The Tampa Bay Rays are a long shot at best to make the playoffs. Their Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls, is leading the International League South Division and in good position to clinch a fifth straight postseason berth. That combination sets up some difficult choices over the last month of the season.
Sure, the Rays would like to make one last push and the fans probably feel like they deserve that. Of course, it seems silly to talk about a team’s fan base deserving anything when they don’t show up at games. To what extent do you strain your organization, though, to make that happen?
The Rays management has been phenomenal the last half decade at identifying and cultivating talent. Typically, though, they have been in the thick of the playoff hunt looking to add pieces or they have been out of it and focusing on the next season. As of now, I don’t think they are either of those.
There was no more evidence of that than at the trade deadline. The Rays could have tried to go out and get some help for their bullpen or a bat to help their struggling offense. They also could have moved B.J. Upton or James Shields to shave payroll and bolster their farm system. Maybe the deals just weren’t there or maybe there just wasn’t enough conviction about where the Rays stood. They have played very well since early July and have had to just to keep sight of the AL Wildcard. Without their recent play, there probably would be no discussion about what to do.
So, will we see Matt Moore like we did David Price in 2008? Do we need to, if the Rays are not in the race and he couldn’t be a contributor? The Rays historically have been cautious with young arms and calling up Moore just to see him in the big leagues for evaluation seems unlikely. Would they look to the recently named International League MVP, Russ Canzler, to try and spark the offense? Canzler has played all over the field for the Bulls and has batted .310 with 18 homers. Russ had never played above Double-A before this year but has been a major force for Durham. Both of these players would be a significant loss for the Bulls while trying to win a championship.
Right now the Rays have called up outfielder Brandon Guyer and reinserted Justin Ruggiano into the lineup. Then they add, wait for it, Andy Sonnanstine. Not exactly the earth shattering moves with high level prospects, people may have been looking for. They’re also not moves that will hamper the Bulls severely.
Certainly minor league championships are not the focus of organizations, but teams want to win at every level. It’s important to the management and the players in Durham that they have every opportunity to win down the stretch. Tampa Bay feels the same way and if someone can help the club then they will be called on to do so. In the back of their minds though has to be the thought about how much they really need a player and to what extent he would play. These are tough choices and tough decisions and an organization finding its way through an uncertain season.