At the start of the season, the Tampa Bay Rays were one of the hottest teams in the league, a declaration that still rings true roughly two-thirds of the way through the year. Boasting a 66-45 record, the Rays currently sit in second place in the AL East and third overall in the major leagues.
Looking down the entire Rays lineup, there are a ton of positives as well as a lot of positional depth, with Randy Arozarena, Yandy Díaz, Wander Franco, and Isaac Paredes leading the charge. As a unit, the club sits fourth in terms of home runs (162) and RBIs (550) while also boasting a .445 SLG and a .772 OPS, which ranks fifth in MLB.
On the mound, the Rays rank well on numerous fronts as well. They have held opponents to a league-leading .229 batting average while sitting second in terms of WHIP (1.19) and third in terms of ERA (3.80). They have done so while working with a battered starting rotation that has seen its fair share of injuries.
The club is currently without Jeffrey Springs, Shane Baz, and Drew Rasmussen, while Josh Fleming has been out for an extended period of time with an elbow injury but is expected to return shortly.
Leading the charge in their stead have been Zach Eflin and Shane McClanahan, although McClanahan recently went on the 15-day IL with a forearm strain, which is something you don’t want to hear coming from your pitching corps.
Heading into the trade deadline, the Rays were pretty solid on almost all fronts, but the club could have used another veteran starter to help offset all the injuries. They could have also looked to upgrade behind the plate, although the available options were slim unless the club pulled off an ‘under the radar’ type of deal.
Rays Acquire Aaron Civale From the Guardians
The biggest move the Rays made at the deadline was to help bolster the rotation, adding Aaron Civale from the Guardians in exchange for first-base prospect Kyle Manzardo.
Civale, who missed roughly two months earlier this season with an oblique strain, has bounced back well since his injury, posting a 2.34 ERA through 13 starts. The Connecticut product also owns a 1.039 WHIP with a 3.54 FIP through 77 innings so far on the year, utilizing high spin rates on his curveball and fastball to keep hitters from barreling his pitches. He has also shown excellent command, amassing just a 2.6 BB/9.
This move was something the Rays really needed given the numerous injuries to their rotation. Hopefully, this helps the club avoid some bullpen games down the stretch.
While he did miss some time earlier this season, Civale appears good to go the rest of the way and still has two years of arbitration before becoming free-agent eligible, hence why the Rays dealt such a high-ranking prospect to acquire him.
Heading the opposite way is Manzardo. He will join the Guardians Triple-A system, although he is currently on the injured list with a shoulder strain that could see him miss considerable time before the season comes to a close. Prior to the deal, Manzardo put forward a .238/.342/.442 slash line with 11 home runs and a .783 OPS.
Considering the Tampa Bay Rays’ prospect depth and with Díaz, Paredes, and Luke Raley all able to play on the right side of the diamond, the front office felt comfortable dealing away their former second-round pick.
Lackluster Secondary Trades
When the final bell went, the Rays walked away with reliever Manny Rodríguez, right-hander Adrian Sampson, and catcher Alex Jackson, while trading away right-hander Josh Roberson, international bonus pool money, and right-hander Luis Patiño, who struggled to find a spot on the active roster over the past two seasons. Patiño was a key cog in the Blake Snell trade with the San Diego Padres.
Adding Rodríguez, Sampson, and Jackson are great depth pieces but don’t really enhance the lineup for a shot at a postseason run. That feels like a weird sentence considering the Rays are statistically one of the better teams in the league right now. However, the club is currently trending in the wrong direction, going 8-8 in the month of July and losing their spot as the top dog in the AL East, with the Baltimore Orioles holding a slight one-game lead.
Speaking to the media Tuesday night, general manager Peter Bendix touched on the Rays’ approach at the trade deadline and his belief in the current roster.
“We believe that this group is a championship-caliber group. We believe that they’ve shown that to be the case this season, over the course of the entire season,” Bendix said. “And we believe that that’s the group moving forward that can take us where we want to go.”
In a stacked AL East division and with such a deep farm system, it seems like a missed opportunity that the Rays weren’t able to add another piece to the active roster to help with a playoff push. That said, it was definitely a seller’s market, and the trade deadline itself was less exciting than what fans are used to seeing.
Adding Jackson as depth with Francisco Mejía currently on the IL was key insurance for the club over the next two months (as he can also play in the outfield) and likely signaled just how thin the catching market was at the deadline this year.
Only time will tell if the Civale acquisition will be enough for the Rays this season, as the club is looking for its first World Series win.