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Rays post-deadline thoughts: Did Nelson Cruz trade get forgotten already?

Rays Tales | One of the biggest deals in franchise history seemed overlooked amid criticism of a quiet deadline day. Plus, why Diego Castillo was traded.
The Rays' acquisition of Nelson Cruz was the biggest deadline deal, and arguably overall, in franchise history.
The Rays' acquisition of Nelson Cruz was the biggest deadline deal, and arguably overall, in franchise history. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Jul. 31

ST. PETERSBURG — Additional thoughts on the Rays’ deals leading up to Friday’s trade deadline:

• There seemed, based on social media posts and some analyses, to be general disappointment (to put it mildly) that the Rays weren’t more active over the final days, especially as their American League East rivals added key players. But how different would the reaction have been if the Rays had been quiet over the preceding week and then on Friday afternoon popped the blockbuster trade to send prospects to Minnesota for veteran slugger Nelson Cruz, the biggest deadline deal, and arguably overall, in franchise history?

Trading Diego Castillo to Seattle definitely was surprising, especially with five(!) other key relievers on the injured list: Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, J.P. Feyereisen, Collin McHugh and Ryan Thompson. But the Rays are always looking at everything, and especially to the future. Castillo’s velocity had been inconsistent this year and, somewhat concerning at age 27, trending the wrong way. His fastball was down from 98.8 mph in 2018 to 96 this year, his sinker from 98.2 mph in 2019 to 95.2, per fangraphs.com. Also, the Rays have had to handle Castillo carefully, using him on back-to-back days only once since early June and limiting his exposure to lefties, who he walks more and strikes out less. Plus, according to the Seattle Times, “MLB sources said the Rays had also grown frustrated with Castillo’s conditioning and offseason work habits,” noting “some significant weight gain” — a listed 250 pounds — “made him less effective and less reliable.” Finally, the Rays are very high on reliever JT Chargois, who they got in the deal, along with infield prospect Austin Shenton.

The Seattle Mariners' Diego Castillo celebrates his team's win against the Texas Rangers Friday in Arlington, Texas.
The Seattle Mariners' Diego Castillo celebrates his team's win against the Texas Rangers Friday in Arlington, Texas. [ TONY GUTIERREZ | AP ]

• While general manager Erik Neander said the Rays got “considerably better” in adding Cruz, Chargois and depth options such as outfielder/infielder Jordan Luplow (and his career .927 OPS vs. lefties) and relievers Shawn Armstrong and DJ Johnson, there is no question the Yankees and Blue Jays made splashier moves. The Yankees finally addressed their woeful lack of left-handed power by adding outfielder Joey Gallo and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who will have a huge impact in the clubhouse, as well. And the Jays were aggressive in getting much-needed pitching help in landing starter Jose Berrios (though at a very high price in prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson) and relievers Brad Hand and Joakim Soria. The Red Sox’s addition of Kyle Schwarber seems less impactful, given the limited positional options. Potential playoff foes Chicago and Oakland also made some big acquisitions.

• The Rays were indeed serious about being “in” on just about every big-name player and willing to deal prospects and take on salary (to a degree). That included top starter Max Scherzer, at least until getting word from the Nationals he wouldn’t approve a trade to Tampa Bay as he wanted to go to the West Coast; and hitters like Kris Bryant (who went to the Giants) and Trevor Story (who stayed with the Rockies). Also of note, the Rays didn’t deal Kevin Kiermaier in what would have been a financial-driven move to save future salary. Until being traded to the Twins in the Cruz deal, pitcher Joe Ryan was the hot name teams were asking the Rays about, presumably knowing Shane Baz wasn’t going anywhere.

• One quirk of the schedule has the Mariners coming to Tropicana Field Monday, giving Rays players a chance to say goodbye to Castillo and him time to sort out details of relocating to the West Coast.

• The Rays, according to the always creative-thinking Jayson Stark in The Athletic (with help from Stats LLC), were just the third team in at least the last 25 years to trade for (Cruz) and trade away (Rich Hill) 40-something-year-olds in the same season. The Dodgers got Greg Maddux and moved Sandy Alomar Jr. in 2006, while the Yankees in 2003 traded for and then shipped out Jesse Orosco.

Crowd control

Rays designated hitter Nelson Cruz , pictured before the start of the series against the Boston Red Sox Friday at Tropicana Field.
Rays designated hitter Nelson Cruz , pictured before the start of the series against the Boston Red Sox Friday at Tropicana Field. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

Combined attendance for three games against the Yankees and Friday vs. the Red Sox: 49,446, an average of 12,361. ... Friday’s gathering of 11,109, including a Nelson Cruz T-shirt giveaway, was a majors low. Among games with more: Orioles at Tigers (18,861), Mariners at Rangers (27, 542), Phillies at Pirates (20,591), Yankees at Marlins (18,462). .. The 14,134 at Thursday’s game was the second-largest crowd of the season.

Rays rumblings

Neander on how many hours of sleep he got in the days leading up to Friday’s trade deadline: “Not many. Some teams work late, and you want to be responsive. There’s that fear of missing out.” … The Rays on Thursday were three outs from the third game in franchise history with no assists, and first since 2003, when Ryan Sherriff walked the leadoff man and they turned a double play. … Alex Rodriguez will be back at the Trop Sunday night as the analyst for ESPN’s broadcast. In 114 games there as a player, he hit .259 with 30 homers and 73 RBIs and an .883 OPS. … Combining last year’s abbreviated season and the start to this one, the Rays had a 100-62 run. … How badly did the Rays want to sign third-round pick Ryan Spikes, the Atlanta-area high school shortstop? They pooled their (planned) savings from other picks to give him $1,097,500, nearly double the $581,600 value for pick No. 100. Spikes and second pick Cooper Kinney played together on a travel ball team. … Ex-Ray Blake Snell, through 19 starts for the Padres: 4-4, 5.44, three outings of more than 5-1/3 innings … Injured pitcher Tyler Glasnow wrote and read a cool thank you letter to the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team, noting they are “the toughest athletes on the planet mentally or physically.” See it on the Uninterrupted’s Instagram site. … Of the five minor-league teams with at least 50 wins through Friday, three are Rays affiliates Triple-A Durham (50-25), High-A Bowling Green (54-22), Low-A Charleston (S.C.) 54-21. … One name to watch from the kids on the Florida Complex League team is Sandy Gaston. In 16-1/3 innings, the 19-year-old has faced 62 batters and struck out 26, walking nine and allowing just six hits.

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