Last week, commenter Jonathan asked for a breakdown of the Rays trade-deadline realities. (My motto here at TRA is to give you people what you want. A corollary of that motto is ‘thank goodness someone thought of a topic for me.’) And, I think the timing is right because the boys that do the actual journalism in this town have asked all the right people the right questions and because the last 6 games seem to encapsulate the Rays’ current position.
After last night’s marathon (I have no secrets, I fell asleep. If you stayed up through all 16, you are a better man than me.) the Rays have gone 2-4 in the first six games of this Yankees-Sox-Yankees-Sox gambit. I don’t think this is the make-or-break portion of the schedule but, we can all agree that it is important and 2-4 and a 7-game deficit isn’t where we wanted to be. I do, however, believe Andrew Friedman when he says that no 11-game stretch will determine whether the Rays buy or sell at the deadline. That is consistent with their history of taking the long view.
So, what should the do? Well, at this point, I think we can all agree that the current roster does not have enough juice to run down Boston and New York barring some incredible turn of events. We simply do not hit enough and, lately, it appears that we have a hole in the bullpen. The question Friedman and Co. get paid to evaluate is whether the addition of one or two players changes those odds into the Rays’ favor.
In my mind, based on the names floating around the rumor mill, the answer is no. Friedman has been clear that he is very open to adding to this roster in an effort to make a run at the East or the Wild Card. He even went on the record to say that the Rays are open to “rental” players despite their general abhorrence of short-term game. But the right-handed bats available (Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence, Josh Willingham, Jeff Francour, Michael Cuddyer, Laynce Nix) don’t seem like the right kind of short-term investments for this team. For that matter, the short relievers that appear to be available are similarly underwhelming.
So, does that mean the Rays should just sell off the pieces someone else might be interested in, give the kids a half-season of experience, pull into the station around 80 wins and get ready for March? I don’t think so. I don’t think the Rays have to choose between the false dichotomy of deal-prospects-get-Major-Leaguers and deal-Major-Leaguers-get-prospects. The Rays might deal Major Leaguers to get other Major Leaguers.
Here is my idea. Look back at the list of available right-handed outfielders. Any doubt BJ Upton doesn’t jump to the top of the list if the Rays make him available? Of course not. So, if the Rays are willing to deal Upton, doesn’t that make some right-handed power bats elsewhere in baseball available that were not available when everyone thought we were just offering Alex Torres? I think so. Why not trade Upton for a corner outfielder? Why not trade Upton for a shortstop or relevant catcher? Who knows what possibilities Upton’s availability might create. The best part is, we might be able to trade Upton and still keep his likeness by promoting the hot-hitting Desmond Jennings into his spot.
I think the same logic might apply to James Shields. What Major Leaguers become available if Shields becomes available? Why can’t the Rays flip Shields for currently-viable Major Leaguers? If they undertook that approach, is there any doubt Alex Cobb could fill his spot in the rotation ably? Perhaps, but that is the kind of risk you have to take to jump past two trains speeding downhill towards the AL East title.
I don’t know if the Rays will make a big move like I have proposed. In fact, even if the Rays are open to it, I don’t know if they can find a creative GM somewhere in baseball who is also open to it. But, the Rays have to figure out what to do with the quickly approaching free agency of Shields and Upton, the Rays have to find some air for Cobb and Jennings, and the Rays have to do something to change the destiny of this current roster. Flipping big-leaguers for big-leaguers seems to meet all three needs.