We’re not there yet. After a win tonight, the Rays sit three games under .500 and three games out of Wild Card position. A week from now, the club could easily be in the thick of things. But with the division out of reach, a healthy bunch of teams still to leapfrog just to make the play-in game, and a six-game Missouri road trip on tap, it’s also quite possible that Tampa Bay could find itself all but buried by the end of the month. (After August 31st, of course, players are no longer eligible for the postseason if they change organizations.)
That raises an interesting question: what would it look like if the Rays were to make a late effort at marketing some short-term assets? After all, the club could well see cause to shed salary if it feels its hopes at a postseason berth are dashed.
The organization carried just $70MM of payroll entering the season — a pittance for most teams, but not far from the franchise high. It went on to add a couple of million dollars by acquiring Trevor Plouffe (with part of his salary paid by Oakland), Steve Cishek (offset by Erasmo Ramirez and some cash from Seattle), Sergio Romo, and Dan Jennings. While those acquisitions were largely offset by the $2.35MM or so that was saved when Colby Rasmus left the club, the Rays also took on all of what was then still owed to Adeiny Hechavarria ($4.35MM annual salary) and Lucas Duda ($7.25MM).
When the calendar flips to September, there’ll only be about one-sixth of the regular season left to play, and thus only that portion of remaining salary to pay down. Still, moving a few players — even for marginal or no returns — could add up to a fair amount of savings in relative terms. And some of the possible trade candidates might well recoup some useful talent, too.
With teams like the Twins and Rangers perhaps now pivoting back toward the buy side, and other organizations now having had time to re-think their needs, there may yet be some intriguing opportunities. Though the Rays may have better odds at snagging a Wild Card than the division-rival Orioles and Blue Jays, Tampa Bay also operates under much more stringent budgetary constraints and has more potential August trade chips. The very moves that the Rays have made to push toward contention — mostly, adding useful veterans on short-term deals — have left the team with a bunch of useful assets if a last-minute sell-off is pursued.
Bearing in mind that this is completely hypothetical — and that we don’t know the waiver statuses of these players (excepting Duda, who cleared once) — here are the most interesting players the Rays could plausibly consider dealing at month’s end (with approximate remaining 2017 salary for October in parentheses):
- Alex Cobb, SP ($700K) — Cobb is a free agent at season’s end and has generally turned in quite a solid year. While he has been knocked around a few times, Cobb currently owns a 3.80 ERA with 5.9 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 over 147 innings. Rumors of his full return to top-quality pitching may have been exaggerated, but he could certainly shore up some rotations and might even be seen as a potential postseason starter for some clubs. Cobb would surely be a candidate for a waiver claim, but could sneak through or be claimed by a team that would give something up via trade.
- Jake Odorizzi, SP ($683K) — This seems quite a bit less likely, due both to Odorizzi’s remaining control rights and his struggles thus far (4.74 ERA) in 2017. But perhaps it’s not out of the question that he’d clear waivers.
- Steve Cishek, RP (~$500K, factoring portion paid by Mariners) — The sidearmer has a clean sheet through 11 frames with Tampa Bay, allowing just four hits and three walks while racking up a dozen strikeouts. He’d make for a hot commodity on a market starved of relief pitching.
- Sergio Romo, RP ($500K) — Romo, too, has been quite good since finding a new home. In his 15 innings with the Rays, he carries a 12:1 K/BB ratio and 2.40 ERA. The veteran hurler is also battle-tested in the postseason.
- Tommy Hunter, RP ($233K) — If it’s reasonably likely that both Cishek and Romo would be claimed, it’s a certainty that Hunter would (if he hasn’t already). But there’s leverage to work with given Hunter’s outstanding season. The veteran has set himself up nicely for a return to the open market after 46 innings of 2.35 ERA ball, with 9.8 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 on the back of a 97 mph heater. Brad Boxberger is perhaps also a marginally plausible candidate, but we won’t consider him separately here with two more seasons of affordable arb control remaining.
- Lucas Duda, 1B ($1.2MM) — Though he has been in a cold spell of late, Duda owns a 127 OPS+ during his 24 games with Tampa Bay, which actually just tops his overall performance earlier this year with the Mets. The Yankees were reportedly finalists for him previously, and a few other clubs might not mind adding a big left-handed bat.
- Logan Morrison, 1B ($417K) — Speaking of big lefty bats, Morrison could hold yet more appeal with his lesser salary. He, too, has cooled but sports a .240/.347/.496 slash on the year with 29 home runs. While it’s reasonable to anticipate he’d be claimed, as with some other players, the Rays could potentially still extract a return and simply hold onto him if nothing much is offered.
- Adeiny Hechavarria, SS ($725K) — Hech doesn’t seem particularly likely to be dealt. He has struggled at the plate since coming to the Rays, the market hasn’t yet found a home for a better player in Zack Cozart, and Tampa Bay could intend to tender him arbitration this fall. Still, he’s at least worthy of mention.
- Brad Miller, INF ($595K) — It has been quite a disappointing season for Miller, as he has fallen off of the twenty-home-run output he showed in each of the past two seasons and owns a miserly .187 batting average. But he has suddenly blossomed into one of the game’s most patient hitters, with a 17.5% walk rate, and could be an interesting buy-low candidate for some organizations. With two more years of arb control left to go, Tampa Bay would likely only be looking to make a move if they are preparing to move on from Miller anyway or unexpectedly draw a big offer for his services.
- Wilson Ramos, C ($667K) — As with Hechavarria, Ramos would likely clear waivers — particularly with incentives boosting his deal and $8.5MM still owed for 2018. The 30-year-old is still working out the kinks since returning from knee surgery, with a .258/.294/.406 slash through 139 plate appearances, but still comes with quite a bit of upside.
- Peter Bourjos, OF ($225K) — There’s little chance that Bourjos will be a hotly pursued commodity, as he’s hitting just .229/.275/.403 on the year — with that surprising bump in pop offset by a failure to reach base that’s driven by poor plate discipline (5.2% walk rate, 27.3% strikeout rate). But he could function as an extra outfielder and pinch runner for another organization.