ST. PETERSBURG -- Based on the Rays' lack of performance in the first half, they are earmarked to become sellers as the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.Despite the underperformance of Tampa Bay's rotation this season, the organization has a group of coveted starters at the Major League level and
ST. PETERSBURG -- Based on the Rays' lack of performance in the first half, they are earmarked to become sellers as the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.
Despite the underperformance of Tampa Bay's rotation this season, the organization has a group of coveted starters at the Major League level and a lot of depth down on the farm.
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The Rays' policy has always been to listen to anybody who wants to discuss a trade. Normally all players are available, so any deals come down to whether Tampa Bay thinks it is improving its club.
Given the lack of available starting pitching around the league, the Rays hold the upper hand for teams hoping to procure a starter who might push them over the top. Tampa Bay could afford to trade one or even two starters if the yield is right.
Any trades the Rays make would need to bring a Major Leaguer or another organization's top prospect/prospects in return.
Pie in the sky would be a trade that would bring a catcher who could start for years to come. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, high-performing Major League catchers are tough to come by.
Any of the Rays' starters -- save for Blake Snell -- could be acquired if the right deal fell into place. The question is: Which pitcher in the group do other teams covet most?
Matt Moore has been the best of the group over the past month. Chris Archer has over-the-top potential, but he has underpeformed more than any other starter in the rotation. Jake Odorizzi has been the most consistent of the group over the past two seasons. And Drew Smyly has struggled since having a solid first month of the season.
Despite what the individual numbers representing each of the pitchers in the group say, potential trade partners see all of the pitchers as help that could be acquired. It's a seller's market, so if the Rays do in fact decide to get active, the yield could be great.
WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?
Finishing the first half in the fashion the Rays did would require playing the second half like the 1927 Yankees just to get back into contention. Said turnarounds are unlikely, particularly if trades weaken the club for 2016 to strengthen it for future years. Thus, the idea will be to finish as strong as possible, and to get a good look at the players at the Major League level and those coming up through the system. That way, the front office can make quality decisions about the composition of the 2017 team, while not alienating the fan base.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Finishing strong will ultimately require that several players step up and assert themselves.
The return of Kevin Kiermaier to center field after the All-Star break should help in the field. And the return of Alex Cobb from Tommy John surgery should bolster the rotation, though pitchers returning from the surgery typically have command issues they must overcome initially.
Mikie Mahtook will likely get a good look once he returns from the DL, and the offense will get a lift when Steve Pearce returns -- unless he is traded as many expect.
One of the strengths of the organization has been its patience and not making knee-jerk reactions. A lot of fans would like nothing better than to see the front office blow up the 2016 team and start over. Expect the Rays to take the prudent approach, evaluating what they have, cullling the dead wood, then proceeding with caution -- keeping one eye on the present and another on the future.
If Archer can return to the form he displayed during the first half of the 2015 season, the Rays would have a bona fide top-of-the-rotation pitcher going into next season. However, the right-hander's body of work does not suggest that will happen. In his past 34 starts, he is 7-19 with a 4.31 ERA.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
If the second half opens the way the first half ended, the Rays could opt to get a look at the likes of right-handers Jacob Faria or Jaime Schultz, two of the organization's most coveted starting pitchers. Someone like Ryne Stanek might also get a look, as the hard-throwing right-hander recently moved to the bullpen and might serve well in that role at the Major League level.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.