The Rays, who currently sit six and a half games back in the AL East, are receiving significant interest in their top relievers and could move one of Brad Boxberger, Jake McGee or Kevin Jepsen even if they remain in contention, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Meanwhile, veterans such as David DeJesus and John Jaso could also be available in the coming week, reports SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo, who also lists Jepsen as one of the team’s likeliest trade pieces.
Boxberger will likely be the team’s most sought after trade chip and will have the highest price in a trade, Topkin writes, though he notes that McGee is become pricey, at least by the Rays’ standards. Jepsen though, is the likeliest trade candidate among Rays relievers, according to Topkin, as his salary will get a notable bump this winter, and he’s eligible for free agency following the 2016 season. Cotillo also lists Jepsen among the team’s likeliest pieces to move. (He notes, as well, that starters Erasmo Ramirez, Nate Karns and Alex Colome are drawing interest, but the Rays aren’t inclined to deal from their rotation.)
For the Rays to part with Boxberger, one would have to imagine a fairly sizable haul. The 27-year-old came to the Rays along with Logan Forsythe in the trade that sent Jesse Hahn and Alex Torres to the Padres, and he’s been dominant since his acquisition. (He was quite good in San Diego as well.) Boxberger cemented himself as the Rays’ top setup man in 2014, and when McGee required offseason elbow surgery, Boxberger separated himself from the pack to lock down the closer’s role early in the season as McGee recovered. Over the past two years, he’s notched an excellent 2.67 ERA with 13.2 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and a ground-ball rate a bit north of 40 percent.
In addition to Boxberger’s excellent results, he’s also controllable through the 2019 season, so any team picking him up would be doing so for another four and a half seasons. The former No. 43 overall pick won’t even be eligible for arbitration until after the 2016 season, so it’s easy to see why the Rays would place the highest price tag on Boxberger, whose salary should remain near the league minimum in 2016 and at least manageable for the Rays in 2017.
McGee, on the other hand, is already earning $3.55MM and has been nothing short of dominant since returning from the disabled list. Boxberger has remained the closer for most of the season, which will serve to limit McGee’s forthcoming arbitration raise to some extent, but the hard-throwing lefty still has plenty of holds and strikeouts this season that will come into play in such talks. In fact, McGee has allowed just four runs (three earned) all season long, and each of those runs came in one lone disastrous outing. He’s rattled off 20 consecutive scoreless appearances — a span of 19 1/3 innings in which he’s posted a 25-to-3 K/BB ratio.
As for Jepsen, he’s delivered strong bottom-line results since being acquired from the Angels in exchange for Matt Joyce (who has struggled in his new surroundings), but his peripheral stats have also taken a step back. Both his strikeout and walk rates are among the worst of his career, and while his 94.4 mph average fastball is strong, it’s down more than a full mile per hour when compared to his 2014 velocity. His swinging strike rate is down nearly three percent from 2014 as well.
Jepsen’s earning $3.025MM in 2015 and will get a raise this winter, so perhaps the Rays, faced with the possibility of paying a pair of relievers something in the vicinity of $5MM apiece, the team’s preference is to unload one of them right now. If that’s the case, moving Jepsen would be less detrimental to their 2015 chances than moving the more dominant and more controllable McGee.
Getting back to DeJesus and Jaso, both left-handed veterans are hitting reasonably well, though Jaso has spent most of the season on the disabled list. Each is a platoon player, with DeJesus having received just nine plate appearances against lefties all year. DeJesus has hit righties at a .270/.336/.395 clip, though, and he has a history of performing well when holding the platoon advantage. His contract contains a $5MM option for the 2016 season, so any team that picks him up could benefit from his services beyond this year.
Jaso only recently returned from a left wrist injury, but he’s shown no signs of ill effects at the plate. He’s mashed at a .359/.435/.538 clip thus far, and while that type of production clearly isn’t sustainable, Jaso has a very nice track record against right-handed pitching. He’s a career .275/.370/.428 hitter against righties and could help any club in need of help in that area. Jaso’s been a catcher for most of his career, but the Rays have used him at DH and in left field this year, as he does have multiple concussions in his past. He’s making $3.175MM in 2015 and is a free agent at the end of the year.
Earlier this week, Peter Gammons reported that there were as many as 16 clubs looking for bullpen help, so the Rays will have no shortage of trade partners. The Blue Jays, in particular, have been known to be hot after relief help. That’s also said to be the Twins’ top priority, and given the fact that Minnesota has an up-and-coming young core, adding a controllable arm such as McGee or Boxberger to supplement that group could hold appeal to them. The Pirates are reportedly working on a trade for a relief arm right now, with the other team in the mix not yet known. Jeff Todd and I discussed a number of AL teams looking to add relief help on yesterday’s podcast.