Hearing Chris Archer's name in trade chatter is hardly a surprise. It would be much more shocking if the right-hander wasn't being mentioned with the non-waiver Trade Deadline only eight days away.
The Rays have been receiving interest in Archer for more than two years, holding on to their ace each time. Will Tampa Bay finally make the move to deal Archer, presumably for a haul of prospects?
"He's been pursued for the last two or three years and they've never pulled the trigger," one executive said. "It's still more likely than not that the Rays value him more than any other team does. They don't think they're far off from being relevant in the postseason picture, and he's got three years left. They have to think through it and make sure they're making the right decision."
According to a source, multiple teams have expressed serious interest in Archer, who is 3-4 with a 4.30 ERA in 16 starts this season. Despite the uninspiring numbers so far this year, Archer's Sunday start -- he allowed three earned runs over six innings, striking out 13 batters without issuing a walk against the Marlins -- reminded everybody why he's been so coveted.
"Physically, that's probably the best he's looked all year," the source said. "Punching out 13 and walking none usually leads to a better outcome."
Despite their offseason trades of Evan Longoria, Brad Boxberger, Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. and the late-May deal that sent Alex Colome and Denard Span to the Mariners, the Rays are one of seven American League teams with a winning record entering the week.
At 50-49, though, they stand 19 games behind the first-place Red Sox in the AL East and 9 1/2 games behind the Mariners for the second AL Wild Card spot, leaving them in sell-mode when it comes to their expiring contracts (Nathan Eovaldi, Wilson Ramos, Adeiny Hechavarria, Sergio Romo, Carlos Gomez). But there doesn't appear to be urgency to move controllable players such as Archer and Blake Snell, both of whom Tampa Bay views as important pieces for the next two or three years.
"If it's all about maximizing return, now is the time to deal him," the source said of Archer. "But at some point, they need to hang on to players and not always trade them away."
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At least a half-dozen teams were at Tropicana Field over the weekend to watch Archer and Eovaldi pitch, and while it seems that the latter is a lock to be traded by July 31, there's an alternative scenario that could be in play.
Eovaldi has impressed the Rays so much since returning from Tommy John surgery, there is chatter that Tampa Bay could opt to hang on to him and make him a qualifying offer after the season if the club isn't enamored with any of the trade proposals for the right-hander.
Eovaldi bounced back from his bad July 13 start against the Twins (eight runs in 2 2/3 innings) by tossing six innings of one-run ball against the Marlins on Friday and striking out eight without walking a batter. He's allowed two or fewer runs in four of his past five starts, posting a 1.08 ERA in those outings.
"His stuff right now is better than it's been at any point in his career," one talent evaluator said. "There's the health history, which is a drawback; just how many bullets does he have for the rest of the season? But what he's bringing to the table right now, he's a difference-maker."
Among the teams that could make a move for Eovaldi? The Cubs, who recently had special assistant Jim Benedict watching the Rays for a week.
It remains likely that the Rays will deal Eovaldi, who is slated to become a free agent at the end of the season. If Tampa Bay likes him that much, it could trade him and still try to sign him back as a free agent this offseason, the way the Yankees did with Albertin Chapman in 2016.
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Jacob deGrom remains one of the more interesting names on the trade market, though one general manager isn't sure the National League's Cy Young Award favorite is actually on the trade market.
"I'm not sure how serious they are about moving deGrom," the GM said of the Mets. "I don't see them doing it. It feels like they're just keeping the door open for someone to come in and offer them something absolutely insane. They don't seem that motivated to trade him."
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The Indians are "actively looking" for an outfielder, according to a source, a search that has ramped up since Bradley Zimmer underwent right shoulder surgery that will keep him out for eight to 12 months.
Cleveland is seeking a right-handed hitter who can play either center or right field. Baltimore's Adam Jones has been mentioned as a candidate, while Cincinnati's Adam Duvall and Detroit's Nicholas Castellanos could also be in the mix. A number of available lefty-hitting options -- including Miami's Derek Dietrich, Pittsburgh's Corey Dickerson and Toronto's Curtis Granderson -- could also get a look.
Interestingly, the source added that Cleveland was "pretty quietly heavy" in the Manny Machado derby, though the Indians were disinclined to offer more than the Dodgers did to land the All-Star shortstop.
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Archer and Eovaldi drew the most interest from scouts during this weekend's Rays-Marlins series at the Trop, but a source said a number of players -- Dan Straily, Justin Bour and Dietrich among them -- were on scouts' radar, as well.
Then there's the Marlins' bullpen. Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley continue to garner interest, but it was 38-year-old Brad Ziegler who caught more eyes than any other Miami reliever. Ziegler has allowed just two runs in his past 24 appearances, dating back to June 5, for a minuscule 0.71 ERA in 25 1/3 innings.
"A lot of heads popped up when Ziegler came in the game," one observer said.