The Tampa Bay Rays entered Tuesday with the third-most days lost to injury this season, according to Spotrac. That figure will continue to grow, and at a greater rate than it did coming into the week, as the Rays are expected to place outfielders Manuel Margot (sprained knee) and Kevin Kiermaier (hip inflammation) on the IL prior to their Tuesday contest against the New York Yankees. Margot’s injury, which required him to be carted off the field on Monday, is considered the more serious of the two.
Margot and Kiermaier will join a collection of notable Rays hitters who are on the shelf, including shortstop Wander Franco, second baseman/outfielder Brandon Lowe, and catcher Mike Zunino. On the pitching side, Tampa Bay is making due without a rotation full of starters (Tyler Glasnow and Drew Rasmussen among them) and a stable of relievers who would make for a fine “A” bullpen: Andrew Kittredge, Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, JT Chargois, and J.P. Feyersian.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Rays have slipped in the standings. They’re 8-10 this month and have already lost series to the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Yankees, and Baltimore Orioles. For reference, the Rays entered June having lost only seven series in April and May combined. Although the Rays were in second place as recently as June 9, they’ll enter play on Tuesday stationed in fourth.
There’s never a good time to free-fall in the standings, but the Rays’ decline has been ill-timed from a divisional perspective. Take a look at how each of the AL East contenders (e.g. the non-Orioles squads) have performed over their last 20 games:
Despite all the above, the Rays remain in the thick of the playoff race. They’re only a half-game back in the hunt for the third wild-card spot, and they’re more than three games ahead of the next-closest team, the aforementioned White Sox. Carrying on without two starting outfielders, in addition to the other injuries they’ve sustained, won’t be easy; yet it’s hard to make a case that the Rays should pull back rather than push forward.
At the same time, the Rays don’t have a wealth of internal options to choose from in replacing Margot and Kiermaier. They can trot out some combination of Randy Arozarena, Brett Phillips, Josh Lowe, and Harold Ramirez, but that’s a thin group. The only other outfielder on their 40-player roster is Luke Raley, and he’ll be doing well to provide production against right-handed pitching. The Rays could get creative by asking Jonathan Aranda, an infield prospect and hit machine, to play some outfield. Otherwise, Tampa Bay may need to go outside the organization for help.
What and who might that entail? Here are six players who would make sense for the Rays and who could be realistic targets, should the team become aggressive on the trade market. As always, these exercises are more art than science. (Do note: the players are presented in alphabetical order.)
Andrew Benintendi will be one of the most popular outfield targets available this summer, as he’s an impending free agent who is having his most productive season at the plate (.298/.363/.396) since 2018. The Rays were high on him as an amateur, according to what sources have told CBS Sports, but it’s unclear if they remain as sweet on him; at minimum, there is reason to doubt the fit. For starters, Benintendi is a lefty and a corner outfielder, rather than a righty who can fake it in center as needed; he’s also not someone who is going to pack much wallop, and the Rays, who rank 24th in the majors in ISO, could use additional thump. Tampa Bay’s front office might overlook those concerns if the cost were right, though, again, he’s unlikely to come cheaply based on how many other contenders will be interested in acquiring his services. We felt obligated to list Benintendi, but we’re skeptical of the Rays obtaining him or players of his mold. (Hence no Ian Happ, among others.)
The Reds haven’t had a lot of things break right for them this season; Brandon Drury’s reemergence as a legitimate big-league player is an exception. He’s batted .268/.332/.516 (123 OPS+) over his first 235 trips to the plate, and he’s done so while stinging the ball. Indeed, he ranks in the 89th percentile in batted balls hit 95 mph or harder, and in the 71st percentile in balls launched between 10 and 30 degrees. It’s reasonable to have doubt whenever a player with Drury’s history goes bananas for nearly half a season, but there are some underlying indicators that suggest he’s made strides, including a more disciplined approach and a greener contact rate. Drury is more of an infielder than an outfielder, yet he has enough experience on grass to think he could appeal to teams as a cheap rental for a team. (Drury’s teammate Tommy Pham, himself a former Ray, could be of interest to Tampa Bay as well.)
Another impending free agent, Robbie Grossman is having a miserable season overall. His 77 OPS+ would be the worst full-season mark of his career, and he’s both hitting the ball with less authority and making contact less often on his swings than usual. That’s a worrisome combination. Still, even with all those woes, Grossman has remained productive versus left-handed pitching by batting .340/.458/.489 in 59 plate appearances. He’s not going to keep that up, of course, and there are some signs that he’s in a state of decline overall. If he comes cheap enough, though, the Rays might deem him to be worth the gamble. (It’s not like the Tigers will need him for a playoff push, anyway.)
Trey Mancini is more of a first baseman than an outfielder for defensive purposes, but he can really hit and it’s possible the Rays would overlook the former because of the latter. We expect his power numbers to bounce back once he gets away from Camden Yards’ modified left-field dimensions. He’s a free agent at season’s end, so the Orioles have no reason to wait until August to make a move.
You can make the argument that Ramón Laureano should be the right-handed Athletic of note here. Fair enough. We’re going with Chad Pinder because his transaction cost is likely to be lower, and because his positional flexibility fits with what the Rays do with their roster. (He’s seen action at three positions this year, and several more over the course of his career.) Pinder doesn’t walk often and he’s become increasingly prone to swinging and missing (his whiff rate has increased in each of the past two seasons, and now sits above 32 percent), but he can sock the ball. To wit, he’s hit a greater percentage of his batted balls 95 mph or harder this season than Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts, and Michael Brantley, among other decorated stars. Removing Pinder from Oakland’s cavernous stadium would likely help his production tick up.
It wasn’t long ago that Victor Robles was considered to be a better prospect than Juan Soto. Whoopsadoodle. Soto is now down the road on a Hall-of-Fame path, while Robles is a potential non-tender candidate. To his credit, he can still go get it in center field. To his debit, well … there’s everything else. He seldom walks and he doesn’t hit the ball hard or at a good angle often. The best you can write about his offensive game is that he’s had his moments against lefties, including a .902 OPS versus them so far this season. Perhaps the Rays see a tweak or two they can make with Robles’ swing, or maybe the Nationals are ready to hit eject. We’re doubtful about either possibility, even if we’ll end by noting that Robles’ career 83 OPS+ isn’t many steps removed from Margot’s 87 mark prior to joining the Rays in a trade during the 2019-20 offseason.