8/15-8/17 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays


A few weeks ago, this series looked it would be a battle for postseason position. Instead it’s a trade deadline seller against an almost non-contender. The AL East isn’t what it once was, folks. The Yankees have lost seven of ten games to the Rays this season. They split four games at Tropicana Field back in April.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays just took three of four from the awful Texas Rangers and went 6-4 on their ten-game road trip overall. At 60-61 with a +21 run differential, Tampa is in fourth place in the AL East, two games behind the Yankees. The Bombers have to win at least one game this weekend to avoid falling into fourth place.

With an average of 3.99 runs per game and a team 104 wRC+, the Rays are both below-average and above-average offensively at the same time. They’re getting hits, just not bunched together. Tampa is currently without OF Wil Myers (94 wRC+) and OF David DeJesus (134 wRC+), who are on the disabled list with wrist and shoulder injuries, respectively. Myers is on a rehab assignment but is not expected to rejoin the team this weekend. C Ryan Hanigan (88 wRC+) is also on the disabled list with an oblique problem and IF Desmond Jennings (106 wRC+) is day-to-day with a shoulder issue.

(Marilyn Indahl/Getty)
(Marilyn Indahl/Getty)

As usual, manager Joe Maddon’s lineup is built around 3B Evan Longoria (103 wRC+), though he is having a very down year by his standards. His six-year, $100M extension doesn’t kick in until 2017. They better hope this year is just a blip. OF Matt Joyce (130 wRC+) is having a strong year, ditto 2B/OF Ben Zobrist (128 wRC+). OF Kevin Kiermaier (130 wRC+) has been a pleasant surprise since coming up to replace Myers. 1B James Loney (105 wRC+) is having a typical James Loney year, which means not 2013.

C Jose Molina (31 wRC+) splits catching duty with C Curt Casali (41 wRC+ in limited time) now that Hanigan is on the disabled list. OF Brandon Guyer (111 wRC+) backs up in the outfield while UTIL Sean Rodriguez (111 wRC+) and UTIL Logan Forsythe (94 wRC+) play just about everywhere. Rodriguez destroys the Yankees, as I’m sure you know. SS Yunel Escobar (91 wRC+) is the everyday shortstop. Tampa Bay is carrying only three bench players at the moment.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Brandon McCarthy (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
With David Price traded away and Matt Moore out following Tommy John surgery, the 26-year-old Cobb is the team’s de facto ace. He has a 3.41 ERA (3.43 FIP) in 18 starts and 108.1 innings this year while missing a few weeks with an oblique strain. His strikeout (8.47 K/9 and 22.5 K%), walk (2.66 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%), homer (0.75 HR/9 and 10.6 HR/FB%), and ground ball (57.5%) rates all range from very good to excellent. Thanks to his knockout mid-80s changeup, lefties (.266 wOBA) have actually had less success against Cobb (.315 wOBA) than righties. His two and four-seamers sit in the low-90s and he’ll also throw a bunch of low-80s curveballs. The Yankees have not faced Cobb this year.

Saturday: RHP Shane Greene (No vs. TB) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (vs. NYY)
Smyly, 25, was part of the Price trade, arguably the centerpiece. He has a 3.73 ERA (3.84 FIP) in 118.1 innings across 20 starts and three relief appearances in 2014, though only his walk rate (2.74 BB/9 and 7.2 BB%) stands out. His strikeout (7.91 K/9 and 20.9 K%), homerun (1.06 HR/9 and 9.6 HR/FB%), and ground ball (37.0%) numbers are nothing to write home about. Righties (.376 wOBA) have hit him a ton harder than lefties (.208 wOBA). Smyly has one of the biggest platoon splits in the game. He operates with a mid-80s slider and three fastballs: low-90s four-seamers, upper-80s two-seamers, and mid-80s cutters. He’ll also throw a handful of low-80s changeups per start. Smyly has not faced the Yankees this year and he went three runs in 5.1 innings and 7.2 shutout innings in his first two starts with the Rays.

Hellickson. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Hellickson. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. TB) vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (vs. NYY)
Elbow surgery kept the 27-year-old Hellickson on the shelf until early last month, so he’s only made five starts and thrown 26.2 innings this year. His walk rate (2.03 BB/9 and 5.5 BB%) is low, as are his strikeout (6.75 K/9 and 18.4 K%) and ground ball (30.5%) rates. Aside from 2013, Hellickson has consistently outperformed his peripherals because he’s adept at getting infield pop-ups and other weak contact. His homer rate (1.01 HR/9 and 7.3 HR/FB%) is about average and lefties (.274 wOBA) have had a tougher time against him than righties (.330 wOBA). Hellickson works with both a four-seam and two-seam fastball at right around 90 mph, and his go-to secondary pitch is an upper-70s changeup. He’ll also throw some mid-70s curves per start. Hellickson has failed to complete five full innings of work in three of his five starts off elbow surgery.

