The Tampa Bay Rays’ baseball brain trust spent the 2013- 2014 offseason and the first part of the 2014 season signing veterans to long-term contracts and discussing extensions with some young stars. They signed Chris Archer to a long-term deal, and signed James Loney, Yunel Escobar, Ryan Hanigan, and David DeJesus to medium-term deals. Rays management thought that the team they assembled could win the AL East Title and perhaps even make it back to the World Series. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out the way we hoped. But the way the team has played since they hit bottom at 18 games out of first, in a large part because of the team’s commitment to youth, should make Rays fans very excited about next year.
The Rays’ 2014 turnaround began when rookies Jake Odorizzi, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brandon Guyer began playing up to their potential. Young pitchers Chris Archer and Alex Cobb have excited, and the still-developing Logan Forsythe has gotten better as the season has gone on. The news that the Rays asked for revocable waivers on Yunel Escobar is more proof the team is at least considering additional ways of getting younger. Escobar was subsequently claimed by the Oakland Athletics, and the fact that the news even surfaced is proof that the Rays are giving a serious look at trading him. Escobar is 31 and is signed through 2016 with a club option for 2017, when he’ll be 34. He’s been less than a replacement level shortstop this year (WAR of -0.8), and he’s not getting younger.
The Rays would be just as competitive this year with Zobrist at shortstop, and Logan Forsythe at second. Better yet, trading Escobar would allow the Rays to call up a youngster and see if he could join the likes of Kiermaier and Archer as a young catalyst to the team, both this year and in the future. They might promote Nick Franklin, one of the key pieces of the David Price trade and a player they think could be similar to Zobrist. They could bring back Cole Figueroa (hitting over .300 since the All-Star break) as an infield backup. Tim Beckham, back playing at Durham, also could receive a look if Escobar were to be traded.
Of course, Escobar isn’t gone yet. The Rays still need to make a trade with Oakland, perhaps for one of their catchers (will we see the return of Stephen Vogt?) for a waiver deal to work. As of last night, reports said a deal was not likely. But even if they don’t trade Escobar now, they may in the off season. The important thing is that Rays’ management has realized they can’t pay millions of dollars per year to replacement level players and still contend for the pennant. Look for more members of the Rays’ youth movement to be called up next week in September to give us a preview of what is to come.