With less than six and a half hours remaining until the Major League Baseball Trade Deadline, the Tampa Bay Rays player that everyone will be talking about is left-hander David Price. However, as we have been discussing in Rays Trade Rumors pieces for months and as Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports confirmed, there are two other Rays that could be dealt: Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce. The reasons behind either being traded are vastly different and let’s discuss why.
For Ben Zobrist, the Rays would be trading him for the same reason they have looked to deal Price: an offer they can’t refuse. Zobrist has been a red-hot hitter and will be a key piece of the Rays’ quest for the postseason if he sticks around, but his combination of versatility and a stout bat make him a tantalizing target for contenders everywhere. The Rays almost traded Zobrist before–they received an offer they liked from the Seattle Mariners only to delay a possible deal because they wanted more time to see whether their team could contend. Now they have more information and do look to be in the race, but that same offer from the Mariners may be too difficult to pass up.
Getting high-ceiling prospects is always exciting, but the ones the Mariners are a cut above the rest. They would likely build their package around Nick Franklin, who would give the Rays a chance to not lose all that much in the short-term while gaining years and years of team control. Franklin features Zobrist-esque versatility as he is able to play both second base and the outfield, and while he is a different player from Zobrist at the plate, his power as a middle infielder makes him stand out. For the Rays, they have a chance to trade Zobrist, who is a free agent after next season, for their second baseman of the present and future plus a pitching prospect or two with significant potential. The Rays value Ben Zobrist more than anyone else in baseball, but they would weigh an offer like that considerably and just might execute a deal.
In regards to Matt Joyce, meanwhile, the Rays would likely get a much lesser return for him than they would for Zobrist, but trading him may be best for their team even as they hope to contend. Currently, Joyce is part of a Rays outfield of Kevin Kiermaier, Desmond Jennings, Brandon Guyer, and occasionally Zobrist, and the Rays would not be making a trade if that group was projected to be their outfield the rest of the season. However, Wil Myers is making progress towards coming back while David DeJesus will return eventually as well, and it makes no sense for the Rays to carry six true outfielders plus Zobrist at any point in the season. There simply isn’t enough playing time to go around, and one of those outfielders would have more value in a trade than he would on the team. The candidate to go appears to Joyce.
Joyce is not a bad player–while he has gone through his slumps, he has provided value for the Rays each of the five years. However, he comes with his limitations, and the Rays could do without those now that they have more outfield depth. Joyce does only one thing well–hit right-handed pitching–and he does so only in a streaky manner while defending worse than any of the Rays’ other outfielders. He has a place on this team, but if the Rays can get a prospect of some value in return for him, dealing him would help clear their glut of outfielders later in the season. The Rays would have to figure out what to do between now and when Wil Myers comes back, but they could be fine with Brandon Guyer, Logan Forsythe, and Sean Rodriguez taking on more regular roles on a temporary basis. When you have six legitimate major league outfielders under contract for next season, something has to be done, and trading Joyce could remedy that situation without hurting the Rays all that much the rest of this year.
Especially with David Price seeming to be more likely to remain in Tampa Bay, the Rays could ratchet up their efforts to deal Ben Zobrist or Matt Joyce. The things to remember if either is dealt are that it would not be a sign of even a slight concession of this season for the Rays, and that either move could be the best for the Rays’ present and future.