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Rays acquire Aguilar in trade with Brewers

@juanctoribio
July 31, 2019

BOSTON -- Leading up to the Trade Deadline, the Rays were actively looking to add a right-handed hitter to their lineup, and Milwaukee’s Jesus Aguilar was right at the top of the list. On Wednesday, the Rays got their man as Tampa Bay acquired Aguilar, 29, from the Brewers in

BOSTON -- Leading up to the Trade Deadline, the Rays were actively looking to add a right-handed hitter to their lineup, and Milwaukee’s Jesus Aguilar was right at the top of the list.

On Wednesday, the Rays got their man as Tampa Bay acquired Aguilar, 29, from the Brewers in exchange for right-hander Jake Faria.

“A right-handed hitter that can contribute as a first baseman or in the DH spot that can bolster our lineup against left-handed pitching was a desire,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said. “Jesus Aguilar is a power right-handed-hitting first baseman that had a down first half of the season, I don’t think there’s a way around that, but he has shown some life here recently.”

The Rays spent the last week looking into the possibility of adding Aguilar, but a week ago, Milwaukee’s asking price was believed to be too high for the first baseman. As the 4 p.m. ET Deadline neared, the Brewers lowered their asking price, and that’s when the Rays pounced.

After hitting 35 home runs in a breakout 2018 season, Aguilar has struggled in '19, slashing .225/.320/.374 with eight home runs. His 80 OPS+ is significantly lower than his 111 career average. While his power is down this season, Aguilar has also been a victim of some bad luck.

Aguilar’s average exit velocity of 90.1 mph is the highest of his career, and his 40.4 hard-hit percentage is near his 41.8 average throughout his career. The expected batting average for Aguilar also shows signs of him getting ready to break out at the plate. His xBA is .246 this season, higher than his actual .225 mark and just below the .255 clip that helped him become an All-Star in 2018.

Perhaps most telling of Aguilar’s misfortunes is that his expected slugging percentage is .447, which is 73 points higher than his actual .374 slugging percentage. That’s the second-highest gap in the Majors among players with at least 250 at-bats, behind Toronto’s Justin Smoak.

“Taking a close look at the ingredients under the hood, we see a lot of reason to believe that there’s life there,” Neander said. “This is someone that is coming off a 35-homer, 100-RBI, All-Star [season] and postseason experience just a year ago. He’s someone that we feel has a great makeup, great character and an obvious need. We’re hopeful and optimistic to get him here the rest of the season and give him a new environment.”

But despite the struggles and tough luck, Aguilar has started to show signs of snapping out of his season-long funk at the plate, slashing .298/.346/.574 with three home runs in 21 games in July.

The Rays also get Aguilar on a team-friendly contract. He will enter his first year of arbitration this offseason, meaning he is still under team control through the 2022 season. Tampa Bay had made it clear that it wanted to add a player that would help the club for the remainder of this season and in future years, and Aguilar fits that description.

Aguilar will get consistent playing time against left-handed pitching and will alternate between first base and designated hitter. He could also slide to third base in an emergency situation.

“He’s going to play a bunch against lefties,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ll find if it’s first base, DH and I know he’s played a little bit of third this year. He’s going to be in there. We’ve already shown the way we mix and match and the versatility. We count on our entire roster, and he’ll play a big role, highly against left-handed pitching.”

Eric Sogard, whom the Rays acquired on Sunday from the Blue Jays, played with Aguilar in Milwaukee and raves about the type of player and person the Rays added on Wednesday.

“He’s a great clubhouse guy,” Sogard said. “Always a smile on his face. Always having fun out there. He’ll fit in here, no problem.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.