The Rays sit a half game ahead of Cleveland for the first AL Wild Card spot, but they’re 17-19 since the start of June. With injuries to starters (Tyler Glasnow), relievers (Jose Alvarado) and position players (Brandon Lowe), Tampa Bay appears to need an infusion of talent. But what area deserves the most attention? Or do they need an upgrade at all three positions? What should the Rays do to enhance their postseason chances? We convene a roundtable to get answers.
Easier said than done
Marc Topkin, Rays beat writer @TBTimes_Rays: It’s easy to say what they “need” to do - add a couple experienced lockdown relievers, a proven bat and maybe another starter. But it’s not realistic to think they’ll do all that, given the competition and acquisition cost. The key will be prioritizing their needs and identifying players who they’re pretty certain can help. And while the offense and rotation can use some help, the biggest thing they need is an experienced reliever who’s been there and done that. Two, actually.
They need to ‘close’ the deal
Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs/pro sports enterprise writer, @EddieintheYard: There’s no question what this team needs, a bona fide closer. Here’s what we learned in June. The Rays don’t have the arms to continuously close close games, and that’s something they will unquestionably need down the stretch to get to the postseason and also to do anything of substance if they get there. Really, after watching Alvarado, Castillo and Roe all struggle, is there anyone you truly trust in a one-run game in the eighth or ninth other than Emilio Pagan? Getting back Tyler Glasnow? Getting valuable innings from Brendan McKay? Continuing to see Yonny Chirinos grow? Those are all great things, but they won’t matter if the late-inning relievers can’t seal the deal. Relievers will start to hit the market as more teams start to fall out of the race, but here are some names to chew on: Detroit’s Shane Greene, San Diego’s Kirby Yates and San Francisco’s Will Smith. They aren’t necessarily household names, but they are strikethrowers (that’s a very important word here) who have built strong track record of late-inning success. That’s what the Rays need.
Do it for the fans and be a buyer
Martin Fennelly, columnist @mjfennelly: As they ponder a double-dip half future in Montreal, the Rays need goodwill and to fulfill the social contract between this team and its town. That means being a buyer at the trade deadline. Forget starting pitching. The Yankees and Red Sox will be after that. End of story. Nor could this team add much in the way of offense, but do look into it. The bullpen needs help. It could be expensive help, as the Rays might have to look at Shane Greene of Detroit, Will Smith of San Francisco or maybe bringing back former Rays hand Alex Colome, who has been great for the White Sox. Expensive, yes, but the Rays are in it, and to help them stay in it, they could use an experienced hand out of the bullpen to help close things. This is a young team. It could use someone who won’t crack under playoff-chase pressure. Don’t underestimate what a playoff season could do to offset public perception around this team’s future, unless, of course, the Rays don’t care. Surprise us, guys.
A starter could strengthen the bullpen
Ernest Hooper, columnist/assistant sports editor, @hoop4you: The bullpen started out well but appears to be wearing down. Both Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado have spent time on the IL, and the opener approach, while novel and celebrated, can take its toll when the bulk guys don’t last or the other starters leave early. With Tyler Glasnow landing on the IL, a starter could help reset the early-season order. Sure, a closer would be great but the price would be high. An innings-eating starter could alleviate some pressure and the team should be able to acquire one without giving up too many promising prospects. Given the AL teams that have fallen out of contention, surely there’s a veteran who can step in and relieve the relievers.
Get back to basics
Mike Sherman, sports editor, @mikesherman: The Rays’ record in one-run games is 7-10, which ranks 24th in baseball. Here’s a modest proposal: Turn the Thursday workout at the Trop into a back-to-basics session on base running. This is a good team that is awful on the bases. Failing to score from second on what should have been an extra-base hit. Getting picked off at first base to end a ninth-inning rally. There have been games when Rays have been thrown out for the cycle (at all four bases). We could go on. The need for more pitching is unquestioned, but sometimes the most important answers lie within.