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Rays Just a Few Moves From Being Competitive

The Tampa Bay Rays sit at 20-22, 6 games behind the Orioles and Red Sox in the AL East. They’re still fighting the uphill battle against organizations with more money to spend to try to compete annually.  They’ve got an chance to get after it this year and make some noise, but currently sit in an interesting position where they could become sellers and pack it in in preparation for next season should things continue to go awry in key areas.

The modern Rays don’t really sell; they’re always looking to add value and remain competitive while waiting for a little magic dust to come flying in.  I think that’s a good plan again this year as they sit near .500 today, and they’ve got some magic dust on the way.

The pitching staff has reinforcements coming soon: Brad Boxburger will soon return from the DL to fortify the bullpen.  Alex Cobb is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and could help in the second half.  Blake Snell is among the top 15 prospects in baseball and threw 134 innings last year with a 1.41 ERA.

But the problem with all these guys waiting in reserve is that the pitching staff has already been pretty solid and could be even better if a few contributors return to their expected level.  They’re 5th in the AL in xFIP despite Chris Archer sporting a 5.16 ERA and Matt Moore owning an even worse 5.47 figure.  Both guys are former All-Stars.

The pitching staff has been pretty decent and should improve even without the additional reinforcements.

The lineup? They’re a well-rounded and athletic group with a number of moving and interchangeable parts.  They’re currently 3rd in the AL in WAR, but just 11th in runs.  They’ve gotten surprising production from Logan Forsythe, Brandon Guyer, and Steve Pearce.  Corey Dickerson has disappointed, but his .179 BABIP is the worst in the majors and screams that a turnaround is imminent. All that is great, but even when this team is going great, it just doesn’t feel like it’s going to score a lot of runs.

When a team isn’t scoring runs, I often look to see who the first baseman is.  The value of a first baseman is tied almost exclusively to their offensive production. If a team is struggling on offense, chances are it has a hole at first.

So, the Rays need a first baseman and have some pitching.

This should be easy.  First Basemen better than Logan Morrison should be easy to find. There are 59 players listed on the Fangraphs first base leaderboard when you set the minimum plate appearances to zero.  Morrison is 50th in WAR and 48th in wRC+.

Byung-ho Park

A deal for Byung-ho Park makes sense! First, he’s a better first baseman than Morrison.  He’s really cheap, which is a necessity for the Rays. And the Twins could afford to deal Park.  With Joe Mauer entrenched at first for the foreseeable future, and Miguel Sano playing himself out of a position, the Twins may have an excess position-less player here soon. Pllus, the Twins need pitching.  They have the 29th best pitching staff ERA in baseball and there’s little help in the offing.

The Twins could get Jake Odorizzi in order to net themselves a quality, controllable starting pitcher.  Odorizzi is under team control through 2020, by which point the Twins hope that Sano and the other young guys have it figured out.

The Rays get their first baseman who can mash through 2020, and fill in the gaping hole on that side of the diamond. If the Rays had it to do over, they’d probably pay more for Park than the Twin’s $12.5 million, but Tampa has a chance to recover from that mistake. Park can help the time now and into the future.  Tampa can continue their pattern of trading away homegrown starting pitching to augment the lineup.

Astros First Baseman #1, 2, or 3

The Astros had a number of guys competing for the first base job this spring.  I told you why you should root for Tyler White back in March, but he’s got just a .299 OBP through the first quarter of the season.  27-year old Matt Duffy was sent to AAA after losing the job out of the spring, and he’s managed just a .295 OBP down there. Meanwhile, former top prospect Jon Singleton has 12 homers already in AAA, but the Astros and their fans have seen that show before without the expected Major League results that follow.

Maybe AJ Reed is the ultimate answer in Houston following a 2015 that included a .432 OBP and 34 HRs in the minors, but it’s clear that they have 4 guys capable of (hopefully) contributing at the Major League level over the next few years.

I’m not sure who the scouts and front offices will agree upon, but a deal of Rays pitcher for Astros 1B seems to make too much sense.

 

The Rays may ultimately be sellers at the deadline, choosing not to compete against a loaded and overperforming Red Sox team, or the Blue Jays last march towards the postseason before Jose Bautista and/or Edwin Encarnacion head for greener pastures.  That would make sense.  But staying put when there are better options?  No.  The Rays have a big hole at first and the pitching depth and quality to address their other roster deficiencies.

-Sean Morash

 

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