Rays Pursuing Right-Handed Bat

The Tampa Bay Rays are pursuing a right-handed bat to upgrade their offense. The Rays have reportedly shown an interest in Cleveland Indians infielder Casey Blake, who has been excellent with runners in scoring position this year.

The Tampa Bay Rays are looking to acquire a right-handed bat to upgrade their offense before the July 31 trade deadline.

The Rays, coming off a seventh consecutive loss on the road on Thursday, have struggled to score runs all season. It is no secret why they are in the American League East mix for the first time ever: an up-and-coming pitching staff and an excellent defense. In fact, the club ranks in the middle of the pack—including 17th in the majors in runs scored—in nearly every offensive statistical category.

Against southpaws, the numbers get even worse. With several struggling left-hander sluggers leading the offensive attack, Tampa Bay is hitting only .246/.326/.400 in 1021 combined at bats against lefties.

This is a legitimate concern for the Rays, who are looking to hold of the Boston Red Sox and surging New York Yankees.

Initially, reports linked Tampa Bay to the pair of Pittsburgh Pirates outfielders likely to be shipped, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady.

The Pirates' asking price for each outfielder, however, is reportedly way too high, scaring off a number of organizations attempting to upgrade.

Odds are, if a team pursues either Bay or Nady, they will have to pay an inflated price, because each hitter is currently sitting with a plus-.900 OPS.

Nady's value, in fact, has never been higher, as he has posted an impressive line of .330/.383/.535 and .919 OPS.

Bay has been been productive as well, hitting 22 homers with 57 RBIs and a .921 OPS in a nice bounce back season.

Pittsburgh may end up waiting to receive compensation picks if they do strike a deal, as one executive labeled their asking price "outrageous," but it may came down as the trade deadline looms.

Tampa Bay general manager Andrew Friedman is great at finding value, buying low and selling high. This makes it unlikely that Bay or Nady will be acquired, as he will never bid on a player when his value is at its ultimate peak.

Instead, Friedman has reportedly shown an interest in Cleveland Indians infielder Casey Blake, who would see the majority of his innings in the outfield if a deal does, in fact, occur.

Blake, 34, adds value as a supplemental player in an offense, at a reasonable price of $6,100,000. He has been one of the few offensive bright spots for the Indians—who have received almost nothing from sluggers Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, and conceded their season by trading ace CC Sabathia—by putting up a slash stats line of .287/.364/.464 and turning into Babe Ruth with runners in scoring position. In fact, he has been perhaps the most clutch offensive player in the game to this point, hitting .398/.500/.711, for a 1.211 OPS, with ducks on the pond.

Considering the Rays' recent woes of cashing in on RBI opportunities, this seems like an ideal match. Odds are, though, Blake's performance with RISP will regress back to his career levels. Still, Tampa Bay has shown an interest, as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and New York Mets, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Again, Friedman will strike a deal only if the price is right. With the help of Gerry Hunsicker and the rest of the management group, he has put the Rays in a position to sustain this success well into the next decade. He is too smart to jeopardize this by becoming myopic to appease the media or a growing fan base.

Top pitching prospects Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson and, of course, David Price are not going anywhere. If the Rays are active in the next week, prospects along the lines of Jeff Niemann or Fernando Perez are more likely to be included in a package.

Davis and Hellickson have been drawn interest from other organizations, including the Colorado Rockies—who may no longer be sellers in the wide-open NL West. It is unlikely, however, that either prospect will depart.

Tampa Bay is also looking to add another arm to its bullpen, but there are stronger internal options—Price, who is 8-0 in the minors, most notably—in this regard.

The offensive need, on the other hand, is a different story. Justin Ruggiano, Dan Johnson and Chris Richard are putting up big numbers at Triple-A Durham, yet are unlikely to make a significant impact in the majors.

Ruggiano, who has spent some time with the big league club, is perhaps better suited for a fourth outfielder role at the highest level. Johnson is a left-handed hitter who has left a lot to be desired with his offensive performance in the majors, causing some to label him as a AAAA player. Ditto for Richard, who has 18 homers and a .902 OPS for the Bulls.

So, if the Rays remain pat without adding a bat, Jonny Gomes will likely receive the majority of at-bats against left-handers. Rocco Baldelli, on a rehab assignment with the Montgomery Biscuits, could potentially help the Rays out down the stretch as well.

This time last year, Friedman struck gold with his acquisition of Dan Wheeler, who has proved to be a key piece to the Rays' bullpen puzzle. The deal went unnoticed at the time, for the most part, but has truly provided long-term benefits. It would be ideal for a similar trade to happen—this time involving a bat—but that is asking for a lot.

Rest assured, though, the Rays' baseball operations department is on the phone nearly all day. Look for the franchise to make a couple of minor moves.

To reach Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.

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