Rays: Cruz was Deadline's 'biggest deal'

Club makes some depth moves after adding All-Star slugger eight days earlier

July 31st, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- After trading high-leverage reliever Diego Castillo for right-hander JT Chargois and infield prospect Austin Shenton on Thursday night, Rays general manager Erik Neander set the stage for a Trade Deadline day that would be busy but perhaps not overwhelming. “The big move, I think, for us was the acquisition,” Neander said less than 20 hours before Friday’s Deadline.

And as the dust settled on a wild day around the league, that proved to be true. Cruz was arguably the highest-profile acquisition the Rays have ever made this time of year, and he remained the highlight of the defending American League champions’ Trade Deadline haul.

“I look at that as the biggest deal that I've been a part of us making at a Deadline,” manager Kevin Cash said. “So that's a pretty big deal.”

Tampa Bay made a few smaller moves Friday to enhance the club’s depth, picking up right-hander Shawn Armstrong from the Orioles, then sending pitching prospect Peyton Battenfield to Cleveland for outfielder Jordan Luplow and right-hander DJ Johnson.

“We felt like we improved our club,” Neander said Friday afternoon. “We felt like we added some pieces to our Minor Leagues that we anticipate helping us down the line. But, in our opinion, we made our Major League team considerably better as well.”

Eight days ago, the Rays made their big move by acquiring the veteran slugger Cruz from the Twins in exchange for two highly regarded pitching prospects, Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman. After being limited for two days by a right foot contusion, Cruz returned to the Rays' lineup Friday night against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Had the trade happened Friday rather than last week, it might have been viewed as the kind of Deadline coup other clubs made in the final hours before 4 p.m. ET.

“The Nellie Cruz acquisition was a big one for us and was one that just happened early,” Neander said. “But that was a very targeted move that, by and large, filled out our position player group.”

The next day, Tampa Bay dealt 41-year-old starter Rich Hill to the Mets for injured reliever Tommy Hunter and prospect Matt Dyer, clearing a spot in their rotation for Luis Patiño. The 21-year-old right-hander showed his potential Thursday afternoon, shutting out the Yankees for six innings in the Rays’ 14-0 win, and Tampa Bay has high hopes for him moving forward.

The Rays didn’t address their rotation at the Trade Deadline, aside from moving Hill out of it. But they believe in what they have -- young arms like Patiño, Shane McClanahan and Josh Fleming along with the more experienced Ryan Yarbrough and Michael Wacha -- and what’s on the way. Chris Archer is nearing the end of a rehab assignment. Shane Baz could make an impact after the Olympics. Left-hander Dietrich Enns has been outstanding at Triple-A Durham this season. And Tyler Glasnow hopes to pitch at some point before the end of the season.

“We do believe in our group,” Neander said. “We honest to goodness have a lot of confidence in them, and [that is] part of the reason that we didn't ultimately go out and do a big move in the rotation. Time will tell.”

Then came Thursday night’s surprising trade with the Mariners, who acquired Castillo to bolster the back of their bullpen in exchange for Chargois and Shenton. Chargois joined the Rays’ active roster on Friday, and Shenton is now their No. 22 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. The Rays believe Chargois is a good pitcher who’s only getting better, and the right-hander was clearly thrilled to get to work Friday at Tropicana Field.

“To be in this moment right now where it's like, dude, this is the AL East -- and it's a contender,” Chargois said. “This is the big leagues right here. Yeah, this is the real deal. ... I’m pretty pumped to see what this place brings.”

Understanding that it’s difficult to address depth concerns in August and September with the single Trade Deadline, the Rays made moves in that direction Friday by acquiring Armstrong from the Orioles for cash considerations then swinging a deal with the Indians for Luplow and Johnson.

“What you have now is what you have, by and large, short of any Minor League trades or the like,” Neander said. “We wanted to make sure we're in a position to have depth options we like. As is often the case, it's not always the household names, but we're OK with that.”

Of course, for every deal that gets made, there are dozens -- if not hundreds -- of conversations that lead to trade rumors. The Rays were involved in no shortage of those over the past few days.

The Rays were one of many teams to pursue former Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who wound up going to the Dodgers alongside Trea Turner in a blockbuster trade. Tampa Bay had the prospect capital to overwhelm Washington in a deal, but Scherzer could essentially name his destination by exercising a no-trade clause earned via his 10-and-5 rights and reportedly preferred to join a West Coast team like the Dodgers.

Tampa Bay was also linked to starter José Berríos, who wound up with Toronto for a pair of Top 100 prospects; right-hander Kyle Gibson, who went to the Phillies alongside reliever Ian Kennedy; Trevor Story, who remained with the Rockies; and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant (Giants) and Craig Kimbrel (White Sox).

In the end, the Rays didn’t line up on any other moves. But they like the roster they have, and they believe it got better over the last eight days.

“I'd say we were in the mix of just about anything that was out there, any player that was moved, more or less. We were in there. We did our work on it. We were prepared,” Neander said. “But we really like our group.”