How deadline deals improve Rays

Analysis: Tampa Bay fills its needs for a power right-handed bat and bullpen help, despite trading five relievers since Sunday.
Jesus Aguilar, right, is headed to Tampa Bay hoping to regain his 2018 All-Star form. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Jesus Aguilar, right, is headed to Tampa Bay hoping to regain his 2018 All-Star form. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Published Aug. 1, 2019|Updated Aug. 1, 2019

BOSTON — The path wasn’t direct and the deadline drama a bit dizzying, but by the time the Rays got past Wednesday’s trade cutoff, they felt pretty good about accomplishing what they set out to do: improve their team and their chances to make the playoffs without impacting their future.

They see Jesus Aguilar as the right-handed power bat they were seeking, Nick Anderson as the upgrade to the bullpen they needed, and Eric Sogard, whom they picked up Sunday, as a veteran complement to their lineup and defense.

“How would we say we were better? Jesus Aguilar, Eric Sogard and Nick Anderson are three really, really good major-league players,’’ general manager Erik Neander said. “Two of them with a lot of experience and one that’s shown high-end, back-end relief pitcher profile.

“Those are things that on our current active roster … we had room for improvement. I think it’s pretty clear cut in that regard, at least in our mind, how we improved ourselves.’’

MORE RAYS: Five things to know about Jesus Aguilar

Aguilar and Anderson were the top acquisitions on a busy deadline day, especially the frenzied final hour, for the Rays as they made five deals overall.

They got Aguilar — and the potential he can rediscover his 2018 All-Star 35-homer form — from the Brewers for a modest return, reliever Jake Faria, who had spent most of the season at Triple A.

Anderson came from the Marlins, along with starter Trevor Richards, for a higher cost, reliever Ryne Stanek, who had served the Rays well as the primary opener in their unconventional pitching plan, and outfield prospect Jesus Sanchez, a consensus top 50 prospect in the game.

Additionally, the Rays made two moves to clear 40-man roster space for now and the future. They traded lefty reliever Adam Kolarek, who had worked in 54 games for them this year, to the Dodgers for Class A outfielder Niko Hulsizer, and they sent minor-league outfielder Joe McCarthy to the Giants for rookie-league lefty Jacob Lopez.

They also picked up some nonroster catching depth, getting Rocky Gale, a 31-year-old with 22 games in the majors over four seasons, from the Dodgers for cash.

So how did they get better?

Aguilar gives them some additional right-handed power against the tough lefties they face, playing primarily at first base, with Travis d’Arnaud expected to return to his usual duties behind the plate and do most of the catching ahead of struggling Mike Zunino. They also have lefty swingers Ji-Man Choi and rookie Nate Lowe, and seem to think they can find enough at-bats for all of them.

The Rays are hoping the change of scenery helps.

Aguilar, 29, hit 35 homers for the Brewers last year with a .274 average and an .890 OPS but has not had nearly the impact this year, hitting .225 with eight homers and a .694 OPS and dropping into a platoon role. The Rays are encouraged that he had been better of late, hitting .298 in July with three homers, eight RBIs and a .921 OPS.

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“We’ve talked about a right-handed bat, and he’s certainly a big right-handed bat,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re excited. He’s a guy that has grinded through the minor leagues, but he’s always hit. I know this season hasn’t been his strongest, but maybe that’s telling that he can get hot for us for two months and do some damage.’’

The plan to improve the bullpen was somewhat of an odd one. Since Sunday they traded five relievers they have used this season: Faria, Stanek, Kolarek, Hunter Wood and Ian Gibaut.

Some of that was about roster management, present and future, and some of that was acknowledging that they had more faith in others, such as in-season callups Oliver Drake and Andrew Kittredge, who will handle some of Stanek’s opener duties. Also, they have lefty Jose Alvarado targeted for a mid-August return from the injured list and Hoby Milner at Triple A if needed.

MORE RAYS: Joey Wendle lost to wrist injury, again

But they are extremely high on Anderson, a 29-year-old rookie with a colorful past who has been racking up strikeouts for the Marlins, 69 in 43⅔ innings while posting a 2-4, 3.92 mark.

“Nick is someone, and we’ll have to let it play out, but in our estimation he’s someone that profiles in the end of a game in big spots. That was our evaluation and not to put too much pressure on him, but we’ll see what he can do when we roll him out there,’’ Neander said.

“Really opened some eyes with what we’ve seen him doing with Miami. The fastball/breaking ball mix, and the fastball plays big. High end, elite-level strikeouts. Keeps his walks down. Look forward to having him in our big-league bullpen. And we believe this is someone that can make a big impact for us, not just for this year but for years to come.’’

Which explains why they were willing to make the “hard, hard” decision to give up Sanchez, the highest ranked of their prospects they seemed willing to part with, having been asked repeatedly over the last couple of weeks about Wander Franco and Brendan McKay, who weren’t going anywhere.

“We set out to improve our bullpen at the back-end, and Nick Anderson, the more we dug into it, the more we thought that there was high-end, back-end potential,’’ Neander said.

“This time of year, there’s prices to be paid, and they can be big prices, and you either got to take a jump at some point and do it, or you don’t. This is one that we decided to make a jump.’’

Richards had been working as a starter for the NL-worst Marlins, and the Rays feel better than his 3-12, 4.50 record shows.

They see him as a potential starter or bulk-innings pitcher, helping fill the void with Blake Snell joining Tyler Glasnow on the injured list, and a much more affordable option than Mets starter Zach Wheeler, whom they also made a bid for Wednesday.

Since Richards has been used in one-inning relief stints recently, they might send him to the minors first to get stretched back out.

Anderson and Aguilar are expected to join the Rays for Thursday’s series finale in Boston. Another appeal is both will be under Rays control for an extended time. Aguilar, who has a reputation as a great clubhouse guy, will be arbitration eligible in 2020 and a free agent in 2023; Anderson won’t be arb eligible until 2022 and not a free agent until 2025.

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBimes_Rays.