Although my head is still spinning from last night’s walkoff at Wrigley, the rumor mill doesn’t take breaks. The trade deadline is still this Friday at 3:00pm CT, and this morning, we’ve got a fresh one for you from Jeff Passan at ESPN: “The reigning American League champion Rays, long recognized for their ability to win with minuscule payrolls, have had preliminary discussions about both Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Chicago Cubs third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant, league sources told ESPN.”
According to Passan, the Rays are a “fitting” landing spot for Kris Bryant, who is “almost certainly” going to be moved before the deadline. And the connection is drawn even in light of the deal that sent Nelson Cruz to the Rays. Specifically, the Rays value Bryant’s versatility and could even see his bat as a more impactful potential addition for this season than Joey Gallo (a theoretical alternative for Tampa Bay).
Bryant is still unlikely to return a massive haul in any solo deal – position players historically fetch less than pitchers at the deadline – but it never hurts to involve another previously-unreported team in the conversation, especially when that team is the Rays*, who still have arguably the best system in MLB. Their interest – however sincere – can help drive up the price on Bryant among any other theoretical suitors, which, according to Passan, also includes the Phillies, Mets, and others. Or it could just press a team into making an acceptable final offer.
*(It is awfully convenient for the Cubs that the Rays have popped as potential suitors for Bryant so close to the deadline. I do tend to believe it’s true, and indeed, what Passan is hearing, but it’s always important to question the source of these rumors when they’re a little too perfect for one side or the other.)
It does genuinely make sense for Tampa Bay. Aside from the fact they’re reportedly “creative and willing to explore all options,” the Rays could certainly use a player like Bryant. Their outfield has a collective 100 wRC+ this season, just league average, while their offensive production at third base (102 wRC+) ranks 14th in MLB. Cruz will help rise the tide of the offense overall, but they could use another bat at exactly the positions Bryant is able to cover.
And although, say, relievers, are often the primary target for playoff-bound teams at the Trade Deadline, the Rays still need help getting there.
AL EAST STANDINGS:
1. Red Sox: 62-39
2. Rays: 60-40
3. Yankees: 51-47
4. Blue Jays: 49-47
5. Orioles: 34-64
As of Tuesday morning, the Wild Card leading Rays are still two games behind the Red Sox. Their focus is (and should be) on overtaking Boston and claiming the division ticket straight to the NLDS as opposed to the one-and-done Wild Card game. Bryant can help you do that more than an impact reliever, even if their relative positional value might flip once you’re actually playing in October.
Another consideration here is money. The Rays are usually a fairly cash-strapped team, which would actually work in the Cubs’ favor. If Tampa Bay is willing to deal from a higher tier in their hoard of prospects to get the Cubs to pay down more of Bryant’s remaining salary, that should be a no-brainer for Chicago. After all, they were already planning to INCREASE the payroll as deadline buyers once upon a time, and, indeed, they did send cash to the A’s in the Andrew Chafin deal last night. So perhaps they’ll really put money where their mouth is. That money is already on the books, after all.
The Mets, by contrast, are reportedly telling teams that they prefer to take on money to reduce the return in any deal (which is not to say that overall package wouldn’t necessarily be better, but it is a useful point to consider).
Regardless of the decisions over the next few days, you just hope that any trade for a player as important to this organization as Kris Bryant has been is OBVIOUSLY worth it. Fortunately, the Rays are the sort of team that could make that so.
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