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Tampa Bay Rays Mailbag: Could Rays Buy at Trade Deadline?

By Robbie Knopf
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Welcome back to the RCG Mailbag, where we take those burning Tampa Bay Rays questions on your mind and attempt to give you answers.

The easiest way to submit a question is to fill out this Google form. Otherwise, you can comment on any of our posts here or on Facebook, email us at rayscoloredglasses at gmail dot com, or tweet me @RobbieKnopf. If you could say “for the mailbag,” that would make things especially easy. We have two questions for this mailbag, and we’ll get the short one, which is a follow-up to our mailbag from last week, out of the way first.

Big Ray asks: Is it true that several players on the Rays have asked to not accept help from Derek Shelton, both in the past and currently?

I did some research and made some calls to make sure I answered this one as accurately as possible. My knee-jerk reaction to Big Ray’s question was “absolutely not” and the truth is not far from that. There are always isolated instances where players don’t relate well to coaches, but Shelton would be out of a job if he had no sway with the Rays’ position players. Shelton does help hitters and has done a decent enough job to be retained. If someone has evidence to the contrary, feel free to email me, but if it really existed, Shelton would have been fired.

Ryan asks: With the Rays still somewhat in it right now when they really shouldn’t considering what has happened with the roster, do you see the Rays as potential buyers going into the middle of the season? Would be nice to see the Rays for once be aggressive, move the underachievers like Jennings and Cabrera (not Rivera though, too good with the pitchers, and also might be helped by playing a little less), and go out and get some serious reinforcements for a possible playoff push. Getting Dan Haren, Tim Hudson, or Matt Garza would help stabilize the rotation a bit, and Adam Lind in the lineup against RHP would look real nice. Thoughts?

We can say right from the start that the Tampa Bay Rays were never serious buyers at the trade deadline under Andrew Friedman. They acquired some complementary pieces like David DeJesus, Ryan Roberts, and Wesley Wright, but they never gave up any prospect of value to get a player at the deadline. They liked getting subtle improvements on the cheap and that was about it.

Of course, Andrew Friedman is no longer the Rays’ Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, and Matt Silverman has done things differently since ascending to President of Baseball Operations. We will have to see if he decides to be more aggressive at the deadline in contending years, like 2015 could be. That is something we really don’t know at this point, but let’s make the cases for and against the Rays being buyers at the deadline before we get into players the Rays could be interested in.

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The reason to buy is that it doesn’t matter if the Rays began this season with low expectations–if they have a chance to make the postseason, they should go for it. That doesn’t mean that they should suddenly go into win-now mode, but acquiring a player who could also help them in 2016 would make sense, and they could still acquire a player for a couple of months if he comes on the cheap. Even for rentals, though, this is a young team and the confidence factor that comes with making the playoffs as an underdog would be huge. Even if the veterans leave following the year, the exhilaration that they helped provide would not dissipate.

On the other hand, this was always going to be transition year for the Rays, and if they’re still contending in July, there is a decent chance that they are getting lucky. It would be great to get someone for little, but it seems crazy to mortgage the future in any way for this year’s team. Are the Rays really good enough to go on a run? Would it be worthwhile if they only made the Wild Card Game? If this team is close to the AL East lead, that would be interesting, but it would be embarrassing for the Rays to acquire somebody only to watch their team fall short.

On the whole, I would say as of right now that the Rays might be interestws in somebody one step above a guy like Ryan Roberts, but we’re still not talking about them giving up any player remotely resembling a top prospect. The best guys they would be willing to deal are say Enny Romero, Grayson Garvin, Hak-Ju Lee, and Taylor Motter. You can get something with two of those minor leaguers, but you’re not going to be saying “This could change everything.”

Looking at the Rays’ needs, we can picture them acquiring a shortstop, an outfielder, a durable starting pitcher, and possibly one more bullpen arm. There is basically no chance that the Rays will trade Desmond Jennings at the nadir of his value–he has proven himself to be an above-average starting outfielder, and they need real value in return for a guy like that. They will let him get healthy and show what he can do for the rest of this season before they think about trading him.

Cabrera, on the other hand, could hypothetically be dealt for another underperforming veteran shortstop. The Rays are counting on him rebounding, and if he doesn’t, they may keep him around and then re-sign him to a cheap deal after the season like they did with Luke Scott. Unless he is riding the bench because Logan Forsythe and Nick Franklin (or Tim Beckham) are playing out of their minds, they certainly won’t trade him for a prospect.

In terms of potential trade matches, two interesting fits are Friedman’s Dodgers if Jimmy Rollins also keeps struggling and Cabrera’s former team, the Cleveland Indians, if Jose Ramirez continues doing nothing (and their team starts contending). Other names I’ll throw out are Erick Aybar and Marwin Gonzalez. Admittedly, these are more amusing trade scenarios than deals that would actually happen. (And of course, not all of these would be straight-up swaps). We’ll have to see how Cabrera and other shortstops are doing come July.

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The outfield is a hypothetical weakness for the Rays, but the hope is that Desmond Jennings and John Jaso get healthy and keep the Rays satisfied with their internal options. The Rays still need to figure out what they will do with David DeJesus when Jaso returns–although at this point, it is hard to believe that DeJesus would be dealt. The only scenario where they acquire an outfielder is the nightmarish one where Steven Souza gets injured or demoted to Triple-A, but even then, it wouldn’t be a sure thing. In the same vein, Adam Lind isn’t a real fit.

There are a million relievers the Rays could get, but starting pitcher is worth talking about for a while. There won’t necessarily be a need because a rotation of Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, Nate Karns, and Alex Colome could be very good in theory and guys like Erasmo Ramirez, Matt Andriese, and Andrew Bellatti remain as depth. However, we can expect inconsistency from the last two spots, and moving a guy like Colome to the bullpen could make the team better.

The issue, though, is that the Rays might not be able to acquire an actual rotation upgrade unless they pony up real prospects, which they are unlikely to do. Guys like Dan Haren and Tim Hudson could hypothetically make sense if the Rays are contending and their team’s aren’t, and it would also be amusing to see how much the Brewers would eat of Matt Garza’s remaining salary to trade him. The more interesting guy on the Brewers from the Rays’ standpoint might be Kyle Lohse.

However, we get back to our catch-22: if they are pitching well, the prospect cost will be too high, and if they are pitching poorly, the Rays won’t want them. Unless A) yet another injury changes things, B) Colome and Karns are disasters, or C) they get the deal of a lifetime, the Rays are still most likely to stick with their internal options. The only exception I see to that is if the Rays see an adjustment for a pitcher like they saw with Drew Smyly and are confident enough that they are right to trade for him even if his numbers are mediocre.

Overall, the Tampa Bay Rays will look into deadline deals if they are contending, but it is hard to see them doing any sort of major move. Unless someone actually wants to do a trade of Cabrera for another shortstop or the perfect starting pitching situation comes along, the biggest move that the Rays would make would be to acquire a reliever. Feel free to pitch deals to me in the comments–hopefully we can have a nice discussion–but I’m skeptical of the notion that this trade deadline will be any different from past Rays trade deadlines.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Should Ernesto Frieri Be Released?

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