Don’t look now, but the Tampa Bay Rays are at it again. After spending the first couple months of the year buried in the depths of the league standings with the likes of the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks, the Rays are in the midst of a second half surge that has them rising up the rankings of a wide open American League East division.
While they still reside four games under .500, at 49-53, the Rays have jumped up to fourth in the division and currently sit just seven games out of the division lead. They’ve won seven in a row and eight of 10 overall. During the month of July, the Rays are 13-4, which represents the best month in all of baseball.
Additionally, this recent stretch comes without a couple of key pieces in their lineup, as Wil Myers and David DeJesus remain out. With the emergence of Kevin Kiermaier, who has burst onto the scene, and Brandon Guyer, the absence of Myers and DeJesus is mitigated. The offense is hot, and the starting rotation is even hotter. If Evan Longoria breaks back into superstar form, this Rays team is absolutely going to be in the mix for a playoff spot, in one way or another.
The question here isn’t whether or not the Rays have the ability to get to that point. They absolutely do, giving their rotation depth and rediscovered ability to score runs. This team was set to sell hard at the trade deadline, which is exactly one week from today. Given what they’ve managed to do recently, does this change the approach?
The key piece obviously being discussed is David Price. The Rays can’t really afford him moving forward, and with one year of control left on his current contract, the Rays have been entertaining calls for him for quite some time now. The Rays have also been close to dealing Ben Zobrist a couple of different times, but this recent stretch has them thinking otherwise. Does that mean that the mentality has completely shifted heading into the final week before the non-waiver deadline?
If the Rays choose not to deal David Price, it’s not as if they will be unable to this winter. Question the return potentially being a bit less when teams aren’t acquiring him for the stretch run, sure, but he’s still going to fetch quite a package. Not only that, but you have teams (maybe the Chicago Cubs?) that will be looking to shift their focus to contention in 2015. The market for him might actually open up even more during the winter.
In the case of Zobrist, the Rays have taken a step back from exploring a deal for their super utility man and may now hold onto him. Of course, he’s a free agent this offseason, whereas Price has another year, so the Rays may look to get what return they can while the gettin’ is still good. However, if they had the ability to move him, wouldn’t they have already done it with as close as they were?
The team is reportedly set to wait until the days right up before the deadline to determine the future of their two main trade assets, and really their entire approach to the deadline. But unless something completely changes and the Rays fall apart and take a trip back to the division cellar, it’s hard to imagine them reverting back to a selling mentality as the deadline approaches. Expect them to keep this team intact for the most part, and make a real run at a division that is anyone’s ballgame (even Boston’s) as the calendar nears a turn to August.