COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — You’re going to hear a lot of player names tied to the Rays over the next week or so leading up the Aug. 1 trade deadline. Some of them might even be relevant.
In any year, the Rays explore just about every potential trade possibility. Given their missive to contend now and always be building for the future, it would be management malpractice to not do so.
So, however you phrase it — expressed interest in, considered, checked in on, have scouted, called about, are engaged with — know they do that for many players they have no realistic chance of getting. And even some they don’t really like that much anyway.
But this year is different in a couple ways.
The Rays, despite recent struggles, have a team with a realistic shot of playing deep into October. They have felt that way in previous seasons, but their play over the first couple months — if they can get back close to that — makes it feel more real.
And this year’s Rays have some clear needs, most notably for pitching, with starter depth of greater priority than an experienced reliever, and potentially at upgrade at catcher, especially with Francisco Mejia sidelined by a knee injury.
Which brings us to the two voices bouncing around in the heads of Rays executives this week.
“We want to win the division, we want to win a World Series, and we think we have a special group this year that has a decent chance of doing both. So we’re going to do everything we can to strengthen that group to make this year’s club as strong as possible,” general manager Peter Bendix said.
“And, as always, we’re going to stay disciplined to our process, we’re going to stay disciplined to making sure that we keep an eye on the future at the same time.”
So what does that mean?
Most likely, despite the temptation — and the suggestion of a certain sports columnist — that trading several top prospects or young big leaguers, who they would control for six big-league seasons and at relatively known costs, for 50 games and a postseason with Shohei Ohtani isn’t happening.
But the Rays do need to do something, and it’s not out of the question that they make a big move.
As good as a front four of Shane McClanahan, Zach Eflin, Tyler Glasnow and rookie Taj Bradley could look, the dropoff to converted reliever Zack Littell and Triple-A call-up candidates Cooper Criswell and Erasmo Ramirez is significant. Even more so if one of the top four gets hurt.
So while it’s intriguing to hear they’re scouting the White Sox (Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn), Cardinals (Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery), Cubs (Marcus Stroman), Tigers (Michael Lorenzen) and maybe some even bigger names, it could be just as likely that it will be someone with much less name recognition — and without giving up any of their top prospects. In other words, any decent pitchers on bad teams with low cost or expiring deals will be of interest.
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“Whenever you’re in the position we’re in currently in the standings, it certainly encourages you to be a little bit more aggressive," Bendix said. “I think we saw that (in 2021) when we traded for Nelson Cruz, right?
“A lot of it though is going to be dictated by what opportunities are out there — what players, how can they help us, who do we have to give up. etc.
“When you have a really strong club, it’s often sometimes more difficult to upgrade that club, too. Great problem to have, right? But we don’t want to make a trade just for the sake of making a trade. We want to make a trade that really makes our team better."
Veteran reliever Jake Diekman, a mid-May pickup, knows the value of a pennant race pickup, having been in four previous deadline deals.
“If you can put yourself in a position where ownership and everyone thinks, ‘Hey, if we add a piece here or a piece there, we feel like we can 100% go for it or possibly win,’ that energizes a clubhouse for like the last two months,” Diekman said.
And he thinks that could play out with the Rays.
“The guys here, we feel very confident where we feel like we can win," he said. “Even if they add like one piece, that will bring so much energy at the deadline."
There was a specific reason rookie Kevin Kelly had to wear his new cowboy-style outfit on the field for pre-game warmps Monday in Texas: He bailed on an invite from Diekman to buy him some clothes shortly before they were supposed to leave for the trip to Boot Barn.
“At the last minute he declined and said, ‘Maybe tomorrow would work better.’ And I was like, ‘OK, perfect. I’m going to buy him a whole outfit and he has to wear it,’” Diekman said. “He was ‘too busy,’ but I saw him 30 seconds after he texted me.”
Though the boots, tight jeans, hefty belt buckle, western print shirt, bolo tie and cowboy hat were a departure from Kelly’s usual style — “something loose and comfortable, college kid” — he said he may wear some of it again, including the bolo tie for his offseason wedding.
Eflin, another veteran, took Bradley shopping and he came back with boots and a stylish hat. “I thought I was going to have to pay for it myself so I got the cheaper one,” said Bradley, but adding, “I’ll be snazzy the next time I come to Texas.”
One name that seems likely to come up in trade talks is Mets reliever David Robertson, who was a Ray briefly in 2021. ... Outfielder/first baseman Luke Raley has been traveling with a stuffed animal he puts in his locker — it’s a buzzard, which has become somewhat of a mascot from his hometown of Hinckley, Ohio, and was given to him by a friend on an earlier-season road trip. ... The Rays definitely appreciated the Rangers moving to their retractable roof stadium, given first-pitch temperatures for the Monday and Tuesday night games were 105. ... Bally is offering a 25% discount on its streaming service, now $14.99 a month, for the first 12 months. ... Purely unintentionally, a Texas TV crew worker wore 2020 World Series T-shirt into the Rays clubhouse, stirring some bad memories.
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