Bullpen Status
RHP Grant Balfour (4.16 FIP) has struggled this year, so Maddon has been using a closer by committee for several weeks now. LHP Jake McGee (1.22 FIP) has been outstanding and gets the ball in the most important spots regardless of inning. Sometimes the seventh, sometimes the eighth, sometimes the ninth. RHP Joel Peralta (3.73 FIP) and RHP Brad Boxberger (2.66 FIP) also work the late innings.

The rest of the bullpen includes LHP Jeff Beliveau (3.92 FIP in limited time), RHP Brandon Gomes (5.34 FIP), RHP Kirby Yates (3.00 FIP), and LHP Cesar Ramos (4.25 FIP). McGee, Boxberger, and Beliveau all pitched yesterday. The Yankees had two of the last three days off, so their bullpen is generally well-rested. Dellin Betances might not be available tonight after his extended outing on Wednesday, but that’s it. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent reliever usage, then check out The Process Report for everything you need to know about the Rays.


Link Dump: Trades, Headley, Gardner, Castillo

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

I have a whole bunch of stray links lying around in the wake of the trade deadline and I’m not quite sure what do with them, so I might as well dump them all in one post. Here are some miscellaneous links and notes as the Yankees and Tigers wrap up their series in the Bronx (game thread).

Yankees add most projected production at trade deadline

Although they didn’t land a big fish like Jon Lester or David Price, the Yankees were one of the most active teams prior to the trade deadline, making four deals that qualified as what Brian Cashman called “incremental upgrades.” Friend of RAB Eno Sarris put together a real quick and dirty analysis looking at which teams added the most production at the trade using projected WAR. It’s a simple WAR coming in minus WAR going out calculation. The Yankees added 2.0 WAR (projected!) at the deadline, by far the most in baseball. The Mariners were second at 1.3 WAR. Those incremental upgrades, man. They add up in a hurry.

Headley loves New York, surprising

Chase Headley has only been a Yankee for a bit more than two weeks now, but that has been long enough for New York to grow on him. He told Ken Davidoff he never expected to enjoy playing in Bronx as much as he has. “If you had told me a couple of weeks ago that I would enjoy playing in New York, I would’ve told you you’re crazy … You don’t know what to expect when you come to a clubhouse with this many All-Stars and established guys and great players. You don’t know how you’re going to be accepted in a clubhouse and be treated. And it’s been phenomenal. Top-notch organization, and then I’ve loved every second I’ve been here and I anticipate that I will as long as I’m here,” said Headley. He has also told people with the team how much he’s enjoyed it as well, says Jon Heyman. Headley will be a free agent after the season and re-signing him is something to consider once the final 50 games play out, but for now he’s fit in wonderfully and given the Yankees a big lift.

Red Sox, Rays blacklisted Yankees at deadline

According to David Lennon, the Red Sox and Rays were both told by ownership they could not deal Lester and Price to the Yankees at the trade deadline. Each team was free to trade their lefty ace anywhere but the Bronx. Nick Cafardo says the Yankees did try to engage the BoSox on both Lester and John Lackey, but no dice. The Bombers also called Tampa about Price, says Bob Nightengale, but again, it wasn’t happening. Oh well, what are you going to do. I’m not sure if the Yankees could have put together competitive offers for the two southpaws anyway.

Gardner’s ever-changing approach

This has been a career year for Brett Gardner, as he continues to hit for a surprising amount of power while maintaining his pesky leadoff hitter on-base ability. It’s been a blast to watch. Jeff Sullivan looked at Gardner’s sudden power production and, long story short, found that he’s adjusted to the way pitchers were pitching him. They were treating him like a slap hitter with fastballs in the zone. Like a hitter who couldn’t hurt them. Gardner has become more aggressive and learned how to better pull the ball in the air, a trademark of hitting coach Kevin Long. The league basically dared him to adjust to the way they pitched him, and he’s done exactly that.

Rusney Castillo’s workout scheduled for tomorrow

Free agent Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is scheduled to have a private workout with the Yankees at their Tampa complex tomorrow, according to George King. He has already had private workouts for the Phillies, Red Sox, Cubs, and Mariners. Ben Badler recently dropped a Rajai Davis comp on Castillo, in case you’re wondering what type of player he is. King says the outfielder may fetch upwards of $45M.

2014 Trade Deadline Eve Open Thread

Hole Camels. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Hole Camels. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The non-waiver trade deadline is 4pm ET this Thursday, and between now and then there will be a ton of rumors and speculation. Some actual moves too. The Yankees have already swung trades for Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley, but Brian Cashman has said he is still seeking another starter and another bat. I don’t know if they’ll get another deal done, but I fully expect plenty of Yankees-related rumors.

On Monday and Tuesday we learned the Yankees are “in on everything” but they do not want to part with their top minor leaguers. Josh Willingham, John Danks, Jake Arrieta, Justin Ruggiano, and Chris Denorfia were among the names connected to the club. They are not targeting Justin Masterson, however. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here in this post, so make sure you check back throughout the day. All of the timestamps below are ET.

