Are the Tampa Bay Rays Trade Deadline Buyers?


If the Tampa Bay Rays are keeping David Price, then the Rays’ trade deadline mentality has shifted dramatically. Although I have suggested elsewhere that I think that it’s a mistake to keep him, the goal to win the World Series and some imminent roster issues imply that some sort of deal must be made today. The Rays, no matter how well they’ve played in the last weeks, are 8 games behind Baltimore in the AL-East (9 in the loss column), and are 5.5 games behind the Blue Jays for the second wild-card spot. So, as the team prepares itself for this uphill fight, they must be wondering where they can improve. Here are some points to consider for any Rays trade deadline plan:

Jul 30, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays designator hitter Ben Zobrist (18) looks on from the dugout during the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. Ben Zobrist should not be traded. Although the San Francisco Giants, in particular, is looking to shore-up the keystone, Zobrist has been looking his old self recently. He’s provided some clutch hits during the Milwaukee Brewers series, he seems to have found his home run stroke, and he is hitting .337/.427/.500 in July. Given his versatility with the glove, he would be hard to replace.

2. The Rays will need to handle their surplus of outfielders. Wil Myers and David DeJesus are going to be healthy in August. Considering that the Rays are already juggling Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Desmond JenningsKevin Kiermaier, and Brandon Guyer in the outfield (along with Sean Rodriguez on occasion). Since Myers and DeJesus are unlikely to be traded while still on the DL, the question is who else should be traded? Jennings has been slashing .265/.315/.434 in July, Matt Joyce has slashed .309/.391/.400 in 55 ABs in July, and Kevin Kiermaier represents, I would think, one of the outfielders of the future for the Rays.

Unless the Rays can swing an offer for DeJesus, then they might expect Joyce and possibly also Jennings to be on their way out. But why expect this? Do Myers and DeJesus represent an improvement over Jennings and Joyce? If the goal is to win the World Series, then you want your best three out there–and, of course, that will change depending on whether they are facing a right-hander or a lefty. But is it reasonable to carry six strict outfielders? Is there any market for someone like Jennings or Joyce?

3. Instead of looking to trade what they have, the Rays’ trade deadline planning might instead focus on which improvements are possible or available for them. They don’t need to improve their starting staff (not if Price is still a Ray tomorrow). Their lineup is already overrun with players, and few, if any, big-league bats are going to be both (a) available for what the Rays are willing to trade (Jennings? Joyce? Logan Forsythe?) and (b) affordable (sorry, Matt Kemp will not soon be a Ray). The only question might be their bullpen with the disquieting image of Joel Peralta or Grant Balfour being called upon in late-inning tense moments.

If Balfour has quit tipping his pitches, then hopefully he’ll quit raising the collective blood-pressure of Rays fans. I’m less certain that Joel Peralta can regain his late-inning form, but, then again, no one really knows how Joel Peralta does what he does: some magical combination of mixing-pitches, changing the pace of his delivery (both quick-pitching and attempting to lull the batter to sleep–often in the same at-bat), and locating pitches. But the Rays don’t need to keep plugging Peralta into decisive game situations. They’ve got Brad Boxberger for most 8th innings and Jake McGee has been an unrecognized all-star this season as the de facto closer. Jeff Beliveau could be a fine lefty specialist and Cesar Ramos is a decent enough long man  so the bullpen seems to have settled (per usual with the Rays) into new roles.

With all of this in mind, it is hard to understand how the Tampa Bay Rays might actualize their “all-in” mentality on the trade market. Simply put, there isn’t a good place for them to buy.

One question that remains for me is whether they’ve adopted this “World Series or Bust” attitude not because they’ve made a positive commitment to keep Price, but just defaulted to it because no offer yet has met the front office’s expectations. St. Louis Cardinal’s general manager John Mozeliak is claiming that he was “never close” to trading Oscar Taveras (one of the supposed pieces in a rumored proposal for Price). This may just be bluffing and gamesmanship, but it would matter if the Rays’ “commitment” to win the World Series–evidenced by keeping Price–is just a move forced on them (what chess players might call Zugzwang) by the lack of any real trade options.