A look at Rays' SP situation as Deadline approaches

July 21st, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- The lineup’s collective slump makes it easy to forget. Same goes for every lead lost by the bullpen.

But right now, the Rays’ most obvious need approaching the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline is another starting pitcher.

That may seem odd. Shane McClanahan is back from the injured list and looked great in Texas. Tyler Glasnow has found his footing. Zach Eflin is coming off a clunker in Kansas City, but he’s otherwise been excellent. And rookie Taj Bradley has undeniable stuff, despite uneven results.

But it’s probably not realistic to expect the Rays to bullpen their way through a spot in the rotation until October. Maybe the answer turns out to be Zack Littell, who was stretched out to 3 1/3 innings and pitched well on Wednesday. Maybe Erasmo Ramírez gets an opportunity and runs with it. Maybe Josh Fleming works his way back, Cooper Criswell gets a chance or someone else emerges from within the organization.

More likely, the Rays will fill that spot over the next week and a half. Thus, the blast of recent rumors with that familiar Trade Deadline vocabulary.

They’re “considering” the Tigers’ Michael Lorenzen. They’re “doing homework” on the Cubs’ Marcus Stroman. They’ve “engaged in trade talks” about White Sox veteran Lance Lynn while also “extensively scouting” Cardinals starters Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty. Lucas Giolito, Paul Blackburn -- the list goes on.

And of course, they’re a “wild card” in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes that may or may not happen and may or may not cost more than anyone is comfortable paying.

This all makes plenty of sense. If there’s a proven starter out there, the Rays should be considering, expressing interest, doing their homework, etc. "Casting a wide net," in Trade Deadline speak.

They lost Jeffrey Springs to season-ending surgery in April, and Drew Rasmussen won’t be coming back this year, either. Shane Baz is still recovering from his own Tommy John surgery. Fleming hasn’t pitched in nearly two months. They let go of Yonny Chirinos, who struggled in his starting/bulk-inning stints and had too much service time to be optioned to Triple-A. Most options in Durham aren’t exactly Major League-tested.

Plus, all four of the Rays’ top starters come with either injury or workload concerns. McClanahan’s back acted up on him. Glasnow has missed a lot of time in the past few years. The Rays will look for opportunities to give Eflin a breather, based on his past workload. And Bradley is a 22-year-old who pitched a career-high 133 1/3 innings in the Minors last season. Tampa Bay needs them strong through October, which means sharing the load now.

Is there also room and rationale to add beyond the rotation? Sure.

The bullpen has stabilized quite a bit recently, and the return of Andrew Kittredge should go a long way toward further improving that group, but there’s always room for another dynamic arm.

And it's become clear lately that the lineup needs a spark from somewhere. It may just have to come from the hitters the Rays have, nearly all of whom have fallen into deep slumps this month after starting the season off hot. Realistically, it's difficult to see many spots -- besides catcher -- they would be comfortable attempting to upgrade over their existing options, unless it’s an obvious game-changer like Ohtani.