The Tampa Bay Rays have relied on their bullpen as heavily as ever this season after making the decision to pull their starting pitchers earlier so hitters wouldn’t see them too many times. Especially with that in mind, there is a line of thinking that the Rays should acquire another relief arm to bolster the group of pitchers they have. On the other hand, the Rays have a trio of high-leverage pitchers who could be of interest to other teams. Even as they remain on the fringes of contention, they may receive an offer for one of them that is too tempting to refuse.
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Marc Topkin and Chris Cotillo report that the Rays’ top relievers are in play to be traded, with Topkin describing it as the Rays’ most likely move and Cotillo contributing that the Rays would need to be overwhelmed to make such a transaction. The decision to deal any of Brad Boxberger, Jake McGee, and Kevin Jepsen will involve a variety of factors, most notably how the Rays believe each of them will perform moving forward, how much money they are set to make, how much team control they have left, who would replace them in the bullpen, and what the Rays’ expectations are for their team for the remainder of this season and in coming years.
Jepsen hasn’t pitched particularly well–his strikeout and walk rates are especially concerning–so he will command the least return. It is also possible that the Rays could fill his bullpen spot with Andrew Bellatti or Matt Andriese without losing much. On the other hand, it is not as though you are going to get anything resembling a top prospect for a year and two months of Jepsen. His stuff is still electric, and if the Rays wanted to deal him, they should wait until his results are better and his value is higher. If the Rays were all-out selling, then that wouldn’t matter as much, but at this point, we can’t say that.
McGee may be the most interesting trade candidate. He has been dominant and is under team control for 2016 and 2017, but he is making $3.55 million this year and his salary will only go up. Also worth noting is that he isn’t all the way back after his elbow surgery. The Rays haven’t been willing to use him for three straight days at any point (they’ve done that with Boxberger three times and Jepsen twice), and he has even shown diminished velocity when pitching on back-to-back days. There is injury risk that comes with him, and now would be a great opportunity to cash in on his value.
Boxberger, meanwhile, has as good stuff as ever and won’t even be arbitration eligible until 2017, but he has been inconsistent this year. His overall results–especially in the strikeout column–are still excellent, but if he keeps allowing home runs and walks as often as he has, his value would only go down. If the Rays don’t believe that he can rebound to his 2014 form and teams are still willing to offer top prospects for him, then a deal would make a lot of sense.
In a trade of McGee or Boxberger, the Rays could follow the blueprint of the David Price trade and acquire say a controllable reliever and a prospect rather than two prospects. Especially if the Rays see a relief arm with whom they can make a Drew Smyly-esque adjustment, the Rays could wind up improving their bullpen–or at least not getting much worse–and still acquire a talented minor leaguer or two for their efforts.
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On the other hand, the return of Smyly himself may give the Rays another late-inning arm anyway when it is all said and done. When Smyly comes back, some Rays starting pitcher will need to go to the bullpen, with Smyly, Erasmo Ramirez, and Nate Karns all being possibilities. Smyly proved himself to be dominant in relief in 2013, and both Ramirez and Karns could be excellent in such a role as well. Combine that with the fact that former starter Alex Colome is already pitching in shorter stints and showing flashes of brilliance, and the Rays may have enough bullpen depth that even trading McGee or Boxberger for only prospects would not do much to affect their chances this season.
That line of thinking also gets us back to the idea of trading Jepsen, who Topkin says “could be the most likely to go.” Even if his value isn’t great, the chances of some former starter at least matching his results is quite high. While dealing Boxberger or McGee would likely hurt the Rays’ relief corps this season and in future years at least to some extent, a Jepsen transaction may not affect the Rays’ 2015 and 2016 bullpens at all. If the Rays want to make a trade while honestly being able to say that they have every intention of winning this season and next, dealing Jepsen is the way to go.
We will have to see in the coming days whether the Tampa Bay Rays receive a strong enough offer to consider trading Brad Boxberger or Jake McGee. The standard for a Jepsen deal is lower, and if the Rays see a chance to get a prospect worth their time, such a move could certainly fall into place. The biggest thing to remember is that if any deal does happen, the Rays’ pitching depth ensures that their 2015 chances will not be decreased by much. The ideal is always to improve your future without sacrificing your present, and if the right prospects are dangled, the Rays will be excited to make such a transaction.