While it’s fair to say the Rays’ acquisition of Adeiny Hechavarria for two fringe prospects Monday afternoon doesn’t serve as the loud opening salvo of trade season that fans were clamoring for, the move’s indirect impact on the trade market is even more important:
These Rays, at least for now, are buyers.
This was supposed to be the deadline at which the Rays traded at least Alex Cobb, if not highly coveted righties Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer. Matt Silverman and co. were supposed to keep the chains moving in the same direction they always have in St. Petersburg, with more starters being shipped out of town within a year of lefties Matt Moore and Drew Smyly finding new homes out west.
Instead, the Rays, who sit 2.5 games behind the AL East lead with a 40-38 mark, are the first contender to make an addition in advance of the July 31 deadline, capitalizing on another poor Marlins’ season and their intrastate rival’s stinginess to show all of baseball that they plan on making a run at this thing. The addition of Hechavarria (who at least for now will take over at shortstop with Tim Beckham likely shifting to second) and the activation of Wilson Ramos in place of Derek Norris provide two immediate upgrades for a Rays club that has quietly stayed in the mix in the shadow of it’s big-city divisional rivals.
The real losers of the Hechavarria trade had absolutely no say in it, and are instead the types of contenders who were willing to make serious runs at the likes of Archer, Cobb and Odorizzi. The Dodgers, Cubs, Astros, Rockies and Yankees just lost some very valuable trade options, increasing the price of other arms like Sonny Gray and Jose Quintana even more.
Cobb, Archer and Odorizzi have been bandied about as trade candidates for the better part of two years as it became apparent the Rays were willing to listen, and listen seriously, on its wealth of arms. It would only make sense for the club act in a way similar to how they did when Matt Garza, James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Nathan Karns, Moore and Smyly were all traded in recent years.
That pattern seems unlikely to repeat itself this summer, though the creative Rays could always trade Cobb, a free agent at year’s end, or decide to make drastic moves if the club plays poorly in the weeks leading up to the deadline. Barring something unforeseen, well, it looks like we’re watching something unprecedented in Tampa Bay.
If it’s not crazy enough that the Rays were willing to take on salary (Hechavarria makes $4.35 million this year), consider that today’s move is the club’s single most significant pre-deadline trade addition in the last 10 years. Despite five 90-plus win seasons in that stretch, the team has made only three small pre-deadline trade additions in that span: outfielder Gabe Gross in 2008, reliever Chad Qualls in 2010 and infielder Ryan Roberts in 2012. Hechavarria’s resumé is the most impressive of that bunch.
The next Rays’ moves aren’t going to be drastic ones; the club’s rotation of Archer, Odorizzi, Cobb, Jacob Faria and Blake Snell would be stout even if Matt Andriese and Jose De Leon weren’t waiting in the wings. Tampa’s biggest additions will come from inside the organization, with Matt Duffy, Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Miller and Brad Boxberger all scheduled to come back healthy before the end of the season.
That roster is good enough to compete with the giants in New York and Boston, even if both of those clubs make big-time moves before July 31. If Tampa does anything else on the trade market, it would likely be to add bullpen help in front of closer Alex Colome. Middle relievers not named Andrew Miller still don’t demand a premium at the deadline, giving the Rays room to make deals without picking apart their stockpile of talent in Durham.
For so long, the Rays have operated like they’ve had to as a small-market club. Prospects became assets, those assets gained value and were soon sent to big-market contenders in an effort to accumulate more assets. Four playoff appearances and American League title in the last nine years are nothing to sneeze at, but it does make one wonder what the team could’ve been if it decided to be a deadline buyer.
We may just get the chance to find out now that the Rays appear to have their sights set on this season, and aren’t solely taking a long-term view on things. Hechavarria won’t vault the team into an automatic playoff berth. But the change in strategy might.