The Tampa Bay Rays are looking to upgrade their roster at the trade deadline.
Tampa Bay Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, however, appears set to address the Rays’ need for a right-handed bat and relief help internally, rather than overpaying with prospects for a brief rental.
Two of the players repeatedly linked to Tampa Bay, Casey Blake and Xavier Nady, were each shipped earlier this weekend, reducing the list of potential right-handed hitting outfielders on the market.
Blake, who has been among the most productive hitters with runners in scoring position so far, was the more likely option to be shipped to the Rays, who reportedly were the runner-up to acquire his services. The soon-to-be potential free agent was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for minor leaguers Jonathan Meloan and Carlos Santana. Blake, currently batting .293/.368/.470, will help improve the Dodgers’ offensive attack and will most likely remain at third base with his new club—the Rays wanted to move him to the outfield—prompting a demotion for rookie Blake DeWitt and his sub-.700 OPS to the minors on Sunday.
Tampa Bay fell short in its offer, reluctantly refusing to give up any quality prospects for three months of a surging hitter.
Nady was traded earlier this weekend to the Rays’ in-division rival, the New York Yankees, who are back in the American League East race and are likely to be without regulars Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada perhaps for the rest of the season. The veteran outfielder was sent along with reliever Damaso Marte in exchange for four prospects, highlighted by 19-year-old outfielder Jose Tabata, who was ranked by Scout.com as the third-best position player prospect in the New York organization. Right-handed pitchers Jeff Karstens, Dan McCutchen—not to be confused with the Pirates’ stud outfield prospect, Andrew—and Ross Oldendorph were also included.
Considering the Pirates’ reported asking price—labeled as ludicrous by many within in the industry—for Nady and his teammate, Jason Bay, last week, the cost, perceived as low, came as a surprise to many.
Nady, who is enjoying a career season, is currently batting .327/.384/.530, for a.914 OPS, potentially adding the bat that the Yankees need and clearing the way for Posada to have season-ending surgery. His value was at is peak, however, turning off Tampa Bay, which was not willing to part with any promising prospects.
With the aforementioned pair no longer available, Friedman seems set to look internally, with Triple-A Durham outfielder Justin Ruggiano as a possibility to make an impact down the stretch. Ruggiano, 26, spent a few weeks in the majors earlier in the season, hitting .290/.333/.452 in 15 games, but did not get any real playing time. He has been productive since his demotion, however, while showing the ability to hit left-handed pitching—.966 OPS in 68 at-bats against southpaws. In 52 games overall, he is batting .303/.359/.500 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs. It will be interesting to see if he gets a fair look the next time around if the club does not end up striking a deal before the deadline on Thursday.
Joe Maddon also announced that Rocco Baldelli, who is currently rehabbing with the Montgomery Biscuits, may be an option in this regard as well. Baldelli, who hit a home run and played five innings in the outfield on Saturday night, has made steady progress with his rare medical condition and is reportedly coming along nicely. Regardless, the Rays have not been able to count on the former star in several years, so why should they expect to now? It would not be a surprise to see him come up in September, though, if he can stay on the field over the next few weeks.
In 27 at-bats with the Biscuits, Baldelli is batting .333/.419/.667 with three home runs and eight RBIs. Tampa Bay will still wait to see if he is a legitimate option over the next month before making a decision.
Friedman and his staff are reportedly looking for bullpen help as well—rumors have linked Brian Fuentes of the Colorado Rockies, Huston Street of the Oakland Athletics and Tyler Walker of the San Francisco Giants to the Rays. Again, though, the club seems more likely to make a change through its farm system, especially with top prospect David Price making pitching look easy down in the minors.
The Rockies’ asking price has turned off Tampa Bay, which would likely not consider including Wade Davis or Jeremy Hellickson in any deal, let along for a reliever like Fuentes, whose value is high right now because his recent performance and is approaching his career high in innings pitched. The Colorado organization also appears to be close to making a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals—the favorites, according to Peter Gammons of ESPN—and are considering turning into buyers, not sellers, at the deadline.
Street has caught the eyes of Friedman as well, especially considering that his value is fairly low right now. The closer, one of the few Oakland regulars over the past few years not to be shipped by Billy Beane yet, would be a great addition. His teammate, outfielder Matt Murton, has also been linked to the Rays.
Price, 8-0 with a 2.01 ERA in 12 starts professional starts, is still the most likely candidate to help the Rays address their bullpen needs. Perhaps he will turn into the Joba Chamberlain of 2008 (if Jeff Samardzija does not beat him to it), as he is currently dominating the Southern League. The number one overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Vanderbilt University, he is 4-0 with a 31-to-12 K/W ratio and 2.19 ERA with the Biscuits, dazzling with his excellent stuff and advanced pitching smarts.
The lanky southpaw began the year in the Florida State League, where he was a perfect 4-0 in six starts for the Vero Beach Devil Rays. In fact, Price looked absolutely dominant at times, overmatching young hitters with his mid-90s fastball and excellent command. He posted a 1.82 ERA, 37-to-7 K/W ratio and .220 opponents’ batting average, allowing only seven earned runs on 28 hits in 34.2 innings pitched.
Rumors—Friedman has made phone calls about veteran second baseman Jeff Kent and soon-to-be free agent Mark Teixeira, according to several sources.
Kent, though, is on the wrong side of 40, and is no longer an adequate defensive second baseman. While the Rays have struggled to score runs, the team defense—with one of the highest defensive efficiency ratings in the majors—has been excellent, especially in the infield.
The play of Akinori Iwamura, who was forced to make the transition up the middle from third base to make room for Evan Longoria, has played a huge factor in that, as he has helped to form an excellent double play combination with shortstop Jason Bartlett.
So, where would the veteran second baseman—a headache in the clubhouse at times, especially around young players, who played a huge role in the divide among the young talent and veterans in Los Angeles in 2007—spend the majority of his innings? DH? Not so fast, as he is only batting .255/.310/.411 with 10 homers and 43 RBIS.
Not to mention, Kent has not exactly torn it up against lefties, either, with a .795 OPS in 88 at-bats against southpaws. His bat speed has steadily decreased over the years, he comes with baggage and would most likely not provide that much of an upgrade, regardless. Thus, odds are against the Rays—who have received a great boost from the veteran presence provided by Cliff Floyd and Troy Percival—from adding Kent for their stretch run.
The market for Teixeira, a Scott Boras client who will demand a lengthy, multi-million contract this offseason, has been expectedly slim. Several of the contending teams do not have a need at first base or designated hitter, and are unwilling to deal any legitimate prospects for a brief, three-month rental.
Teixeira had a monster second half for the Atlanta Braves after he was acquired at the deadline in the biggest deal of the season last summer. The Braves, however, were 2.5 games out in the National League East when they acquired the switch-hitting slugger. They then finished six games back, despite a monster performance from their new acquisition.
Atlanta general manager Frank Wren, a longtime right-hand man for John Schuerholz during the dynasty years, is not used to being a seller at the deadline. The Braves, though, are undoubtedly out of it—done in by too many one-run losses—and should try to make some deals with an eye on the future. Still, Wren most likely would want a deal to include Price—who is absolutely not available—making this a long shot to happen. Six years of a potential ace for three months of the player who is the poster boy for why deadline deals often fail to live up the hype? Yeah, that is not going to happen.
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