With just over two weeks until the trade deadline, the Rays are scouring the market for upgrades, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. “What we think of this group and the way they’ve played so far it certainly motivates us to want to help them out however we can,” front office head Chaim Bloom told Topkin. “We want to make sure we do that responsibly, that we’re staying true to our goal of competing sustainably and be able to do this consistently over a number of years. Anything we can do to help them out is something we’re certainly going to look at.”
That the Rays are looking to add comes as little surprise, given the team’s position in the standings. At 54-40, Tampa holds possession of the AL’s top wild card slot, 1.5 games up on Oakland. Following a scorching start to the season, the Rays have fallen off the pace somewhat over the past month, dropping six games behind the Yankees in the AL East. While that deficit isn’t insurmountable with almost half the season remaining, it seems the Rays’ most plausible path to October is via a wild card. Fangraphs’ playoff odds, for instance, give Tampa just an 8.5% chance of claiming the division crown. How far the small-market club is willing to push for, in all likelihood, a one-game playoff, will be interesting to monitor.
The franchise has never been one to set the market, typically hoarding long-term affordable control at the expense of headline-grabbing acquisitions. Given the organization’s historical reluctance to mortgage the future, Topkin cautions against anticipating they make a splash. Nevertheless, as he notes, the time might be right for them to do so.
Tampa Bay’s loaded farm system should force the organization’s hand sooner than later. With myriad prospects nearing Rule V eligibility, the Rays may need to start consolidating high-minors assets. Unlike many 40-man roster crunches, where a team moves a middle reliever or bench bat to clear space, Tampa seems open to dealing high-upside talent. Notably, vaunted middle infielder Vidal Brujan might not be off limits, as Topkin includes him among a list of prospects whom the Rays might consider moving this summer rather than committing a 40-man roster spot to after the season.
To be clear, there’s no indication the Rays are actively shopping Brujan (or any other specific farmhand), but that it seemingly remains under consideration is notable. A 21-year-old switch-hitter, Brujan’s blend of bat control, strike zone feel and athleticism make him one of baseball’s best young talents. Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel and Keith Law of ESPN (subscription required) each place Brujan among the game’s 25 best prospects, in fact, with Fangraphs projecting him as a plus hitter and defender at second base who should offer a high-OBP skillset at his peak. MLB Pipeline and Baseball America are a little less bullish, questioning the amount of impact available in Brujan’s 5’9″, 155 pound frame, but the publications universally laud his hit tool and athleticism.
Unsurprisingly, the specifics of any deal remain up in the air. The Rays have previously been tied to bullpen upgrades, right-handed hitters and starting pitching (specifically, the top starter on the market, Matthew Boyd), all of which remain potential areas to upgrade, per Topkin. It’s not clear exactly how things will play out, but it’s nonetheless notable the organization has positioned itself as a buyer, especially in light of recent comments from GM Erik Neander indicating they might take things slower if they fell too far back in the division. With a farm system replete with talent across all levels of the minors and some hint of a willingness to push forward, the possibilities in St. Petersburg are endless.