The Tampa Bay Rays have struggled lately, winning just twice in their last nine games. They’ve dropped out of a playoff spot for the time being. Entering Friday’s action they sit a half game back of the Oakland Athletics for the American League’s second Wild Card. They also have the Boston Red Sox breathing down their necks after dropping a weekend series to them. The answer to their problems could be sitting above the border in Marcus Stroman.
And as they old saying goes: When it rains, it pours. The Rays announced on Thursday that reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell needs arthroscopic surgery. The procedure will remove loose bodies from his elbow and will sideline him until September. Tampa Bay is also still without Tyler Glasnow, out since leaving a May 10 start with a forearm strain. It’s still unclear when or if he’s going to return this season.
It was no secret that the Rays were in the market for bullpen help. With Snell’s injury, they may be looking for a starter now, too. Well, it just so happens that the team they’re getting set to face this weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays, has the excellent aforementioned starter on the trade block. Additionally, they have an outstanding closer in Ken Giles, who is also rumored to be available.
A Hypothetical Blockbuster Between the Rays and Blue Jays
Don’t let Marcus Stroman’s 6-11 record through 21 starts fool you. The diminutive right-hander has bounced back from a disappointing 2018 season in a big way, posting a 2.96 ERA and 3.52 FIP in 124.2 innings while earning his first career All-Star selection. He may not rack up strikeouts, with a K/9 of just 7.15, but he makes up for it by being a ground ball machine. Stroman’s ground ball rate is 56.3%, and that’s actually below his career mark of 59.4%.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan listed the Rays as one of the teams involved in the Marcus Stroman derby, but not among those who’ve shown the most interest. However, that was before Snell’s injury. If the Rays are still serious about making the playoffs this year despite losing Snell, they should be very interested in Stroman now.
Giles has long seemed a fit for Tampa, as their need for bullpen help as been evident for a while. It’s only gotten more and more clear of late. So many of Tampa Bay’s losses during its recent slump seem to have followed a formula. The offense fails to add on and the bullpen blows it late.
Giles has been one of baseball’s most dominant relievers this year. He is posting a 1.59 ERA and 1.55 FIP over 34 innings of work out of Toronto’s bullpen. He’s posted an absurd 15.35 K/9 while converting 14 of 15 save opportunities. He’d be a massive addition to Tampa Bay’s bullpen.
There will be plenty of teams interested in both Stroman and Giles. However, armed with arguably Major League Baseball’s best farm system, the Rays have the ammunition to land both. Right now, it is a matter of whether they want to acquire both.
The Division is Slipping Away
The Rays nine-and-a-half game division deficit may impact how aggressive they are at the deadline. They’re likely only playing for a Wild Card now. Yes, there’s still two months of baseball left, but the Rays only have two games left with the Yankees.
That’s good news for them in that they’ve struggled mightily against New York. They’ve gone 5-12 and been outscored 95-50 in the process. Somehow it’s felt even more lopsided than that. Frankly, the Rays don’t deserve to win the division given how thoroughly the Yankees have dominated the season series against them.
It’s bad news in that they won’t have much opportunity to make up their own ground against them and will have to rely on getting a lot of help from other teams. Baseball Reference’s playoff odds give the Yankees a 95.1% chance of winning the division right now.
It’s why the Rays probably wouldn’t have as much interest in trading for a starter/closer combo like Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, who are both pending free agents. They may be unavailable now anyway due to the San Francisco Giants‘ recent surge back into Wild Card contention in the National League. While it may not make much sense to surrender a bounty of prospects for rentals if they’re likely just playing to get to the Wild Card Game, both Stroman and Giles are under team control for next season, too.
Even under the assumption that both Wander Franco and Brendan McKay are off the table in trade talks, the Rays still have seven more prospects on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 list that they could put a deal together from. The Blue Jays have a pretty good farm system of their own, but it’s position player heavy. They would likely be interested in pitchers such as Matthew Liberatore and Shane Baz. Nate Lowe could also be of interest to the Jays as a potential replacement for Justin Smoak, their first baseman who is a pending free agent and could also be traded in the next few days.
The Rays and Blue Jays seem to match up nicely, and a blockbuster trade for Marcus Stroman could be in the works.
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