ST. PETERSBURG -- The swap meet is on. Will the Rays be participants this season as Major League Baseball's July 31 Trade Deadline draws near?
Based on the way the Rays' season has gone to date, complete with multiple injuries to key players, the team is facing an odd scenario.
"We have had a difficult time getting even most of our core guys on the field together," said Tampa Bay executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "Having some of our core players on the DL does complicate our process a little -- with any potential deal, we have to look both at the short-term fit and the long-term fit when we get healthy.
"But these are never simple decisions and we are used to balancing many variables as is. This adds another layer, but it doesn't change our approach dramatically. That said, the health of our own guys will go a long way in determining our course of action."
Evan Longoria remains the team's biggest name on the disabled list, particularly considering the Rays' overall lack of offense. Recent developments suggest that the earliest possible date Longoria could return is early August.
The Rays have used utility players at third to fill the hole as best they can, but Longoria left big shoes to fill. Will Tampa Bay try to trade for a player to play third until Longoria returns? Tough to say since the question cannot be answered regarding when exactly Longoria will return.
In addition to Longoria's absence, the Rays have struggled at shortstop this season. Elliot Johnson has produced offensively, but he has had trouble at times in the field, though he seems to be smoothing out those problems of late. Also, the Rays need another run-producing bat in the lineup -- or do they? If Luke Scott and Carlos Pena can turn around their seasons and produce at the level they have for most of their careers, another bat might not be needed.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he talks about "stuff" with Friedman.
"Almost every day we converse, whether by text, phone, in person here -- it's a constant dialogue," Maddon said. "There are different things you'd like to have. Obviously you'd like to get guys well.
"You can look at the field yourself and see where we might need some more help. Longo comes back and Matt [Joyce] comes back, and Sam [Fuld] comes back, all of a sudden you've got some pretty good acquisitions right there. Rather than try and get somebody, it's more about pinpointing when some of our guys might be well."
Friedman echoed Maddon when he said:
"Without question, getting our core players healthy will be absolutely critical, and will give us a lift greater than basically any deal we could make," Friedman said. "But we still have to look at every avenue that might help us, and we would never let our injuries become an excuse for not doing that."
Thus, do the Rays make a deal? Tough call, but Tampa Bay is always looking to improve the club, whether it's the Trade Deadline or the middle of December.
"We are always working to identify players who might be able to help us in different scenarios," Friedman said. "As we look at the market, there are often many factors that have to line up for a deal to make sense. Our goal is to be as thorough as we can in exploring the many possibilities, so that we're in a position to act if we see something that might improve our chances."
If the Rays do decide to trade for a player of quality, there is little doubt the team they trade with will want starting pitching. Not trading their starters in the past has worked well for the team. When Jeff Niemann went down with a fracture in his right leg, the Rays were able to bring up Alex Cobb. And when Jeremy Hellickson had to go on the disabled list with a tired right shoulder, they were able to bring up Chris Archer. And remember, Tampa Bay still has a starter in Wade Davis, who just happens to be working as a reliever this season.
"The fact that we've been thick [with depth at starting pitching] and we've been able to cover [if a pitcher gets injured] is critical," Maddon said. "You've got to be able to cover. If you can't cover pitching, that will eventually show up, that's going to be a bad thing. So we've been able to cover there."
Plenty will be written and said in the coming weeks about whether the Rays will be buyers, sellers or remain pat this season. Maddon doesn't believe the team will be active, which has normally been the case for Tampa Bay at the Trade Deadline.
"I really don't [think we'll be active]," Maddon said. "Honestly I don't. I don't anticipate a whole lot of anything. Again, my biggest anticipation is getting people well."