When I analyzed the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster before the season started, I predicted that they would be a .500 team. The season has so far borne out my prediction with the Rays one game under .500 after they lost 2 out of 3 to the woeful Philadelphia Phillies.
It turns out that in 2015, a .500 record can keep a team in the hunt in the AL Wild Card race. Even more satisfying, several of the teams ahead of them and alongside them have much higher payrolls. However, you don’t get style points in a pennant race. Contending in the AL Wild Card–let alone the AL East–takes wins, not awards for efficient use of resources.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg recently said in an interview that he likes the current team. However, that doesn’t preclude them making deals before the trade deadline that make sense. Might the Rays try to rent a hitter for the stretch drive? The competition for proved hitters will be fierce. Sluggers are likely to come with not only a hefty trade price, but also a hefty salary.
Given the Rays past practices, it’s unlikely that they’d be willing to pay an older slugger like the Phillies’ Ryan Howard the rest of the $23 million he’s owed for this year and the $10 million buyout of his 2016 option (even if they had a spot for Howard on their roster, which they don’t right now). However, Sternberg all but said the Rays would keep their eyes open for any moves that make sense before the deadline.
Even if they stand pat, the Rays should expect an infusion of talent over the next two months. Steven Souza Jr. has come off the DL and looked great yesterday, and the Rays expect Desmond Jennings to start rehab soon. They can expect more offense from Rene Rivera, a healthy James Loney, and John Jaso than they received from their positions in the first half. Drew Smyly is also starting his recovery process and will be a factor in the rotation or bullpen before long.
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The return of all their hitters will create a logjam in the outfield that could give the Rays some assets to trade. John Jaso is hitting well, but he will also be a free agent after the season. David DeJesus has only a $5 million option for next season and is another tradeable player. Could either of them help a team struggling to make the Wild Card in the NL? The Mets, for instance, need more offense and either of them might be able to help. On the other hand, the Rays have restocked the farm system under Matt Silverman. Perhaps a Rays veteran packaged with a prospect could help swing a deal for a hitter that could help the team’s anemic offense.
Matt Silverman is not waiting for my advice. He and the crack analysts in the basement are reviewing the stats, scouting reports, and personal qualities of just about everyone available to help the Rays. Given how much parity there is in the American League, the Rays are still in the race and can make it to the postseason if this streak of poor play finally ends. Trades to help the future are certainly an option, but don’t rule out a deal to help the current club as well.