Rays lengthen rotation with trade for Civale

Righty with 2.34 ERA this season comes from Guardians in deal for MLB's No. 37 prospect

August 1st, 2023

NEW YORK -- At the outset of Spring Training, the Rays dreamed about a rotation with Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Zach Eflin, Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen healthy at the same time, a starting five with talent and upside that no other club could hope to match.

But the harsh reality of injuries intervened almost immediately. Glasnow missed time with a strained left oblique to start the season. Springs and Rasmussen went down with season-ending elbow injuries. McClanahan had a short stint on the injured list, as did Eflin.

Through it all, the Rays still found ways to put together the best rotation ERA (3.75) in the American League. And that starting staff got better Monday afternoon, when the Rays made an aggressive move to add another talented arm to their rotation.

Tampa Bay acquired right-hander from the Guardians for highly touted first-base prospect , a high price to pay for the top item on the Rays’ wish list leading up to Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.

Rays get: RHP
Guardians get: 1B (No. 37 overall prospect)

“This was the most obvious need that we had,” Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander said. “This is the big item for us, so we're pleased to get it done.”

The Rays optioned 22-year-old rookie Taj Bradley to Triple-A Durham after acquiring Civale. That gives them a rotation consisting of McClanahan, Glasnow, Eflin, Civale and reliever-turned-starter Zack Littell. Civale is tentatively slated to make his Tampa Bay debut on Saturday against the Tigers in Detroit.

The Rays have gained a reputation for helping pitchers unlock their potential, turning unheralded arms into useful big leaguers. There is no such reclamation needed for Civale, whose 2.60 ERA dating back to July 8, 2022, is the sixth-best mark among pitchers who have worked at least 120 innings.

This was a move the Rays made with their eyes set on competing for the AL East title and the franchise’s first World Series championship.

“He’s been a really good pitcher, plain and simple, that we have the opportunity to add for a few years here,” Neander said. “I don't think it's all that complicated. He's been really effective. We needed an effective starter and get a chance to have one for a few years.”

The only hesitation that comes with Civale is his injury history. Since the start of the 2021 season, he has had a sprained right middle finger, a sore left glute, a right wrist sprain, right forearm inflammation and a left oblique strain. But Civale has shown just how impactful he can be when he’s healthy.

Civale turned in a 1.45 ERA over six starts in July, striking out 25 batters with seven walks and just one home run in 37 1/3 innings. By the end of that stretch, his season ERA dropped to an impressive 2.34. Civale isn’t a flame-thrower, with a sinker that has averaged 92.2 mph this season, but he keeps hitters off balance with a six-pitch mix headlined by an elite cutter and curveball combination.

In his demeanor and pitching profile, Civale compares more directly to a control and movement artist like Eflin than power arms like Glasnow and McClanahan.

“He's been there, done that, and I think he's pretty close to a really finished product and a very good pitcher,” said manager Kevin Cash, who received rave reviews about Civale from Cleveland manager Terry Francona. “Want to just provide comfort for him, and then we'll learn him more than him learning us.”

Additionally, Civale is more than a rental, as the 28-year-old -- earning $2.6 million this season -- is under club control through the 2025 season. That’s part of the reason he came at such a high cost in the 23-year-old Manzardo, who was MLB Pipeline's No. 4 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system and is now Cleveland’s No. 3. And that was also part of Civale’s appeal to Tampa Bay, which can bring back its entire rotation next season.

“If we're going to pay a big price, it makes it a little bit easier to do it for someone you have a chance to keep around longer than a few months,” Neander said. “This is certainly a case where that applies.”

Manzardo, a left-handed-hitting first baseman, quickly advanced from being a second-round pick in the 2021 Draft to Triple-A Durham this season. He has been sidelined since early July due to a sore left shoulder, but he earned his status as a Top 100 prospect.

But the Rays felt like they had depth in the infield, particularly with All-Star Yandy Díaz under contract through the 2025 season and lefty corner bats Jonathan Aranda and Austin Shenton at Triple-A, plus 2022 first-round Draft pick Xavier Isaac at Single-A Charleston.

“Manzo is going to be a really, really good Major League player,” Neander said. “We're very confident that that's in his future, and certainly wish him nothing but the best.”

With their most obvious need addressed, Neander said the Rays will continue to evaluate their options leading up to the Deadline.

“This was the big item for us,” Neander said. “But if we've got the time, it's our job to use it to see what we can do."