Despite one of the smallest budgets in the game, under General Manager Andrew Friedman, the Tampa Bay Rays have been one of the most successful teams over the past six seasons. Since 2008, they have not had a single losing season, they own a record of 573-458 and they have missed the playoffs just two times. To achieve this type of success without being able to outspend anyone, Friedman has been forced to part with top players like Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton when they hit free agency and to deal stars like James Shields before they become too expensive. Combined with the high picks the Rays got before they turned the corner and their excellent pitcher development process, Friedman's success in working the trade market has kept the Rays in the mix in the brutal AL East, but there has never been much room for error. This season, the Rays have been sabotaged by injuries and underperformance and they appear to be headed for their first losing season since they dropped the "Devil" from their name.
Are the Rays Buyers or Sellers?
The Rays' tiny budget forces them to continually sell off players when they get too expensive and since they are currently sitting at the bottom of the AL East standings, there is no reason for them to wait until November to start shaving dollars. To make matters worse, for the first time since Friedman took over as GM, the team is also facing a fairly barren farm system. Baseball America ranked their farm 20th prior to the start of the season and several of their top prospects have graduated to the majors already this season. The remaining impact talent is largely to be found in the low minors. To keep the team winning on shoestring budget, Tampa Bay needs to make the best of the bad situation they find themselves in and add young talent that can help them in the near future.
Which players could be moved?
84.1 IP, 4.27 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3.25 FIP, 90 ERA+, 1.6 fWAR
Even with his ERA sitting well above league average right now, David Price figures to be the biggest trade chip on the market this July. The Rays shopped the 28-year-old lefty some over the winter, but never found a deal that was big enough to justify shipping away their ace. Price is making $14 million this year and he will be arbitration-eligible for the fourth time next season, so the team that acquires him will be getting more than just a two-month rental. His issues with the long ball this season might give teams a pause- he is fifth in the game with 12 home runs allowed- but his strikeout ability (9.6 K/9) and walk rate (1.0 BB/9) are still elite and that should ease any concerns bidders might have about his current numbers. Any team that is hoping to play in October this season or in 2015 would be thrilled to add Price to their rotation, but the Rays' asking price is going to be sky high. There will probably be just a handful of teams with the pieces to land Price and the will to make the deal, but that should be enough for the Rays to get it done this time around.
Trade likelihood: High
20.2 IP, 5.23 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 5.44 FIP, 74 ERA+ -0.4 fWAR
Wil Myers Injury: Nail in the coffin for Tampa
This season was already looking bleak for the Rays, and now they'll be without one of their best hitters until well after the All-Star break.
Balfour returned to Tampa Bay on a two-year, $12 million deal this winter after missing out on a deal with the Orioles when the results of his physical scared them off. Whether he is hampered by some unknown injury or simply in decline at age 36, Balfour has not been the same pitcher he was as the Athletics closer in 2012 and 2013. His fastball velocity is down 1.7 mph from last season's average and his command is missing in action. He currently has a higher walk rate (7.8 BB/9) than strikeout rate (7.2 K/9). He will earn $7 million dollars next year, so if the Rays can find a taker, they will be happy to have that money off their books. Given just how bad Balfour has been, the market for his services probably won't be great, but reliever performances are often unstable and someone will be willing to take a chance on a guy who was a lockdown closer just one year ago.
Trade likelihood: Moderate
.287/.348/.378, 2 HR, 28 RBIs, 109 wRC+, 0.6 fWAR
Following a strong 2013 season, the Rays signed Loney to a three-year, $21 million deal. Loney's lack of power leaves him slightly below average for his position at the plate, but he is a plus fielder and his prodigious contact ability- he has struck out just 10.7 percent of the time this year- could make him appealing to a team in need of a first baseman. There is no lack of such teams at this point either. The Rangers are without Prince Fielder for the rest of the season and the Yankees have reason to worry about Mark Teixeira's ability to stay on the field. The Mariners and Indians are currently getting some of the worst production in the game from the first base position, but remain in the hunt. The bigger obstacle to a trade is the Rays themselves. First basemen have become some of the most expensive assets in the game and with Loney producing solid, if unspectacular results at such a low cost, they may not want to part with him.
Trade likelihood: Low
.253/.338/.353, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 101 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR
Zobrist has been the icon of what a Rays' player is during his nine seasons in the majors. He has shown exceptional versatility, playing every position except pitcher and catcher and givnig Tampa Bay elite defense at his two primary positions, second base and right field. He is also a switch-hitter with a strong eye at the plate and double-digit home run power. Unfortunately for the Rays, he is having a down year in 2014 and he has just one season of team control left in the form of a $7.5 million option. That option makes him more appealing for potential suitors, but at 33, his waning performance is a real concern. There will be plenty of teams interested in adding such a versatile piece for the stretch run but the Rays will have a difficult time replacing his production next season. They do have some alternatives at second, but it will probably take a big return to motivate the Rays to part with Zobrist.
Trade likelihood: Low
.265/.360/.387, 3 HR, 22 RBIs, 112 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR
Like David Price, Joyce is a year away from free agency and headed for a raise in arbitration this offseason. He won't price himself out of the Rays budget range the way Price will this winter, but he may be the one player that would appeal to other teams that the Rays can live without in 2015. Joyce has been a consistently above-average hitter as a left-handed platoon player and his defense is slightly above-average in left and playable in right. However Tampa Bay has David Dejesus signed to a two-year deal with an option for 2016 and he offers the same basic profile as Joyce plus the ability to handle center. Any team in the market for a left-handed bat could look to make a deal for the 29-year-old and the Rays will probably get the best return they can for Joyce this July.