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Here’s what the Rays’ trade history tells us to expect this week

Tales | Typically when contending the Rays make small moves, though last year was an exception in getting Nelson Cruz.
Last year, the Rays did get a little aggressive at the trade deadline in acquiring a big bat in Nelson Cruz. Unfortunately for the team, the hits really didn't come with Cruz.
Last year, the Rays did get a little aggressive at the trade deadline in acquiring a big bat in Nelson Cruz. Unfortunately for the team, the hits really didn't come with Cruz. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jul. 30|Updated Jul. 31

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays head into the final days before Tuesday’s trade deadline looking for help in several spots, but unlikely to make a big deal.

Prices have remained ridiculously high — the ask often being for top prospects like pitcher Taj Bradley and/or infielder Curtis Mead. Even beyond the marquee pitchers and hitters, matches have been hard to make, though the Rays on Saturday did acquire lefty-hitting veteran outfielder David Peralta from Arizona.

The addition of a third wild-card team to the playoff field in each league and the expansion of the first round from a one-game coin flip to a three-game series have given more teams hope. Sellers have more reason to wait until closer to the deadline to act.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t eventually be a major payoff. Or regrets.

Typically when the Rays are contending they add small pieces at the deadline. When they are not, they move bigger names and restock.

But there are exceptions, such as last year when they aggressively acquired one of the top available bats in Nelson Cruz. And some years when they fully eschew the traditional buyer or seller roles and do both.

Here is a look at some of their most interesting trade deadline-ish deals since the initial involvement of the Stuart Sternberg ownership group in advance of his October 2005 takeover:

Best haul

Trading Chris Archer in 2018 worked out nicely (at the time) for the Rays when they got Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz in return.
Trading Chris Archer in 2018 worked out nicely (at the time) for the Rays when they got Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz in return. [ GENE J. PUSKAR | AP ]

As part of a major clearance sale of veterans, the Rays in 2018 made one of the best deadline deals arguably by any team ever, trading starter Chris Archer to the Pirates for outfielder Austin Meadows and pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz.

Meadows became an All-Star (then was traded again this year), Glasnow was headed there until a June 2021 injury that led to Tommy John surgery, and Baz rose quickly to top prospect and big-leaguer, though he is also sidelined by injury. Archer was 6-12, 4.92 in two years with the Pirates. Runnerup: Getting Ben Zobrist from Houston in 2006 when dumping Aubrey Huff’s salary.

Step on up

Former Rays player Willy Adames (now with the Brewers) jokes around with Yandy Diaz ahead of a June 28 game at Tropicana Field.
Former Rays player Willy Adames (now with the Brewers) jokes around with Yandy Diaz ahead of a June 28 game at Tropicana Field. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Among players the Rays picked up in deadline deals who became big deals:

• Lefty Scott Kazmir — a promising prospect acquired in 2004 from the Mets for so-so big-league pitchers Bartolome Fortunato and Victor Zambrano — became a two-time All-Star and a key piece of the 2008 breakthrough team.

• Zobrist, acquired as an undistinguished minor-leaguer with pitcher Mitch Talbot in the 2006 Huff deal with Houston, developed into one of the Rays’ all-time best. He finished in the top 18 of the AL MVP voting three times, made two All-Star teams and compiled a 35.3 WAR, second in franchise history to only Evan Longoria.

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• Shortstop Willy Adames didn’t make any All-Star teams or win any Gold Gloves, but the then-18-year-old Class A player lived up to the promise as the key return in the 2014 trade of Cy Young Award David Price to Detroit. Adames became a valued leader on and off the field, and last year he was a good trade chip.

Most underrated move

Reliever Dan Wheeler helped spark the Rays' evolution into contenders.
Reliever Dan Wheeler helped spark the Rays' evolution into contenders. [ Times ]

At the time in 2007, acquiring middling reliever Dan Wheeler from the Astros didn’t seem like any big deal, a questionable return for Ty Wigginton, one of the top hitters on another last-place Rays team.

But it was the start of the revolution, as Wheeler became the much-needed veteran leader of the bullpen the Rays built as they became contenders in 2008. He often was credited by then-manager Joe Maddon as the unheralded key piece to the turnaround. Grant Balfour, another July 2007 pickup, also helped a lot. Runnerup: Getting dynamic reliever Nick Anderson from the Marlins in 2019.

On the other hand …

Relief pitcher Kevin Jepsen was a trade casualty in 2015, angering his teammates.
Relief pitcher Kevin Jepsen was a trade casualty in 2015, angering his teammates. [ VRAGOVIC, WILL | Tampa Bay Times ]

• The Rays stepped out of character last July in preempting the market and paying heavily (pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman, taking on $5 million in salary) to add one of the top bats in Cruz. He provided a welcomed jolt and valuable leadership, but just didn’t hit much: .226, 13 homers, .725 OPS. Plus they followed that deal by trading starter Rich Hill (for a minor-leaguer) and key reliever Diego Castillo (for JT Chargois).

• Within 3 ½ games of the second wild-card spot in 2015, the Rays decided not to add or stand pat, but traded two veterans, outfielder David DeJesus and key reliever Kevin Jepsen, for unheralded minor-leaguers. That riled the players, who saw it as lack of faith by their bosses, and they finished under .500.

Can I put you on hold?

After their 2018 veteran selloff, the Rays in 2019 were all about volume, making seven deals (some minor to clear roster space) involving 18 players from July 13-31. Most notably they acquired relievers Pete Fairbanks and Anderson (who worked out) and first baseman/DH Jesus Aguilar (who didn’t). Also frenzied was 2017, when in 10 days they added first baseman Lucas Duda and relievers Sergio Romo, Dan Jennings and Steve Cishek, and traded former No. 1 pick Tim Beckham.

Rays rumblings

Under the new format of playing all teams in the opposing league, drafts of the 2023 schedule circulating around MLB have the Rays hosting the Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates, Rockies and the “natural rival” Marlins (as part of a home-and-home series). … Cruz, who may be traded by Washington, said coming back to the Rays would “be all right.” … The Kids Eat Free program to make games through August more affordable was a nice gesture, but the timing, with school starting up, seemed odd. … The Rays also did a recent flash sale for tickets. Wonder if they would consider occasionally opening the upper deck for a reduced price, even with limited services? … Sternberg had a hands-on couple days: Thursday in Baltimore he caught a foul ball (for just the second time in his lifetime of baseball fandom); before Friday’s game he made a few tosses from the mound before batting practice, then caught the first pitch from retired Tampa Bay Times chairman Paul Tash that was, shall we say, a wee bit off the plate. ... Among other perks of being named manager of the World Baseball Classic team, Rodney Linares (the Rays’ third base coach) recently met with Dominican Republic president Luis Abinader.

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