ST. PETERSBURG -- Just a few weeks ago, the Rays were atop the American League and were certainly headed to being one of the more aggressive teams with trade talks set to heat up over the next month.
But after posting a 13-16 record in June, Tampa Bay is now one of the teams looking up at the Yankees, who have rattled off 14 wins in their last 16 games, which could affect the way the Rays go into the July 31 Trade Deadline.
“If you look at where we were two weeks ago and where we are today, you appreciate how quickly the standings can change,” said Rays general manager Erik Neander. “I think we’re likely to be the most aggressive the more that the division is in play.”
The Rays enter this weekend’s four-game set against the Yankees 6 1/2 games back in the division. The two teams are also set to meet after the All-Star break for a four-game set at Yankee Stadium starting on July 15. These eight games against Yankees over the next two weeks will serve as a big test for the Rays on the field, and they will have key off-the-field implications, too.
“These four games here before the break against New York give you an opportunity to tighten the gap and we get them a little bit more after that, so it is very important,” Neander said. “Our standing within the division will probably dictate how aggressive we’ll look to be.”
Last season, the Rays struck key deals in July, trading some veteran players in exchange for players that could help the team down the line. This season, they will continue to be opportunistic, but they would like to add some key pieces depending on how the next couple of weeks play out.
“I think we’re always open to transactions and trades, and I will expect that to be no different [this year],” Neander said. “We never go into it thinking we need to make a trade, or three trades, or five trades. We just try and be in position to make moves that can have a chance to help us. That will be our mentality over the course of July this year. Our position in the standings is different than what it was last year and two years ago and so on, but I think we’ll look to be opportunistic. If things line up, there’s no limit. But if we don’t make any [trades], we’re OK with that, too. We just want to be prepared and in position.”
Adding a bullpen arm or two and a right-handed bat that can hit against left-handed pitching are two of the items on the wish list, but the Rays have also been pleased with what they’ve gotten out of their current roster, which has posted a 50-37 record through 87 games.
“Would we like to be better? Yes. Would we had liked to not experience the stretch that we’ve had here over the last two weeks? Of course,” Neander said. “But those stretches over the 162-game season are inevitable. We’ve had a few guys that have been out of action for us that has made it tough, but if we can take care of business before the break here at home, we’ll be really pleased in that position.”
One of the crucial contributors the Rays have missed over the last two months is Tyler Glasnow. Before suffering a right forearm strain, Glasnow led the American League with a 1.86 ERA and was beginning to establish himself as one of the best pitchers in the AL. Having Glasnow on the 60-day injured list changes the way the Rays will approach this year’s Deadline, but it’s not necessarily an area they will target, especially with the positive developments of Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks, Ryan Yarbrough and now Brendan McKay.
“Losing Glasnow is a big blow, especially the way he was pitching -- there’s no way around that,” Neander said. “But we do believe in the guys we have, and I think by and large, they’ve done a nice job for us. If there’s an opportunity to help our pitching staff and strengthen it, we’ll do it. If there’s an opportunity to help us anywhere, we’ll do it.”
But first, it’s time to see what they can do against New York.