KANSAS CITY -- The All-Star Game is over. The MLB Draft has come and gone. The post-break portion of the Rays’ schedule begins tonight.
Yes, that means it’s time to talk about the Trade Deadline.
The next 11 days should be full of rumor-mongering and deal-making. Some acquisitions will fly under the radar, like the Rays’ recent trade for catcher Christian Bethancourt. One could be a seismic, franchise-altering deal involving a player on a future Hall of Fame track: Nationals outfielder Juan Soto.
There are two wrinkles to this year’s Deadline. One is the availability of Soto, the kind of generational young star with multiple years of control who’s rarely available. The other, which won’t generate as many headlines, is the new postseason format that includes three Wild Card spots in each league.
General manager Peter Bendix said Thursday he expects trade talks to pick up “soon” as front offices shift their focus away from the three-day Draft that took place during the All-Star break. It’s just not clear what shape those talks will take.
“Generally speaking, I think there's many more teams within striking distance of a playoff spot than in the past. And I don't know exactly what that's going to mean for the market, but I don't think anyone else really knows that either,” Bendix said. “So I think there's going to be time to kind of feel out the market, feel out what's available, what the prices are.”
The Rays ended the first half in position to reach the playoffs as the top American League Wild Card club, but they have a ton of competition and a tough schedule ahead of them. And with so many key players injured but hoping to return, there’s some uncertainty facing president of baseball operations Erik Neander, Bendix and the rest of the front office about their team’s needs.
“You do have to keep in mind the players that you expect to come back, but you also can't take anything for granted between those players’ recoveries as well as the chance of other players getting hurt,” Bendix said. “You're always trying to keep an eye on the future at the same time, while also making this year's team as strong as possible, so it's a delicate balance. And as a result, we're going to be considering a lot of different things as we do every year.
“I don't know what's actually going to come into play, but we're going to be in play on just about everything that we can.”
It’s hard to imagine them actually pulling off such a massive deal for someone who will cost a ton in terms of players and dollars, especially with major-market clubs likely in pursuit, but it’d be wrong to count out the Rays entirely. They were in on Max Scherzer before last year’s Trade Deadline. They made a bid for Freddie Freeman this spring. They could keep Soto, 23, for three pennant races or flip him later for a haul of their own. Few teams, if any, can match the talent and depth of their farm system or the creativity and open-mindedness of their front office.
“I think we're always going to be exploring every player that might be available, and I think we've built up enough depth in our farm system that I think there is a possibility for just about any player who's out there,” Bendix said. “So I think we're going to be in the middle of a lot of these discussions. … The farm system is really the lifeblood of what we do. This time of the year, the farm system is discussed in trades, but really, it's everything that we do throughout the entire year.”
Would it cost a lot? Of course. Who’s willing to pay that price to land the closest thing we have to Ted Williams? That’ll be the story in baseball over the next 11 days.