The Tampa Bay Rays are in a bind right now. Despite putting together solid pitching depth this offseason, injuries to Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb, as well as an Alex Colome suspension have more than stretched this depth. The Rays have plenty of names to fill the current two vacant spots, but Nate Karns, Enny Romero, Mike Montgomery, and Matt Andriese have not proved themselves at Triple-A, and Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard are both underwhelming options. The Rays are hoping to make a World Series run this year, and the best way to ensure that happens is for them to trade for another starter.
The Rays never trade for starters. It takes a plethora of young talent to acquire one, and they also usually come with big salaries. This does not fit the Rays’ business plan. But, there comes a time where every team must overpay for starting pitching if they want to make a deep playoff run. The current fill-in options are undesirable, and the Rays desperately need to bring in a new starting pitcher. Ideally they would pitch in the rotation until Hellickson and Cobb returned and then be accommodated elsewhere, but with the year that the Rays have had so far, you can’t ensure that another starter won’t go down. They don’t have to acquire an ace- all they need is a consistent number four or five type of pitcher- but this type of player could make a huge difference. The difference between one win and one loss has put the Rays into the playoffs multiple times in the past, and acquiring a starter, or not, could become this difference in 2014. Who could the Rays look to trade for?
Garrett Richards of the Los Angeles Angels
Richards has finally found himself with a guaranteed rotation spot after spending the last two years back and forth between starting and relieving. Richards established himself last year after struggling to do so in previous years, posting a 4.16 ERA with a 6.3 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9 in 17 starts and 30 relief appearances. At 25 years old, he has not hit his prime yet, so he could end up being better than that, although he is never going to be a top of the rotation guy. He is controllable through 2018, which would certainly appeal to the Rays, and he has experience moving back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, so they could easily accommodate him on the roster if Cobb and Hellickson both return as expected and the rest of the rotation stays healthy. The main problem with acquiring him would be the price, as the Angels are contenders and are not going to give up a piece of their rotation unless they receive considerable young talent in return. Richards would be a good fit, but the Rays would have to part with an unprecedented (for them) amount of talent to acquire him.
Carlos Villanueva of the Chicago Cubs
Villanueva is a fairly unknown player, but he has quietly put up nice numbers the past three years. In 44 starts and 78 relief appearances over the last three seasons (two spent in the AL East), he has put up a healthy 4.09 ERA, 7.3 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9. He is never going to be a force at the top of the rotation, but he makes a nice addition as a fourth or fifth starter. He also has experience out of the bullpen, so he too could make the transition seamlessly if the rest of the Rays starters were healthy in the long-run. He is not the type of controllable pitcher that Richards is, but he is a free agent after this season and is pitching for a non-contender, so he would not cost near as much to acquire. Also his salary is $5 million, which is not insignificant, but the Rays can find room in the budget if they really desire to. Villanueva would be a nice, cheap option.
Kevin Correia of the Minnesota Twins
Correia, a veteran of 12 MLB seasons, has made a living in the back of rotations for his entire career. He is a pretty sure bet to post an ERA in the low 4.00’s while being an efficient pitcher thanks to his above-average command. The difference between him and Villanueva is that he does not have as much experience in the bullpen, so that transition might be more difficult. But as an impending free agent and a member of the Minnesota Twins, who have little chance of contending this season, he would be fairly easy to acquire. He is more of a sure thing than anyone the Rays have right now, and would be a nice fill-in for however long they need it.
These are just three players that make some degree of sense for the Rays, and there are plenty of other players that they could go after. The internal fill-in options that the Rays currently have all are flawed, and thus the Rays need to acquire someone outside the organization. With this year being the Rays’ best chance to win a World Series, they need to be willing to part with some young talent to acquire a piece that helps them out in 2014. Whether it is for a controllable pitcher with upside like Richards or a veteran like Villanueva, a Tampa Bay Rays trade for a starting pitcher is what needs to happen.