The Rays have boasted the best record in the majors all season long and currently sit at 56-23 with a five game lead over the Orioles in the AL East. Given the club’s phenomenal performance in the first half of the 2023 campaign, it’s of little surprise to hear that the club’s front office is planning to make additions at the trade deadline this season. Given that, it should come as no surprise that GM Peter Bendix made just that claim in conversation with reporters including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
“This year’s club is really strong,” Bendix said. “We have a chance to do some special things. So, I think we’re going to be doing everything we can to make this club stronger, give it the best chance to win a World Series.”
While the news comes as little surprise given the club’s fantastic performance in the first half, it’s noteworthy nonetheless thanks to the Rays’ reputation for always keeping one eye on the future. After all, this is the same front office that didn’t let an AL pennant in 2020 stop them from trading ace Blake Snell to the Padres. While Bendix didn’t completely shut the door on the possibility of a trade or two with an eye toward future seasons, he did push back on the idea the club would entertain moves that extreme, saying that the club is “unlikely to be removing good players from this team, especially if you don’t have another player to back it up.”
Of course, it’s fairly easy to make the argument that the club is deep enough in position player talent that it could weather losing a hitter or two in trade this summer. Even with Brandon Lowe on the IL, the Rays sport a phenomenal infield of Yandy Diaz, Taylor Walls, Wander Franco, and Isaac Parades. Meanwhile, each of Luke Raley, Josh Lowe, Jose Siri, Randy Arozarena, and Harold Ramirez have made compelling cases for regular starts in the outfield. Given this, it’s not hard to imagine the club looking to take advantage of its considerable depth to address weaknesses in other areas, even as Bendix’s comments would indicate the likes of Franco, Diaz, Arozarena and Parades are all varying degrees of off the table in trade discussions.
Bendix goes on to discuss what those weaknesses are, readily admitting that the club is likely to look to bolster its pitching staff this offseason. That hardly comes as a surprise considering that the club has lost Josh Fleming and Drew Rasmussen to injury in the rotation while the bullpen’s 4.51 FIP is bottom three in the AL this season while their 3.94 ERA ranks in the bottom five. Topkin, for his part, cautions that it seems unlikely that the Rays would add “veterans due tens of millions of dollars” or win a bidding war for highly sought-after pitchers.
That would imply a serious pursuit of perhaps the two top starters who could be available on the trade market this deadline, Marcus Stroman of the Cubs and Eduardo Rodriguez of the Tigers, may not be in the cards. Not only has each veteran hurler impressed with fantastic run prevention numbers in the first half this season, but each is guaranteed a hefty sum of money beyond 2023, should they choose to opt-in and forgo the open market: Stroman holds a player option for 2024 worth $21MM, while Rodriguez has three years and $49MM left on his contract following this season should he not exercise his opt-out clause.
Even without a pursuit of a player of Stroman or Rodriguez’s caliber, plenty of interesting options figure to be available nonetheless. In the event the Cubs sell, they could make former Ray Drew Smyly available in addition to Stroman, while the Cardinals could consider dealing pending free agents like Jack Flaherty or Jordan Montgomery as they look to retool their roster. Mike Clevinger of the White Sox, Rich Hill of the Pirates, and Michael Lorenzen of the Tigers are among other pending free agents who could be made available at the deadline, speculatively speaking.
The Rays figure to have a much wider array of options as they look to rework their bullpen. The Royals have already indicated that the likes of Aroldis Chapman and Scott Barlow will be made available to clubs, while Brent Suter and Daniel Bard of the Rockies, Kyle Finnegan of the Nationals, Joey Kelly and Reynaldo Lopez of the White Sox, and Alex Lange of the Tigers all also seem likely to be available if rival clubs come calling. Any of those names would provide a boost to a Tampa bullpen that has struggled to find health and consistency outside of Jason Adam, Kevin Kelly, and Colin Poche.
Of course, with over a month left before the trade deadline on August 1, the landscape of the pitching market is sure to change in the coming weeks. There’s still time for a team currently tentatively expected to sell to turn things around, or for teams currently planning on buying to struggle and be forced to reconsider their stances. Pitching also isn’t the only place where the Rays could look to improve their club, as Topkin opines that the club could make a move at catcher if an upgrade over their current tandem of Christian Bethancourt and Francisco Mejia presents itself.
Regardless of how the trade market ultimately develops from here, the Rays have given their fans plenty to be excited about with their start to the season, and if Bendix’s words are any indication, the front office plans to be active in improving the club as they head into the second half.