ST. PETERSBURG — As usual, the Rays will spend the weeks leading up to the Aug. 1 trade deadline discussing myriad deals that could add to, take from or reshape their squad.
But there are a couple of differences this year as they reach the halfway point of the schedule Sunday with the majors’ best record:
• Despite their performance thus far, they have clearly defined needs — a proven reliever (or two) and a starter to add depth to the injury-ravaged rotation. (A frontline catcher likely also will be considered.)
• Because of their performance thus far, they have a deep drive to maximize the opportunity to win their first championship.
“We’re always going to be on the lookout for things that can improve our club this year and in the future — that’s kind of our M.O,” general manager Peter Bendix said. “This year’s club is really strong. We have a chance to do some special things. So, I think we’re going to be doing everything we can to make this club stronger, give it the best chance to win a World Series.
“In terms of what that actually looks like, it’s going to depend on the market.”
Don’t expect the Rays to shed their usual discipline and go on an uncharacteristic massive buying spree, adding veterans due tens of millions of dollars. Or to win the bidding for the most sought-after pitchers on the market.
But given the circumstances, they should be positioned to address their needs in an impactful way. They have the prospects to trade and should find a way — with a payroll in the mid-$70 million range that is among the league lowest — to have the money.
“We always have a lot of flexibility when it comes to being open-minded to that sort of thing,” Bendix said. ‘I think we all recognize this team could be really special, and we’ll have the resources to back that up.”
Also relevant, though not binding, is Bendix saying they are more focused on improving this year’s team than shuffling pieces — and salaries (for example, the $10 million Manuel Margot is due in 2024) — for the future.
“It’s always difficult to trade wins right now for wins sometime in the future. It’s even more difficult when your team right now is really good,” Bendix said. “You never want to rule anything out. There’s always possibilities of multiple sets of moves that we’ve done in the past.
“But for the most part, we’re unlikely to be removing good players from this team, especially if you don’t have another player to back it up.”
Jason Adam’s inconsistency, Pete Fairbanks’ injury history and the constant churn of the bullpen — the Rays already have used 24 relievers (plus two position players) — illustrate the need for trusted, experienced, high-leverage relief help.
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They have good success in this market with lesser-knowns they can mold rather than big names, so that seems the likely plan again this year. Plus, they have a solid internal option, with Andrew Kittredge tracking for an early August return, pending no setbacks in the final stages of his Tommy John surgery rehab.
Despite injuries to starters Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen (who could be a late-season return), the Rays still have a formidable front four with Shane McClanahan, Zach Eflin, Tyler Glasnow and rookie Taj Bradley.
What they don’t have is much depth if one or more get hurt or need time off, with McClanahan’s tight back the latest concern. Yonny Chirinos is the current No. 5, and the options at Triple-A are very limited: Cooper Criswell, prospect Evan McKendry and minor-league free-agent addition Elvin Rodriguez (who is returning soon from injury).
“Love to add — we could always add — pitching. No one ever has too much pitching, as we’ve seen,” Bendix said. “But, really, whatever opportunities we have to make our team better, that’s what we’re going to look to do.”
A catcher upgrade would have to be significant, given the overall combined work of Christian Bethancourt and Francisco Mejia, and the future promise of Rene Pinto. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden wrote that Kansas City’s Salvador Perez “would be worth overpaying for and could be the final piece the Rays need” to win the Series.
The new Tropicana Field PA announcer will be Jason Leikam, who has been at the mic for Class A Beloit (Wisconsin) and does professional voice-over work. … MLB.com’s latest mock draft has the Rays shopping locally, taking Mitchell High third baseman Aidan Miller at No. 19. The Athletic’s Keith Law has them picking Mississippi shortstop Jacob Gonzalez. … Thursday, the day Wander Franco’s two-game benching was announced, was the two-year anniversary of his big-league debut. Unaware of the coming disciplinary action, the team’s Twitter account posted, “Happy Wanderversary to all who celebrate.” … Don’t expect a reunion with catcher Mike Zunino, the Rays starter for much of 2019-22, who was released last week by Cleveland. Or with infielder/outfielder Wil Myers, released by the Reds. … The home radio booth now has permanent tributes to Dave Wills, a wall-mounted box holding his photo and a microphone, and a DAVE sign on the front. Wills died on March 5. … Having hit .471 (33-for-70) over 18 June games (through Friday) at Triple-A Durham with three homers, 15 RBIs and a 1.274 OPS, lefty swinger Jonathan Aranda has made an incredible case to get called up. But there’s one issue: Who would he play in place of? … Such a unique situation that the Rays, in seeking Pinellas County bed tax dollars to fund a new stadium, may be competing with the Phillies, who seek to expand their Clearwater spring training/player development facilities. … Also, a lack of updates on negotiations for the new St. Petersburg stadium, combined with the reports of interest from Dan Doyle Jr. and other potential buyers, creates an odd dynamic. … The Rays’ TV crew will be shuffled again on this trip, with Brian Anderson off and Doug Waechter filling the analyst role. ... Friday’s TV broadcast from the Randy Land seats was quite entertaining. … If all goes well on his rehab assignment, Brandon Lowe could rejoin the Rays around July 4. … A strong start and the voting bump that Blue Jays players enjoy from Canada-wide support has outfielder Kevin Kiermaier somewhere he never was during nine seasons with the Rays — in the running for an All-Star spot. … It will be interesting to see how Randy Arozarena and Yandy Diaz do in the runoff election for All-Star starting spots. ... Congrats to Neil Solondz, who hosted roughly 1,700 pre- and postgame radio shows over 12 years and now has turned that duty over to Chris Adams-Wall to focus on game-calling with partner Andy Freed.
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