- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
No team illustrates the whole buying/selling quandary better than the Tampa Bay Rays. They reside in third place in baseball's toughest division, sitting behind the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles and in front of the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, and their offense is -- how can we say this politely? -- challenged.
Tampa Bay has a team OPS of .688, which ranks 25th among 30 MLB teams. The Rays' defense, usually among the best in the majors, ranks second in errors, and Tampa Bay has allowed 40 unearned runs, three more than the entire 2011 season. Only three teams have allowed more this season -- the San Diego Padres (46), Texas Rangers (41) and Detroit Tigers (44).
So there is a lot to not like about the Rays.
But think about this: Evan Longoria is going to be back sometime in the next month, in all likelihood, and he has the ability to stabilize the Rays' offense and defense. Fernando Rodney has been an All-Star closer in support of a rotation that ranks second in the AL in ERA -- and it could get better, as Matt Moore continues to settle in. Every manager in baseball would feel good about taking a rotation of David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and Moore into the postseason.
On the other hand: Some folks in the organization believe that the team's window for consistently contending for titles is slowly closing, given its growing need for high-end young talent. There is no guarantee that the Rays could assemble a pitching staff as good as this year's staff might be anytime soon.
Buy? Sell? It's way too early for the Rays and other teams to decide for good, but the AL trade market is already taking shape.
Boston: The Red Sox have been focused on adding starting pitching, despite some surprising performances from Franklin Morales and Aaron Cook. That Morales was asked to contribute four outs of relief on Wednesday while being lined up to start against the Yankees this weekend tells you that Boston's pitching is stretched.
Seattle Mariners: Seattle isn't going to trade Felix Hernandez, but the Mariners do have some usable parts to sell off, such as Kevin Millwood, who will return to the rotation Friday after battling a groin problem. Millwood's splits are the complete opposite of Jason Vargas -- the 37-year-old right-hander has pitched better on the road (3.10 ERA) than at home (5.29 ERA), and he's allowed only four homers in 83.1 innings. Most impressively, Millwood's had three strong outings against the Rangers, in a year in which his base salary is just $1 million. He'd be a great fit for the Washington Nationals, who will shut down Stephen Strasburg sometime in the next couple of months. Other parts up for grabs: Chone Figgins, Vargas and Brandon League.
Oakland Athletics: Some teams have called about Seth Smith, but the Athletics need his offense and will keep him. With the emergence of Derek Norris, the Athletics would trade Kurt Suzuki and will listen on Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour (who has an affordable $4.5 million option for 2013).
Rangers: They will be an intriguing entity in this summer's market, and some rival executives believe they will make a big play for one of the Tier 1 starting pitchers, like Zack Greinke or (perhaps) Cole Hamels. It's far too early to write off Roy Oswalt, but the fact that the veteran right-hander has generated almost as many extra-base hits (14) as strikeouts (16) is a bad early sign -- and it's unclear what Neftali Feliz might contribute the rest of the year, if anything. As one executive noted, it's very possible that this is the Rangers' last season with Josh Hamilton, which could be a reason for Texas to pursue a big move now. And really big moves -- like the midseason deal for Cliff Lee -- have become part of their pedigree under GM Jon Daniels.
Kansas City Royals: Every time they run off a few wins, they eventually slide back because of their significant problem -- they just don't have much in the way of starting pitching, ranking 28th in baseball in ERA. The Royals might be candidates for some incremental moves to improve the rotation, but with the team now 7.5 games out of first in the AL Central, it seems just as likely K.C. will swap some of its secondary pieces. The Royals don't look ready to climb quite yet.
Cleveland Indians: They were among the finalists in the Kevin Youkilis trade talks because they need right-handed hitting. The Indians' OPS against left-handed pitching is the second-worst in the AL, just ahead of the Mariners, so you can bet that Cleveland will be fishing for right-handed hitting. Carlos Quentin would be a nice addition, although San Diego will have multiple bidders vying for the slugger.
Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale has never thrown 130 innings in any season in his life as a ballplayer, and he's already got 102.2. It's hard to imagine the White Sox are going to let him rack up 200 innings, so like the Nationals, they could be in the market for a relatively inexpensive rotation stopgap, like Millwood. The White Sox already have been asking around about bullpen help.
Tigers: It's easy to suggest that the Tigers could use an upgrade at second base. But who would it be? Would Marco Scutaro -- who has a .609 OPS outside of Coors Field -- represent worthwhile improvement? Kelly Johnson? Mike Fontenot? Placido Polanco? Chris Getz? The Tigers' problems are not easily fixed. They could use bullpen depth, though -- someone like the Padres' Huston Street or Balfour.
Yankees: They're waiting for their needs to be better defined, and maybe they'll be in the market for an outfielder if there is an indication that Brett Gardner's elbow injury could affect him the rest of the season. Remember that over time, GM Brian Cashman has gotten much more conservative about trading prospects, especially for prospective free agents; he passed on the opportunity to get CC Sabathia in summer 2008, for example.
Blue Jays: The Blue Jays' intention is to get to the All-Star break and then make an honest assessment of their chances -- which are not good. Toronto is 7.5 games out of first place, with major injury problems in the rotation -- problems that have placed significant stress on the bullpen the past few weeks. Some rival officials believe the Jays are likely to be sellers before the deadline, and in a summer in which few good hitters are available, Edwin Encarnacion could be attractive to Cleveland, et al.
Orioles: It's no secret that the Orioles need pitching, but given Dan Duquette's track record, it's more likely he'll go for value upgrades rather than any major deals that would involve him surrendering top prospects. If you don't think the Orioles' chances for glory are real, you might want to check the standings; the Orioles would be one of the wild-card teams if the playoffs started today.
Minnesota Twins: They have had a terrible season and need pitching, and presumably Terry Ryan will focus on adding young pitching as other teams call him about Francisco Liriano, Josh Willingham, Denard Span and others. As he said recently, the Twins badly need pitching and a whole lot of it.
Lee goes to Miami
Yes, because Miami first basemen went into Wednesday's games with the worst OPS at the position in the majors by about 40 points. There is no guarantee that Lee is going to make the Marlins better, but they can't be any worse with him.
The Marlins demoted Gaby Sanchez right after he had generated a big hit in a Miami win, and Ozzie Guillen was particularly blunt in explaining the move, using the past tense when speaking of Sanchez, as Joe Capozzi writes. From Joe's story:
- Guillen was asked if it was difficult to tell Sanchez he was being demoted just moments after he hit a clutch home run.
- "I don't think he should be blaming anybody. He should blame himself. We gave Gaby a lot of opportunities. The reason they made this move is ... obvious. We did not have that much production from him," Guillen said.