The Tampa Bay Rays opened the second half of the MLB season with a season high 10-game home stand. The Rays have struggled with consistency this season and the homestand was an opportunity for Tampa Bay to make a statement. Instead, the Rays floundered, squandered some quality pitching and took just four of their ten games and now find themselves in a very precarious position as just eight days remain before the trade deadline.
After 96 games, Tampa is a measly two games above .500 but 2 1/2 games out of the wildcard race. Six American League teams are competing for a wildcard spot this season, but no team has really stepped forward to stake a claim as of yet. The closest team to really making a run in the last 10 games has to be the Oakland A’s, winners of eight of their last 10 contests.
If the playoffs were to start today, the two wildcard berths would go to the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Angels with the A’s just 1/2 game out of the race. Ironically, the Rays will face all there teams in their upcoming 9-game road trip. In fact, Tampa Bay will now play 19 of their next 25 games on the road in the coming weeks. The Rays are just 21-22 on the road so far this season.
So, with the MLB trade deadline looming, what should the Rays be considering?
CF B.J. Upton-
Upton is heading for free agency after this season. The Rays are not going to be bringing back the controversial center fielder next season, they won’t be able to afford him. Yes, the Rays could get a compensatory pick next year for Upton but why not shop him now and get some top prospects this season? With Sam Fuld coming back possibly as soon as Wednesday, the Rays could place Fuld in left field, move Desmond Jennings to center and keep Matt Joyce in right.
SP James Shields-
Yes, I realize that James Shields has pitched some big games in his career with the Rays. However, the torch has been passed to David Price as the ace of the Rays staff. I have never been a huge fan of Shields, and I was a proponent of trading him after his career season in 2011 because I thought his trade value would never be higher. An innings eater, Shields is a workhorse. But, Shields has just one win in his last seven starts and surrendered 45 hits in four starts prior to his July 20th start. “Big Game” will be due $9 million next season and David Price will be eligible for arbitration. Trade Shields and recall Archer, sign Price long term. Several online rumors suggest that Shields is generating interest from the Angels and Tigers. Think Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza, the Rays won’t be afraid to trade a starting pitcher, especially if it nets a wealth of talent in return.
The experiment with Matsui was a nice thought but bringing back Johnny Damon would have made more sense. Matsui is one of the few low cost-high reward type moves the current Rays front office has missed on. I know manager Joe Maddon has voiced his support for Matsui but the numbers don’t lie. In his last 20 at bats, he has had 26 runners on base and has driven in just one run. He is an aging veteran which has had nearly 100 at bats and is hitting just .147 with 22 strikeouts. Move on.
The next nine games of the regular season could very well determine the remainder of the Rays season as they take on three teams they are currently looking up at in the standings. If Joe Maddon has any of his voodoo magic left in his latest bottler of Cabernet, it’s time to pop the cork and use it. The offense is flat. A team batting average of .233, a slugging percentage of .374 and an base percentage of .316. Maddon continues to massage the lineup on a seemingly daily basis but nothing is currently working. Injuries continue and the team can’t seem to overcome the loss of 3B Evan Longoria, a player whose return remains in limbo this season.
Can the Rays rebound and reach the playoffs this season? Yes, simply look at what happened last year. However, this is not the same Rays team offensively that they were last season. Last season’s team flowed. This season, everything seems to be an effort for the Rays. Injuries, inconsistency and the lack of timely hitting continues to plague Tampa Bay this season. 66 games remain and no games loom larger than the next nine on the road.
The Rays started this season with high expectations, but at this point, perhaps the Rays would be better off re-grouping for the next few seasons while continuing to develop young players and locking in David Price long term. It appears that the offensive woes are just too much to overcome this season.