The Tampa Bay Rays are 22-18 and in a tie for first place in the American League East. They are doing this all without three of their best pitchers.
Alex Cobb is out for the season with elbow surgery. Matt Moore is still rehabbing from his elbow surgery and Drew Smyly has had left shoulder problems that revealed a torn labrum. He is still debating between straight rehab and surgery, but a new report suggests that Smyly's 2015 season may not be entirely lost.
The Rays have gotten by with Chris Archer leading the way with a 2.47 ERA. The rest of the starting group: Jake Odorizzi, Nate Karns and Alex Colome. They have also gotten starts from Erasmo Ramierz and Matt Andriese, but are going to need to get another piece in order to stay in contention.
And despite the report noted above, there's little guarantee Smyly's potentially late-August/September return will be without bumps in the road. More, they probably can't afford, in either dollars or prospects, what it would take to acquire either Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto.
So how could the Rays bolster their rotation?
As Ken Rosenthal notes in his notebook this week for Fox Sports, there is something that the Rays could consider -- trading lefty Jake McGee:
McGee, who just returned from left elbow surgery, is growing expensive. His $3.55 million salary this season likely will increase to more than $5 million next season, and he is under club control only through 2017.
Meanwhile, righty Brad Boxberger is 11 for 11 in save opportunities with a 1.20 ERA, and manager Kevin Cash has said he also might use righty Kevin Jepsen in save opportunities.
The Rays, if they moved McGee, would be dealing from strength — and, presuming McGee regains his effectiveness, dealing a reliever when his value is still high.
McGee, 28, has pitched in two games, allowing no runs and one hit in those two outings. Rosenthal mentions that McGee is due $3.55 million this season, that should increase next season and he is only under control through 2017. It makes sense.
Where is this rumor coming from?
The question some of our readers often have is how a team tied for first place which doesn't typically (ever?) move relievers mid-season would suddenly make a move to change something that isn't necessarily broken. We generally know that our MLB insiders (Rosenthal, Heyman, Cotillo, etc.) don't pull these things out of thin air. So where would an idea like this originate?
Think about how the MLB trade rumors industry works. Just accept for a moment that none of these reports are just made up stabs in the dark (they're really not). These things come from places that insiders have to 'float' in order to secure inside-scoops as they happen. So why is this one out there?
- A trade offer for McGee may have been out there, or still is out there. This could be a team floating an idea out there through Rosenthal to see if there is any traction, or to pry him loose.
- McGee's agent could be trying to drum up interest in the lefty, using Rosenthal as a means to generate the buzz. We know McGee is splitting time as closer. Perhaps his agent -- doing his job, we'll note -- is floating the idea as a means to secure his client a better, higher-paying gig (at some point) as sole-closer on a team that needs one.
This is our speculation, of course. It's perfectly possible our friend and excellent reporter Mr. Rosenthal is just thinking aloud. What we want YOU to do is think about how these things come out rather than dismissing them out of hand.
Here's why it makes sense to move McGee
In McGee's absence, Brad Boxberger has looked good, going 11 for 11 in save chances with a 1.20 ERA. The Rays also have Kevin Jepsen, Ernesto Frieri and Brandon Gomes out in the bullpen.
That makes McGee a little more expendable, and the Rays could cash in on a reliever with some value. The Rays have normally been the team needing to acquire a reliever, not the ones trying to trade one. Being a lefty, McGee is going to attract a lot of attention to those looking to add a bullpen piece before the season is over.
Though this might come as a shock, as the Rays don't have a history of trading relievers mid-season, a change in the front office during the off-season could be why the Rays make the uncommon move. Their longtime Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman left the front office to go to the Dodgers last winter.
It looks as though Drew Smyly could be returning in August or September, giving some stability back to the rotation. The Rays are in first place with Smyly sidelined, they need to be there when he gets back, and they have a movable piece on which they can sell high. It could totally happen.
The real question, despite all the above, is whether the Rays might net a serviceable starter in exchange for a closer-slash-reliever. Teams have been known to give up more for less, certainly, but this could be one to watch.