The Tampa Bay Rays didn’t do anything at the trade deadline this year other than trade away David DeJesus and Kevin Jepsen for prospects. However, they still could add to their roster in the month of August. There could be a few players the team could cheaply add to the bullpen or even to their lineup. By dealing DeJesus and Jepsen, the team might have some extra cash to work with now as well. Here are a few players the Rays could target this month as possible waiver claims or by trade once they have cleared waivers.
Pierzynski signed a cheap one-year deal with Atlanta this offseason and has had a solid 2015 season so far. He’s been good on both sides of the field and has compiled a 1.7 WAR according to Fangraphs. His slash of .300/.338/.440 would be a huge improvement over both Rene Rivera and Curt Casali at the plate. He has hit over .300 this season versus right-handed pitching compared to a modest .246 against lefties, but that works out well because he would be complemented by two righty-hitting catchers.
Defensively, Pierzynski has only thrown out only 24% of attempted basestealers, but he’s actually been graded out as a positive defender this season. The Braves has made it clear they would like to keep Pierzynski past this season,but since they are not contending, they would have to listen on any player going into free agency. Pierzynski seems unlikely to clear waivers but if the Rays had an opportunity to get him without giving up much of a prospect, it would definitely be something to consider.
Marlon Byrd, OF
Byrd is once again rumored to be traded as the Reds are clearly sellers. He has continued to hit in 2015 and produced a solid line of .246/.298/.474 with 19 home runs and 41 RBIs. He has been especially good against left-handed pitching, hitting to a .293/.361/.533 line against them, but he also has 15 home runs against righties, 4 more than anyone on the Rays. If the Rays want to add another big bat to their lineup, Byrd could be their best chance.
It would be complicated to get Byrd playing time, but he may be good enough to make such a hassle worthwhile. The Rays aren’t playing Richie Shaffer tonight–they still aren’t comfortable using him regularly against right-handed pitching–and Byrd may be a player that they are more likely to give consistent time.
Byrd also doesn’t have to be a pure rental–he has an $8 million vesting option following the year, and if he doesn’t make 550 plate appearances (he isn’t on pace to), it becomes an $8 million team option. It would probably take a decent prospect to snag Byrd from Cincinnati, but he might be the Rays’ best chance at adding an impact middle-of-the-order bat this month if they chose to go that route.
Edward Mujica, RHP
Mujica is probably too expensive for the Rays at the moment, but if the A’s would be willing to eat a chunk of his remaining salary (which the Red Sox already did earlier in the year), there could be a match here. Mujica hasn’t performed well in 2015 with a 4.81 ERA (4.91 FIP) in 34 appearances (33.2 innings pitched) between the A’s and Red Sox this season. There are some signs, though, that could signal he hasn’t been as bad as the numbers suggest.
Mujica’s K/9 and BB/9 rates (6.42 and 1.34) line up with his normal career lines and his groundball rate is still solid at 45.1%. His xFIP is a modest 3.81 and he could be suffering from some poor luck as well with a .306 BAbip. The fact that the two defenses behind him this season haven’t been particularly good could also explain some of that high BAbip. Mujica has allowed some hard contact–his HR/FB rate of 18.4%, nearly double the league average–but such a mark is likely unsustainable.
In addition, Mujica’s arsenal remains reasonably good. His average four-seamer velocity is at 91.55 MPH, just 1 MPH lower than where it was in his strong 2013, and he also features a solid splitter, slider, and changeup. He has had some issues hanging the splitter, but it remains a strong swing-and-miss pitch. Batters are hitting .474 off the sinker, but given that they have just 1 extra-base hit against it all season, we have to wonder whether groundballs have simply been going where fielders have not been. There is enough stuff here that Mujica’s days as an effective reliever may not be over.
Mujica could be an option to fill some innings in the Rays bullpen down the stretch. Although he wouldn’t be a big difference maker, he could provide a better option than Kirby Yates or Brandon Gomes to pitch some higher-leverage innings down the stretch. The standard for improvement is so low, and perhaps a vintage Jim Hickey adjustment could get him back on track.
Alex Avila, C
What if one of the first moves by new Tigers GM Al Avila is to trade away his son? It’s very possible. The Tigers have sold pieces already and Avila could provide a slight upgrade behind the plate despite an awful season at the plate so far. The Rays could make a play on Avila now and possibly re-sign him when he’s a free agent at the end of the season if they like what they see.
Avila has dealt with injuries this season, but has still managed to perform well behind the plate. He’s always been regarded as a sound defensive catcher. Offensively, it has been a different story. His traditional high strikeout and walk rates have continued, but his batting average and slugging percentage have taken a nose dive. His current line this season in 47 games is .182/.325/.265. Perhaps most concerning is that is his isolated power is down to a measly .091. He still has found a way to get on base at a solid clip, though, thanks to a BB% of 17.4%.
Avila wouldn’t be very expensive if the Rays could work out a deal with Detroit. The Rays could be able to get something out of Avila’s bat while getting a good defender behind the plate. He would give them a left-handed backstop to complement Rene Rivera and Curt Casali, and the simple fact is that they need a third catcher anyway with Bobby Wilson in Texas. Luke Maile could be called up, but the Rays likely have prospects who take higher priority on the 40-man roster. And if the Rays are going to acquire a third catcher, Avila could be an interesting fit as a guy with a chance to stick with the team for 2016.
Neal Cotts, LHP
Cotts has been a dependable reliever over the last few seasons, demonstrating the ability to get both righties and lefties out from the ‘pen. The righty half of the equation may not still be there (.784 OPS), but he has held lefties to just a .189/.228/.324 line with 23 strikeouts against 4 walks. The Rays could use a second lefty middle reliever to complement Xavier Cedeno, and Cotts would be a cheap rental for the Rays who could fill such a role.
Jedd Gyorko, 2B
Unlike most of the names mentioned above, Gyorko would be far from a rental. Gyorko signed a six-year extension at the beginning of 2014 and has since fallen off the map for San Diego. He’s been worth a combined -0.4 WAR and his offensive production has become completely non-existent. He’s been striking out a bunch and was even sent to Triple-A this season.
So why might the Rays be interested in adding a player like this? His rookie season in 2013 was strong as he produced a line of .249/.301/.444 while playing slightly above average defense at second base and was worth 2.4 WAR. If the Rays could somehow get Gyorko to make an adjustment to get back to that form, they would have a pretty good player signed to a cheap deal for years to come, especially because the Padres would be willing to pick up much of the money that Gyorko is owed.
Obviously that’s no guarantee that Gyorko is fixable and the Rays are jam-packed at second base and third base with Logan Forsythe and Evan Longoria, but the cost to get Gyorko would be extremely minimal. He will almost surely clear waivers, and he could be an extremely cost-efficient option if he returned to 2013 form. He could also help the team down the stretch this season versus left-handed pitching–despite his poor season, has still hit .274 off them. Maybe if you can get Gyorko out of Petco Park and into a different environment, everything could change. It has already worked with Forsythe, another ex-Padres second baseman.