ST. PETERSBURG — When the Rays made their first puzzling trade last week, shipping starter Rich Hill to the Mets for a prospect at a time when it seemed they would be looking to add to their rotation, they said there was more to the deal than it appeared.
Basically, that they moved Hill to open spots for other starter options, both internally and possibly with another trade and would need time to sort it out.
When they made what seemed to be another head-scratching move Thursday night, trading Diego Castillo, one of their most reliable high-leverage relievers — and their best healthy option given a slew of bullpen injuries — to Seattle, they had a more simple explanation.
Essentially, that the reliever they got back, J.T. Chargois, can be just as good, any maybe even better, than Castillo.
“There’s a difference in track record what’s behind these guys,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said, “but when we’re looking at what’s ahead of J.T., we have a lot of confidence that he’s going to be a big part of this group going forward.”
The move comes with some risks, primarily that Chargois (SHA-gwah), 30, has had limited success in the majors before this season. To offset that, the Rays also got prospect Austin Shenton, a corner infielder with a potent lefty bat at the Class A and Double-A levels.
What the trade doesn’t come with, at least from what Neander said during a short media call, is any guarantee of an additional move by the Friday 4 p.m. trade deadline, such as, for example, acquiring a proven closer like Craig Kimbrel from the Cubs.
If anything, he downplayed the potential for a major acquisition, saying “the big move, I think, for us” was last week’s deal to add designated hitter Nelson Cruz, in which they took on $5 million in salary. That also seemed to diminish the potential to add a proven starter (Minnesota’s Jose Berrios and Texas’ Kyle Gibson are rumored) or hitter (Kris Bryant), or trading centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier to shed salary.
“We’re at the stadium now and don’t anticipate leaving anytime soon,” Neander said around 8:30 p.m. “So we’ll be plenty busy trying to do all we can here to know what the opportunities are out there.”
Using a hard sinker/wipeout slider repertoire similar to Castillo and more effective against lefties, Chargois emerged this season as an impact reliever. He went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 30 innings over 31 games. He struck out 29 while allowing six walks and just a .217 opponents average after signing a minor-league deal and not being called up until May 9. In 116 games over parts of four seasons with the Twins, Dodgers and Mariners, he is 5-5, 4.13 with no saves in six chances. He spent 2020 in Japan.
Castillo, 27, had a team-high 14 saves this year, going 2-4, 2.72 in 37 games. Signed by the Rays in 2014 out of a tryout camp, he spent parts of four seasons in the majors, going 14-14 with a 2.99 ERA and 26 saves in 34 opportunities and playing a major role in their 2020 postseason run.
Neander said many nice things about Castillo, noting he had “as many big outs as anybody, as slow a heartbeat as anybody, as good as a person and a professional as anybody.’”At least one Rays reliever made his feelings on the deal clear, Ryan Thompson tweeting: ‘’DEVASTATED.”
As shorthanded as the bullpen is now, Neander said the Rays are confident injured relievers Thompson, J.P. Feyereisen, Collin McHugh and Pete Fairbanks all will be back relatively soon, and their best high-leverage reliever Nick Anderson, out since spring with an elbow sprain, could join them.
Neander also said the move, which has little financial impact as both pitchers are headed to arbitration eligibility, in no way — especially after the Cruz move — should be seen as backing off from battling for another playoff spot.
“We recognize where we are, and we’re trying to compete here,” Neander said. “We think pretty highly of the player we’re getting back to come on our club.”
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