The Rays have already made one big pre-deadline splash in acquiring Nelson Cruz, and more major names seem to be on Tampa’s radar. According to ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan, the Rays “have had preliminary discussions about” Max Scherzer and Kris Bryant, while FanSided’s Robert Murray reports that the Rays are also one of the teams who have spoken to the Rangers about right-hander Kyle Gibson.
As always with Tampa Bay, payroll will be a critical factor in any acquisition, particularly since all of these players represent larger financial commitments than the Rays are usually willing to make. As Passan notes, however, the Rays’ deep farm system can act as a counterweight to those salaries — the Nationals, Cubs, or Rangers could possibly cover most or all of the remaining salaries for their trade chips if the Rays were willing to include some of their higher-tier minor leaguers. It can be reasonably assumed that Wander Franco is untouchable in trade talks, but beyond that, the Rays could be willing to budge on other noteworthy prospects if it meant landing a player that could help them win a World Series.
Scherzer presents a particularly interesting case, since the Nationals are solely responsible for the final $7.5MM installment of Scherzer’s original signing bonus, and the roughly $11.8MM remaining of his $35MM salary for 2021 is entirely deferred until 2028. Beyond just kicking the financial can down the road for much of the decade, the Rays might very well even be in a new city (and have new revenue streams) available by that point, since the Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field is up in 2027.
Scherzer would have to okay the move to Tampa by waiving his no-trade clause, and recent reports suggest that he would be more open to playing for a team on the west coast. This doesn’t necessarily mean Scherzer would veto a proposed move to Tampa Bay, but it is possible the Rays might not get the nod if Scherzer was presented with multiple trade options, such as a potential move to one of the NL West powers.
As one executive recently described matters to Murray, Gibson is maybe the “most unpredictable element” of deadline season. While someone like Scherzer obviously has a more proven track record, Gibson has been very good in 2021 but has been much more up-and-down over the course of his eight MLB seasons. Whereas Scherzer and Bryant are free agents after the season, Gibson is controlled through 2022, at the cost of a $7MM salary. The Rays could see acquiring Gibson as a way of checking off one box for their offseason shopping needs….or, given how Tampa operates, they could flip Gibson themselves this winter to save payroll space.
The Cubs have already moved Joc Pederson and Andrew Chafin in trades, and several other players figure to be departing Wrigleyville prior to Friday’s 3pm CT deadline. Bryant is widely expected to be dealt, though the shape of the Cubs’ other trades might contribute to what exactly Chicago does in moving the former NL MVP. Should the Cubs move a significant amount of money off their books in other deals, the team could be more open to absorbing more of Bryant’s salary (around $6.8MM remaining) in order to obtain better prospects from the Rays.
Adding both Cruz and Bryant would represent a major boost to an already-solid Tampa Bay lineup, and Bryant also brings the versatility that a DH-only player like Cruz lacks. The Rays’ penchant for defensive flexibility could see Bryant used at either corner infield position or anywhere in the outfield, depending on matchups and situations. Any potential positional logjam could be alleviated by the trade itself, if the Rays sent a position player off their Major League roster back to the Cubs.