We are now only a little over two months from the trading deadline, but it is never too early to speculate on who the Devil Rays will move before July 31st. This past off-season, the Rays were expected to big players in the trade market with several of their young players rumored to be on the move to any of a number of different teams. When the dust settled, Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, BJ Upton and Elijah Dukes were all still members of the team and only two minor trades for Brendan Harris and Jae Kuk Ryu were made (Brendan Harris was considered a minor acquisition at the time).
The hesitancy this past winter should not carry over to this season. Expect the Rays to be very active in the next two months and this upcoming off-season. And unlike seasons past, any trades made this season will not involve dumping free agents-to-be for minor league prospects that are 2-3 years away. Without any veterans with expiring contracts, there are a handful of veterans they may choose to move, but all are signed for 2008 or have team options at relatively cheap prices. In addition, the team will be looking for major league talent or players that are very close to being ready for the big leagues.
While the focus will undoubtedly be on acquiring major league-ready pitching, the team will be more willing to accept hitting talent this season. With a number of top hitting prospects already playing at the Trop, the pendulum of talent has shifted to the pitching side as the farm system is heavy with major league pitching prospects.
So today let’s speculate on who could be moved and why. We are laying odds on which Devil Rays are most likely to be moved before July 31...
Elijah Dukes 1:1
Before this week teams may have been holding tight and hoping the Rays would just release Elijah Dukes. That move appears to be dead and any team that is interested in Dukes will now have to reconsider what they would be willing to part with for the 5-tool talent and potential future all-star. Dukes can be had for cheap, but he won’t be free. If the Rays trade Dukes now, they will be lucky to get a decent relief pitcher for him which about the same as trading in a brand new BMW with a 2 flat tires for a used Taurus with a clean bill of health. But in the end it is our feeling that the Rays front office has had enough and there seems to be just enough interest out there from other teams that somebody may up the ante just enough to tempt the Rays and take a chance on either the next Lawrence Phillips or the next Gary Sheffield.
Al Reyes 3:2
The Rays have an option year on Reyes for 2008 at $1 million but can be as high as $2.5 million with incentives. For a top-tier closer that is a bargain. But Reyes will be highly sought after this July by contenders that are all looking for bullpen help. How far are the Rays willing to push a relief pitcher with two Tommy John surgeries and who will be 38 in 2008? Chances are not very far. His value will never be higher and while the thought of a bullpen without Reyes in August and September is scary, look for Reyes to bring the Rays back a solid young pitching prospect.
Casey Fossum 2:1
The Rays also have an option on Fossum for 2008 at a relatively cheap price of $3 million. However, there doesn’t appear to be a spot for Fossum on the 20o8 roster and while $3 million is cheap for a lefty starter, it is not what the Rays want to pay a lefty specialist out of the ‘pen. Fossum’s demotion to the bullpen most likely increased his value to the Rays. If he can show in the next two months that he can consistently get out lefties, some team will roll the dice and toss the Rays a AAA pitcher for a lefty that can work as a specialist out of the ‘pen and can also fill in as an emergency starter down the stretch.
Ty Wigginton 3:1
Wiggy is an interesting case. He has now proven that 2006 was not a fluke. He is a consistent bat that has proven to be a clutch hitter when it matters most. He also has exceptional positional flexibility and has started games this season at first, third and second. Arbitration eligible, Wiggy makes $2.7 million this season and will likely command $3-3.5 million in 2008. With the emergence of Carlos Pena, Wiggy is now expendable and would make a perfect fit for the Twins who are looking for an upgrade for Nick Punto at third. Wiggy would also free up a roster spot for the Twins as they are a rare team that carries three catchers and Wiggy could serve as the emergency third string catcher. He is also the type of player that the Twins love. A team player that will do whatever he is asked to do to help the club win. The Twins appear to have their collective sights on Mike Lowell of the Red Sox at this moment, but if that falls through they are likely to re-address Wigginton. The Yankees could also be an option, but if George Steinbrenner is involved it might not happen as King George would never take a chance on helping the Rays.
Carlos Pena 5:1
The odds are about 3:2 that the Rays would move Pena or Wigginton. It is just a matter of which one at this point. The Rays control Pena for two more seasons, but his arbitration case this off-season will give him a large raise in pay. Finally emerging as the great hitter that many had projected, the Rays will be willing to pay a higher salary for the next two seasons if they believe that this recent surge is not a fluke. If they think he is peaking, they may decide to sell high and a team like the Yankees that is looking for an upgrade at first base have some solid pitching prospects.
Jorge Cantu 10:1
Cantu…Cantu…Cantu…This is a player the Rays would love to move but it doesn’t look like they will find any buyers. It is not a good sign when BJ Upton goes on the DL and the team does not even have enough confidence in Cantu’s defensive or offensive abilities to give him any starts at second base in Upton’s absence. So right now he is a first baseman with no experience at first base, that may or may not be able to hit major league pitching. If Cantu is moved, he won’t bring much back in return.
Rocco Baldelli 30:1
Despite his continued struggles with hamstring injuries, teams are likely to approach the Rays and see how much it will cost to acquire the center fielder. Hamstring injuries are something that a player is capable of over-coming and Rocco showed in the second half of 2006 that he is still a formidable force when he is healthy. If Rocco was healthy and if Elijah Dukes wasn’t such a mischievous badger, this number would be much lower. But if we know one thing about the Rays front office, it is that they are smart businessmen and trading Rocco now is not a smart business move. His value could not be any lower unless he decides to send Joe Maddon a picture of a gun and/or impregnates Carl Crawford. The Rays are more likely to work with Baldelli to change his running style and improve his hamstrings and wait for him to once again be the great center fielder everybody knows he can be. Then again, the Red Sox are probably secretly drooling over the New England native with the light complexion and good looks, that would be an instant star in Beantown. If the Red Sox do try to acquire Rocco, it is more likely to happen in the off-season, rather than risk inserting an injury-prone player into the middle of a world series run.