ST. PETERSBURG — The season is not lost. It’s damaged, dwindling and dying, but it’s not yet lost.
And that means the Rays have no clear direction with the trade deadline less than 48 hours away.
The computer models say the Rays are still legitimate AL wild-card contenders, maybe even favorites. Your heart tells you there have been too many letdowns to believe the season will end happily.
So what should Tampa Bay do?
Realistically, that question can only be answered by those who know what other teams are offering and demanding. Up to this point, it has looked like a seller’s market, so it hasn’t made sense to buy. If that changes before Wednesday’s deadline, then the Rays should adjust accordingly.
But at this moment, in the aftermath of one of the most confounding weekends of baseball ever seen anywhere, I would lean more toward the unpopular choice. I’d suggest the Rays consider selling.
Tampa Bay is on pace to win 90 games, which would keep it in contention through September but guarantees nothing. And now that Blake Snell has joined Tyler Glasnow on the injured list, I suspect that 90-win pace might be a little optimistic.
Yes, the Rays could help themselves by picking up another pitcher or two by Wednesday. But any player of consequence will probably come at the expense of a promising prospect. And that’s just not worth it.
Forget Wander Franco, Brendan McKay and Matthew Liberatore. The Rays aren’t trading them.
But are you willing to deal Jesus Sanchez, Ronaldo Hernandez, Vidal Brujan or Shane Baz? All four are ranked among the top 80 prospects in the game, according to Baseball America.
To make a deal involving one of them, the Rays would have to be pretty darn certain they were going to earn a wild-card berth. And, even then, the season could end in a single playoff game.
For a franchise that needs young, low-salaried players to survive, the only way I trade a top prospect is if it gives me a realistic chance of winning a pennant.
And I don’t see that happening this year.
This is a good team, but it’s a long way from being a great team. The Rays just finished the middle third of the season with a 25-29 record. That’s a long stretch of baseball to be less than mediocre.
If the Rays were going to make a trade for a bullpen arm, they should have done it sooner. They knew the bullpen might be a problem in the spring, and their suspicions were confirmed by June. Had they made a move for a reliever six weeks ago, they might still have a cushion in the wild-card chase today.
As it is, the Rays have, at best, a 50/50 shot at a wild card. And then a 50/50 shot of advancing to the division playoff round.
Of course, there is another possibility.
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Maybe the Rays make some under-the-radar moves that turn out to be game-changing. Maybe they look for an undervalued arm that has been underused, or misused, and find gold. Of all the front offices in MLB, I would have more confidence in the Rays pulling this off than most.
They already made a couple of moves Sunday that seem perplexing. The Rays need bullpen arms, yet they traded Hunter Wood to Cleveland. And they have a plethora of light-hitting, versatile infielders, yet they acquired Eric Sogard from Toronto.
Maybe that means they are clearing room in the bullpen for another trade. Maybe that means they are going to flip Sogard, or one of their other infielders, in another move.
Maybe they try to walk a tightrope between buying/selling by moving someone such as Avisail Garcia, Mike Zunino, Ji-Man Choi or Matt Duffy in return for players who are major league-ready right now.
Standing pat would be the easy move. Trading for a big name would be the popular move. Shipping off a veteran would be the gutsy move.
But the Rays don’t think in terms of easy, hard or popular.
They always do what they think is the most logical move.
In 48 hours, we’ll know what that is.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.