BOSTON — The Rays have more work to do before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline.
Bringing veteran Eric Sogard with them from Toronto on Sunday was like picking up an accessory, helpful to the overall look but not the big piece that’s needed.
As a lefty-swinging middle infielder, Sogard is nothing like the right-handed power hitter the Rays were supposedly seeking, but his addition can mean a lot, allowing then to:
• Improve the offense overall given his contact-oriented approach and .840 OPS that will rank among their best.
• Increase depth and provide protection with starting infielders Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe sidelined and return timetables uncertain.
• Expand versatility and the potential for more in-game moves since he can play middle infield and corner outfield.
• Address the lack of consistent production by shortstop Willy Adames by freeing up Joey Wendle to slide over more from second since they now have another solid option there.
• And add someone with pennant race and postseason experience to a clubhouse that is lacking.
“Eric makes our team better,” Rays GM Erik Neander said Monday. “He’s not the profile most mentioned as a need, but his versatility, skill set and makeup will help us win more games and that’s our goal, especially with our position player group depleted.”
But what it doesn’t do is address the Rays’ primary problem: Having enough relievers they can trust to get the final outs of games.
The spring plan to let Jose Alvarado and/or Diego Castillo grow into the job failed for assorted reasons, and Alvarado is out again anyway.
And an attempt for a midseason correction came up short when Craig Kimbrel decided he liked the sights, sounds and dollar signs better at Wrigley Field.
So the Rays are left with something of an assortment, a mix of inexperienced young relievers and veterans being cast into higher leverage roles.
The results, as you’ve probably noticed, haven’t been pretty.
Though many of the team stats — such as a 3.80 bullpen ERA that’s third best in the majors — are skewed because the Rays have relievers opening games and starters pitching in relief, there are some bottom-line numbers that better illustrate the glaring need:
• 15 times Rays relievers have allowed a tying or go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later, and three times with two outs in the ninth.
• 17 times in 48 losses they’ve allowed the go-ahead run in the eighth inning or later.
• 53 runs scored against them in the ninth inning are third most in the AL, and 68 from the ninth are second most.
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The solution could come with one splashy move, one text message or gif on Neander’s phone saying yes to addressing the ninth-inning mess.
It seems unlikely, though, that the Rays, given their good but not great standing in the playoff race, will pay the hefty ask on one of the established closers supposedly available. That list includes Edwin Diaz (Mets), Ken Giles (Jays), Shane Greene (Tigers), Raisel Iglesias (Reds), Will Smith (Giants), former prospect Felipe Vazquez (Pirates), ex-Rays Kirby Yates (Padres) and Alex Colome (White Sox), and so on. Though there has been some heavy mutual scouting with these teams, and some thought if they did push it would be for Diaz, under control through 2022.
More likely, it seems the Rays make a smaller move or two, adding a complementary piece of lesser acclaim who they figure will make their whole group stronger and, ideally, more experienced.
They were interested in lefty Jake Diekman, who was instead just dealt by the Royals to the A’s, and have been linked to Joe Jimenez (Tigers), Seth Lugo (Mets), Tony Watson (Giants), and others of that ilk. Veterans such as Francisco Liriano (Pirates) and Craig Stammen (Padres) are also the types who could fit.
Pitching coach Kyle Snyder, for what it’s worth, said he’d prefer to stick with the group they have, and the group effort. Eight pitchers have saves, matching an MLB most.
“I’d rather go to war with these guys,” Snyder said. “If it happens, it happens. But for me, and this is something I’ve shared with these guys over the last 10 days with the deadline looming, they can handle this.
“Despite how green they may be, I’ll take talent over experience. And these guys are gaining a lot. … We have a lot of confidence in these guys, me more than anyone.”
The Rays are going to spend the remaining hours looking for relief help.
And maybe still for that right-handed power bat, though it’s a tougher fit now with Sogard aboard. But with an offense seventh in the league in average, ninth in runs and OPS, 11th in home runs, 12th in hitting with runners in scoring position, they’ve got to be open. They’ve been connected to Nick Castellanos (Tigers), Hunter Pence (Rangers), Hunter Renfroe (Padres), Domingo Santana (Mariners) among others. Just for fun, why not consider Yasiel Puig (Reds), too?
Neander said they “believe in the talent we have,” but also that they’ll keep looking to improve.
“It’s hard to predict the future,” he said, “but we’ll be active until the clock runs out.”
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.