Beyond acquiring Ryan Roberts back on July 24th, the Rays did nothing at the MLB Trade Deadline. That does not mean that there were no discussions. James Shields was rumored to be heading to a multitude of teams. Trading B.J. Upton seemed to make sense. The experts were saying that everyone liked Wade Davis. But at the end, nothing happened. Sometimes, that’s for the best. Sometimes, it might not be.
On July 31st, 2008, the Rays reportedly acquired outfielder Jason Bay from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for a pair of prospects that are now more familiar faces for Rays fans: shortstop Reid Brignac and right-hander Jeff Niemann. The deal fell through, and Bay instead went to the Boston Red Sox. Would it have been better for the Rays to have made that deal?
In 200 games between 2008 and 2009 for the Red Sox, Jason Bay was excellent, posting a .274/.380/.534 line with 41 doubles, 45 homers, and 156 RBI in 849 plate appearances. Even though his offensive numbers would have been depressed at least slightly by Tropicana Field, the Rays really could have used his bat in their lineup during those years. Bay was certainly much better than the Gabe Gross-Eric Hinske platoon that the Rays threw out to right field in 2008 and the Gross-Gabe Kapler platoon that they had in 2009. Gross hit just .053 in 23 playoff plate appearances in 2008, and basically everyone else the Rays put in right field (Hinske, Rocco Baldelli, pre-breakout Ben Zobrist) hit terribly as well. Bay posted a .341/.471/.634 line for the Red Sox in the 2008 Postseason, slamming 3 home runs and driving in 9 in 11 games. We’ll never know how Bay would have hit for the Rays in the 2008 World Series, and maybe, even probably, it would not have been enough anyway. But having Bay in the lineup would have undoubtedly given the Rays a better chance to win. And maybe with a championship banner hanging in the Trop, the Rays stadium and fan situation could have been better.
2009 was a lost year for the Rays. Bay almost assuredly would not have changed that. And then there’s the matters of Brignac and Niemann. Brignac was a valuable bench player for the Rays in 2009 and 2010 before falling apart in 2011 and early in 2012 before possibly making strides at Triple-A now. Niemann has been a solid back-of-the-rotation option for the Rays the past five seasons, going 40-26 with a 4.11 ERA in 91 starts and 5 relief appearances and although he has dealt with bouts of inconsistency, he has carried the Rays at times, including a 6-0 record and a 1.71 ERA for the Rays from July 2nd to August 16th, 2011. Brignac and Niemann have given the Rays contributions over the course of several seasons- Bay would have been valuable for the Rays for half a season and he only could have been the difference for one series, the World Series. Even in retrospect, the question is still out there: should the Rays have made the deal to acquire Bay?
The Rays had a mostly quiet trade deadline in 2012. Only time will tell whether that was the right decision.