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When it comes to trades, are you willing to swap the Rays’ track record?

John Romano | After acquiring Nelson Cruz, the Rays played it mostly conservative despite a ton of rumors at the trade deadline.
The Rays made a headline-worthy move nine days ago by acquiring Nelson Cruz from the Twins, and you could argue he was one of the best half-dozen players switching teams this summer.
The Rays made a headline-worthy move nine days ago by acquiring Nelson Cruz from the Twins, and you could argue he was one of the best half-dozen players switching teams this summer. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Jul. 31

ST. PETERSBURG — A third baseman not named Kris Bryant had a three-hit night.

A shortstop not named Trevor Story had a two-run double and a triple. An outfielder not named Kyle Schwarber added a leadoff homer and a pitcher not named Max Scherzer had a career-high seven strikeouts.

Competing in the thanks-but-we’re-good category of baseball’s wild trading deadline, the Rays made their usual understated appearance when the hysteria concluded Friday night.

Beat the Red Sox to close the gap in the AL East to a half-game? Check.

Boost their confidence against lefthanded pitching with three homers? Oh, yeah.

Stiff-arm the Blue Jays and Yankees after their splashy deadline acquisitions? You betcha.

This is what the Rays do. They don’t just march to their own beat, they reinvent the rhythm section. With rumors, offers and deals flying all around baseball, the Rays confidently passed on most of the action before beating Boston 7-3 Friday night.

Yes, they made a headline-worthy move nine days ago by acquiring Nelson Cruz from the Twins, and you could argue he was one of the best half-dozen players switching teams this summer. The Rays also made a handful of lower-profile deals involving pitchers and some organizational depth in the past week, too.

But they did not get involved in the final frantic moves before the 4 p.m. deadline despite being mentioned prominently as suitors of a half-dozen different players. In the end, they were not going to be swayed by shiny objects or peer pressure.

Did they inquire about Scherzer before he was dealt to the Dodgers? Yes they did, but the three-time Cy Young Award winner was insistent on going to the West Coast. Did they look into Bryant, Story and Schwarber? Yes, they were involved in all of those conversations but decided the asking price was too high or the fit wasn’t perfect.

And maybe, down the road, we’ll decide some of those choices were mistakes.

The Yankees clearly got better by acquiring Joey Gallo from Texas and Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs. The Blue Jays paid an outlandish price to pry Jose Berrios away from the Twins. If one of those teams catches fire in August/September and runs down Tampa Bay in the standings, it will be easy to say the Rays were too conservative when they had a chance to improve.

Because it’s pretty obvious the Rays did have the opportunity. It doesn’t appear that salaries were a consideration, and the Rays have enough talent in their farm system to attract the interest of any potential trading partner.

But, like it or not, they decided the upgrades would be minimal compared to their current lineup. And they concluded their own pipeline of talent was too valuable to make incremental improvements. And, on nights such as Friday, you can see their point.

One of the lone drawbacks on this roster through the season’s first half was an inability to hit lefthanded starting pitching. The Rays are in the bottom five of the majors in batting average (.225), on-base percentage (.302) and slugging percentage (.373) against lefties. And for a team 20 games above .500, it was concerning that Tampa Bay was 6-10 against left-handed starters in the past six weeks.

So it was significant that Yandy Diaz hit a two-run homer in the first and Randy Arozarena and Mike Zunino followed with solo shots in the fourth against Boston southpaw Martin Perez. Between the Cruz acquisition, Wander Franco’s arrival and Diaz’s sudden resurgence of power, this lineup suddenly has a different feel against lefties.

“No doubt it’s different. Very confident it’s going to help us,” manager Kevin Cash said. “If you kind of play the odds a little bit, we have scuffled against left-handed starters so bad that you think it’s going to even out a little bit. If it evens out just a little, and then you add Nelson and Wander from the right side, we should be in a pretty good spot for the next couple of months facing lefties.”

Between last season’s shortened schedule and the first 102 games of 2020, the Rays went 100-62. They won the AL East for the first time in a decade last year and are now poised to reach the postseason for the third consecutive season.

Maybe they would look better with Bryant in the lineup. Maybe they would even win an extra game or two.

And maybe you’re unhappy they didn’t make another deal on Friday.

But, speaking of trades, I’m pretty sure there are about two dozen markets out there that would jump at the chance to swap the past three seasons with Tampa Bay.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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