Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is just seven days away. With that, the Tampa Bay Rays have some huge decisions to make. The Rays have been faced with franchise altering decisions in the past. But this coming week may be the most important week in all of Rays history.
On one hand, the Rays could elect to become sellers. At 49-53, the Rays sit 7.0 games out of first place in the AL East and 4.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot. That isn’t an insurmountable deficit by any means, but it is a far cry from what position we thought the Rays would be in come the deadline. The most obvious of the Rays trade candidates is David Price, whose value will drop significantly if the Rays hold him through the season. The same goes for Ben Zobrist, who, like Price, is a free agent after 2015. Then there are players like Matt Joyce, Jose Molina, Desmond Jennings, Cesar Ramos, and more who could be available if the Rays were sellers. With these names, the Rays have the ability to bring back a wealth of young talent if they decide to deal.
However, the Rays are also one of the hottest teams in all of baseball. At one point they sat 15.0 games back in the division, and they have suddenly been able to cut that huge lead into a much less intimidating one. David Price has been throwing just as good as at any point in his career, and a once inconsistent offense is finally firing on all cylinders. The Rays still have the talent that caused many to pick them as World Series favorites, and they are finally tapping into it. Even if it remains unlikely, the Rays absolutely cannot be counted out of the playoff race. In fact, they could try to buy on the market to boost their chances.
So here’s the dilemma–the Rays have always traded their marquee talent in return for cheaper, more controllable prospects in order to compete as a small market team. This year, Price’s and Zobrist’s values are at their max. If the Rays hold onto them and trade one or both in the offseason, they will not see as significant of a return as if they traded them now. There’s also always the risk that one of them suffers an injury that would even further drop their value. If the Rays do sell, their playoff hopes would take a significant hit. But can the Rays really risk losing several impact prospects for a chance to make the postseason?
That is why this week is going to be franchise altering. Either the Tampa Bay Rays accept that this season hasn’t gone as hoped and trade Price and some other players for young talent, or they forget the young talent and try to win while they still have a chance. Not selling will be a hit to their ability to compete in the future, but selling will all but put them out of the playoff race this year. Andrew Friedman is facing possibly the most important week of his career, and we will come out of it with much more clarity on the direction that this franchise is taking.