of teams in contention (23 within 6 ½ games of a playoff spot) and excessively high prices. Like Wander Franco and/or Brendan McKay high in some cases, or at least Jesus Sanchez.

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More likely the Rays will make supplementary moves, perhaps more like 2017, when they propped up their bullpen with smaller acquisitions — Steve Cishek, Dan Jennings, Sergio Romo. And, of note, passed when the price got too high on hotter commodity Justin Wilson, who went to the Cubs and posted a 5.09 ERA.

There are other factors in play as well, such as how they play between now and the deadline.

Not that even with a bad stretch the Rays are likely to flip and become sellers (though Charlie Morton could draw some interesting offers … ), but their aggressiveness in making deals will be impacted by where they are in the standings, especially relative to their chances to win the division (not good at the moment) rather than a spot in the wild-card play-in game.

“I’d expect that we’ll target the same players but our tolerance for what we’re willing to give up will be impacted by our position in the standings, be it division or wild card,” Neander said.

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Also, that they could use some “been there, done that” experience. Only a handful of Rays have played in high-intensity pennant races or the postseason, and Neander said a “meaningful addition” like that “could not only benefit us on the field but be a nice example to have around for the rest of the group.”

Plus, while many Rays trades are about the future, or at least include young throw-ins, Neander said they’d be open to dealing for rentals, veterans headed to free agency. And that they have the flexibility to make “more of a baseball decision than a pure budget constraint type of decision.”

Neander, senior VP Chaim Bloom and staff will be exploring and considering every logical option, and some others, as the market shifts and, they hope, prices drop in the final days.

“We’re competing for a postseason spot and that’s something to be appreciated,” Neander said. “We believe in our club and their chemistry, but we’ll continue to search for ways to improve them further. It’s our job to know what’s available, the costs associated with each potential move, and how they could impact our organization over the years to come.

“We’ve got 10 or so days to work through that and we’ll need to walk a fine line between being disciplined in our pursuits and being unnecessarily stubborn. As we sort through things, it’s also critical that we maintain a strong belief in what we have and take care of our business day-to-day on the field.”

Trade rumblings

Short of a legit closer, the biggest need for the bullpen is a full-inning lefty, taking some pressure off rookie Colin Poche, leaving Adam Kolarek as a specialist. Tony Watson of the Giants is an interesting name who checks a lot of boxes. Kansas City’s Jake Diekman is another. … If the Rays add a right-handed bat, the best fits positionally are shortstop or DH/first base. Thus, Abreu. Maybe Baltimore’s Trey Mancini? Cincinnati’s Jose Iglesias? Detroit outfielder Nicholas Castellanos isn’t ideal but could work. … The focus is on the bullpen, but some Rays folks think they’d be better off adding a veteran starter. … Among closers, Edwin Diaz of the Mets might be the best option, even with his down season. Toronto’s Ken Giles, Detroit’s Shane Greene, Cincinnati’s Raisel Iglesias (if Reds sell) are others. … Of several ex-Ray closers, Colorado’s Wade Davis would bring experience, though he’s struggling a bit and due $17 million in 2020. Pittsburgh’s Felipe Vazquez is interesting, but would the Pirates even deal with the Rays anymore? Miami’s Sergio Romo, San Diego’s Kirby Yates and Colome don’t look like fits. … Other reliever names you may hear include Miami’s Nick Anderson (64 Ks in 40 1/3 innings), the Angels’ Ty Buttrey, Detroit’s Joe Jimenez, Texas’ Jose Leclerc, the Mets’ Seth Lugo.

Rays rumblings

Sternberg and team president Brian Auld on Tuesday will have what one Rays person described as an “initial” meeting with St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and deputy Kanika Tomalin about the Montreal season-splitting plan. … Friday’s game with the White Sox launched a stretch of 27 of 33 games against teams currently under .500. .. Blake Snell has the 20th highest trade value of any player and 18-year-old prospect Wander Franco 23rd (ahead of Jacob deGrom, Kris Bryant and Pete Alonso among others), per’s annual rankings. … One NL-team scout called Travis d’Arnaud’s three-run lead-taking Monday homer off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman the best at-bat he’d seen all season. … Related, by 5 p.m Tuesday had a Travis Three Bombs T-shirt for sale. … If Edwin Jackson is indeed done, that appears to leave only two active players who wore Devil Rays green: Dioner Navarro, at Cleveland’s Triple-A team, and in-limbo Ben Zobrist, on leave from the Cubs for personal reasons. … Sunday, for some reason, is Christmas in July day at the Trop. … Nate Lowe is third on Jim Duquette’s list for The Athletic of top first base prospects. … Ex-Ray Carlos Gomez, released recently by the Mets, was in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium just to visit. … Brandon Lowe joined the athletic training staff at Campbell Park Elementary Friday for a PLAY campaign stop, promoting the importance of children being active and healthy. … After being blanked the first 20 times they faced Chapman, the Rays scored five runs over two of the past three games as he blew two saves.

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.