As contenders in both the AL East and Wild Card races, the Tampa Bay Rays will be buyers instead of sellers at the MLB trade deadline.
The Tampa Bay Rays were expected to be active at the MLB trade deadline, though entering the summer portion of the 2017 season, most expected the club to be shopping ace Chris Archer, impending free agent Alex Cobb or one of several other valuable players sure to receive interest from better teams with bigger payrolls in bigger markets.
However, the Rays have played far better than expected this season. Heading into Sunday’s series finale with the Texas Rangers, Tamp Bay is 51-47 overall, 3.5 games out of first place in the ultracompetitive American League East and holds a one-game lead in the even more crowded AL Wild Card race. As a result, Tampa Bay made the decision to buy instead of sell, and even kicked off the summer trade season by acquiring Adeiny Hechavarria from the Marlins June 29.
The addition of Hechavarria has helped the team’s depth in the middle infield. A terrific defensive shortstop, Hechavarria has allowed Tampa Bay to shift Tim Beckham to second base, where he can share playing time with Brad Miller. Hopefully, the two can improve what has been one of the team’s worst productive positions. The Rays are tied for 27th in the big leagues in Wins Above Replacement (-0.2) at second this season, with the club’s players hitting .200/.313/.335 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI combined.
Although it’s also possible the Rays will look for more help at second, Tampa Bay’s biggest need now is in the bullpen. Rays relievers have posted a 4.35 ERA, 4.14 FIP and 1.5 fWAR, which ranks 21st in the majors. Though the club added Sergio Romo from the Dodgers Saturday, there’s still room for improvement. And with that in mind, we explore five potential moves the Rays should make at the MLB trade deadline.
5. Trade for Brandon Phillips and Jim Johnson
With the reports surrounding the Braves and a potential deal with the Twins for starting pitcher Jaime Garcia, it is clear Atlanta is willing to discuss trades involving impending free agents. Therefore, Atlanta second baseman Brandon Phillips, who like Garcia was acquired by the Braves via trade before the season and will be a free agent at the end of the year, is a viable option.
Phillips has hit .294/.338/.446 with eight home runs, 24 doubles, 35 RBI and 47 runs scored with the Braves. Though he hasn’t won a Gold Glove at second since 2012, Phillips is still a solid defensive second baseman, and he has shown enough speed to steal seven bases in 11 attempts this season. $13 million of the $14 million Phillips is scheduled to make this season will be paid for by the Reds, so the Rays would be responsible for very little if any of Phillips’ salary.
Though Phillips has been struggling with hamstring tightness in recent days, the injury isn’t expected to be serious for the dependable 36-year-old, who has been dependable enough to play 121 or more games every year since 2006.
As for bullpen help, the Braves have several relief pitchers that would appeal to Tampa Bay. Jose Ramirez is a 27-year-old right-handed fireballer with a 2.79 ERA in 43 games, Arodys Vizcaino has posted a 2.52 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 35.2 innings, and closer Jim Johnson has a 3.92 ERA with 22 saves and 50 strikeouts in 41.1 innings. Johnson has actually been better than his ERA would indicate this season, having posted a 2.45 FIP in 41 appearances. Johnson has allowed just 14 walks and two home runs.