Will the Rays be buyers or sellers?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – With the major league baseball trading deadline of July 30 approaching, all clubs are in the marketplace to improve. Or, are they?

Recent conversation suggests some teams are “tanking.” With post-season hopes fading, the quest is to draft quality players for future acceleration to the majors. Others seek improvement to hasten an opportunity for post-season play.

For the Tampa Bay Rays, play in recent weeks has likely defined their approach.

Just a month ago, the club was dropping in the American League East standings, key hitters remained spinning on the gerbil wheel, and starting pitching was less than productive as anticipated. The bottom line for field manager Kevin Cash was to issue his common refrain. When asked about any struggling player, his response, “we’ll continue to support them.”

Now, patience appears rewarded.

Coming into play on June 25 at home against Seattle, the Rays were 39-40, one under .500 but four games back of a wild card spot in post-season play.

“I keep saying, we have to play better baseball,” Cash said during the last home stand in early June. “We’re capable, but we’re just not putting it all together, quite yet.”

That was after the Rays were swept at home by Baltimore, sunk to 31-35 and key components remained quiet.

At the time of the Orioles sweep ending on June 10, consider these batting averages.

After a come-from-behind win over Seattle on June 24, consider these numbers.

          Diaz, .273

          Arozarena, .191

          Lowe, on IR with a broken toe

          Siri, .212

          Jackson, .081

With key components beginning to hit and producing crooked numbers on the scoreboard, Erik Neander, president of baseball operations, may be hesitant to move core players, such as Diaz and Arozarena. Plus, given the potential of contention, the prospect of being sellers, now in a competitive environment, makes little sense.

Where Neander will likely do some shopping for help with the starting rotation. Of Zach Eflin, Taj Bradley, Aaron Civale, and Ryan Pepiot, Cash’s current four principal starters, none has a winning record. Coming into that June 25 game against Seattle, only righty Pepiot, with a 4-4 record in 13 starts, is not below .500. The other three sport a combined 11-18 record.

Plus, the bullpen has been marginal. Closer Peter Fairbanks, with 2-3 record, 3.25 ERA, and a team-high 12 saves (coming into play June 25) remains Cash’s “go-to” player out of the bullpen. Relative to set-up relievers and sixth and seventh-inning pitchers, Cash favors match-ups against opposing hitters. That said, the Rays have no true set-up reliever for the eighth inning and Fairbanks as that closer, appears the only one in the bullpen with a defined role.

All of which would have Cash and Neander playing their cards close to the vest.

Given that the Rays qualified for post-season play the past five years and Cash’s assertion not to rock the ship, the odds are quite good that Tampa Bay would remain quiet at the trade deadline.

At this point, the Rays hope three starters, Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen, and Shane McClanahan, all currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, can assist in the rotation later this season. Of the three, Springs appears to be the furthest along (now rehabbing at AAA Durham). Yet, there is no guarantee that he will return to his 9-5, 2.46 ERA form from the 2022 season.

Otherwise, and with those currently in the rotation, Cash will have to play the hand that was dealt.

Bottom line … expect the Rays to be “quiet buyers” if at all at the trade deadline, and core players, like Diaz and Arozarena, remain in central Florida.

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