The Tampa Bay Rays entered Tuesday with the third-most days lost this season. according to Spotrac. That number will continue to rise, and at a higher rate than earlier in the week, as the Races placed outfielders Manuel Margo (knee sprain) and Kevin Kiermeier (thigh inflammation) in the IL ahead of their Tuesday game against New York. Yankees. Margot’s injury, which sent him off the field on Monday, is considered the more serious of the two. (The Rays promoted outfielder Luke Reilly and infielder Jonathan Aranda to the Majors with the appropriate moves.)
Margot and Kiermeier will join Ray’s collection of notable hitters that are on the shelf, including pals Vander Franco, second baseman/outfielder Brandon Lowe, and catcher Mike Zunino. On the pitching side, Tampa Bay manages without a rotation full of starters (Tyler Glasnow and Drew Rasmussen among them) and a stable of pitchers who could make a great A-star bullpen: Andrew Kittredge, Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, JT Chargois and JP Feyersian.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the “Rays” dropped in the standings. They are 8-10 points this month and have already lost series to the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. For reference, the Rays entered June after losing just seven episodes in April and May combined. Although the Reis were in second place back on June 9, they will come into play on Tuesday with a fourth-place finish.
There is never a good time for a free fall in the standings, but the Reis’ slump was untimely from a divisional standpoint. See how each of the AL East’s rivals (such as non-Orioles teams) performed in the last 20 games:
Blue Jays, 11-9
Red Sox 14-6
Despite all of the above, the Rays remain in the thick of the playoff race. They are only half a game behind in the hunt for wildcard third place, and they are more than three games ahead of the next closest team, the aforementioned White Sox. To continue without two starting outfielders, in addition to the other injuries they have suffered, will not be easy; however, it is difficult to prove that the rays must recede rather than advance.
At the same time, the Rays don’t have many internal options to replace Margo and Kiermayer. They can show some combination of Randy Arozarena, Brett Phillips, Josh Lowe and Harold Ramirez, but they are a weak group. The only other outfielder on their roster of 40 is Rayleigh, and he’ll do well to secure a production against a right serve. The Rays could get creative by asking Aranda, a prospect and hitting machine, to play a bit in the outfield. Otherwise, Tampa Bay may need to seek help from outside the organization.
What does this mean and for whom? Here are six players that would make sense for the Rays and who could be real targets if the team gets aggressive in the trading market. As always, these exercises are more art than science. (Please note: players are listed in alphabetical order.)
This summer, Andrew Benintendi will be one of the hottest outfield targets as he closes in on the free agent who has had his most prolific season at the plate (.298/.363/.396) since 2018. as an amateur, according to sources who told CBS Sports, but it’s unclear if they remain as sweet with him; at least there is reason to doubt the fit. To begin with, Benintendi is a left-hander and corner outfielder, not a right-hander who can imitate a center play when needed; he’s also not the type to throw a lot of punches, and the Rays, who are ranked 24th in the main categories in the ISO, could use an extra punch. The Tampa Bay front office could ignore these concerns if the cost were right, although, again, it’s unlikely to be cheap based on how many other applicants will be interested in acquiring its services. We felt compelled to include Benintendi on the roster, but we are skeptical that the Rays will get him or players in his kit. (Hence there is no Ian Happ among the others.)
The Reds haven’t had many breakdowns this season; The resurgence of Brandon Drury as a legitimate major league player is an exception. He batted .268/.332/.516 (123 OPS+) on his first 235 plate hits, and he did it while stinging the ball. Indeed, he is in the 89th percentile for balls thrown at 95 mph or faster, and in the 71st percentile for balls thrown at an angle of 10 to 30 degrees. It’s reasonable to be skeptical when a player with a Drury history goes berserk for nearly half a season, but there are some major signs that he’s made progress, including a more disciplined approach and greener contact frequency. Drury is more of an infielder than an outfielder, but he has enough grass experience to think teams might like him as a cheap loan to the team. (Drury’s teammate Tommy Pham, himself a former Ray, may also be of interest to Tampa Bay.)
Another upcoming free agent, Robbie Grossman, is having an overall bad season. His 77 OPS+ would be the worst all-season record of his career, and he simultaneously bats the ball with less authority and less contact with the backswing than usual. It’s an unsettling combination. Yet even with all of these issues, Grossman has remained productive compared to left-hander pitching, batting .340/.458/.489 in 59 games. Of course, he is not going to continue in the same spirit, and there are some signs that he is generally in a state of decline. However, if it’s cheap enough, the Rays may find it worth the risk. (The Tigers won’t need him to make the playoffs anyway.)