  • 4:59pm: In addition to Benoit, the Yankees have also checked in on Antonio Bastardo of the Phillies and James Russell of the Cubs. Both are lefties but I don’t think that says they’re unhappy with Matt Thornton. [Stark]
  • 4:33pm: The Yankees continue to be connected to Marlon Byrd, but they are wary of his $8M price tag for next season. Like I said before, they will need a right fielder next year, Byrd on what amounts to a one-year deal at $8M wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. [Jayson Stark]
  • 4:31pm: In case you were thinking about a reunion, former Yankees corner infielder Eric Chavez announced his retirement today. He was pretty awesome.
  • 2:16pm: Although the Yankees and White Sox continue to discuss Danks, they are still far apart in talks. I’m sure both the money and prospects are an obstacle. [Heyman]
  • 2:07pm: Justin Masterson has been traded to the Cardinals. The Yankees did not have interest in him, but it presumably takes St. Louis out of the running for Jon Lester and David Price, muddling the pitching market. [Peter Gammons]
  • 1:57pm: As they look to bolster their bullpen, the Yankees are eyeing Joaquin Benoit. They had some interest in him over the winter. There is “nothing going on” right now as far as talks go, however. [Heyman & Martino]
  • 12:49pm: The Yankees are still involved in talks with the Padres about Ian Kennedy, but those talks are said to be “medium,” whatever that means. San Diego cleared a lot of money with the Huston Street and Chase Headley trades and have said they don’t have any problem with holding onto Kennedy into next season. [Chad Jennings]
  • 12:06pm: The Yankees prefer rentals to players under contract next year and beyond. Rentals are cool, but the team does have holes to address next year (like right field). Trading for someone signed for next season wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. [Andrew Marchand]
  • 10:28am: In addition to rotation help, the Yankees are looking to bolster their bullpen as well. Adam Warren and Dellin Betances look like they have been running on fumes of late. [Nick Cafardo]
  • 10:06am: The Yankees are picking through the second tier of starting pitchers and they have discussed left-hander Brett Anderson. The Rockies intend to keep him and either exercise his club option for 2015 or sign him to a longer term contract, however. [Buster Olney & Ken Rosenthal]
  • 9:30am: The Phillies requested a package of multiple top prospects from the Yankees and several other teams in exchange for Cole Hamels. The assumption around baseball is that Philadelphia isn’t serious about moving their lefty ace. The Yankees are more likely to add another mid-rotation arm than an ace-caliber pitcher at this point. [Jon Heyman & Andy Martino]
  • The Yankees continue to have interest in Willingham. With Carlos Beltran continuing his throwing program and potentially returning to the outfield as soon as next week, the DH spot would be open for Willingham, who hasn’t played right field in five years. [Heyman]
  • Both the Rays and Rangers had special assignment scouts watching Double-A Trenton last night. Special assignment scouts are sent to see specific players. They aren’t there for general coverage. [Keith Law]

Also, I understand we have a new flood of commenters coming over from LoHud for whatever reason. Please look over the Commenting Guidelines if you’re new and especially note that we ask you to keep comments on topic. Also use the “reply” button to keep conversations organized. We’re not asking much. Thanks in advance.

2014 Trade Deadline Open Thread: Tuesday

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

The non-waiver trade deadline is 4pm ET this Thursday, and between now and then there will be a ton of rumors and speculation. Some actual moves too. The Yankees have already swung trades for Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley, but Brian Cashman has said he is still seeking another starter and another bat. I don’t know if they’ll get another deal done, but I fully expect plenty of Yankees-related rumors, hence a full week of recap open threads rather than one or two days.

Yesterday we learned the Bombers are “in on everything,” but they do not want to part with their top minor leaguers. Josh Willingham, John Danks, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Denorfia were among the names connected to the club. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here in this post, so make sure you check back throughout the day. All of the timestamps below are ET.

  • 12:52pm: Justin Masterson, who the Indians are “very willing” to trade, is not on the Yankees’ radar. Not only is he currently on the disabled list with a knee problem, but he also has a 5.51 ERA (4.08 FIP) and has lost nearly three full miles and hour off his trademark sinker. [Jeff Passan & Sherman]
  • 10:35am: The White Sox have had scout Joe Butler trailing Double-A Trenton the last few days. In addition to Danks, the power-hitting Dayan Viciedo is also available. He’d fit as a righty hitting outfielder. [George King]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees asked the Cubs about outfielder Justin Ruggiano but were apparently told he isn’t available. The team is said to be seeking a right-handed hitting outfielder and he’d fit the bill. [Jon Heyman]
  • The Rays had special assignment scouting Bobby Heck at a recent Double-A Trenton game — special assignment scouts are sent to see specific players, not general coverage — likely doing due diligence in case the they become willing to trade within the division. [Joel Sherman]
  • Not a rumor or anything, but check out this Larry Fleisher piece on the process of making a trade. Cashman is quoted extensively. “It seems like the new technique is texting. Some of it’s not as much by phone as it used to be but you just throw out a lot of ideas … I think it’s easier to insult somebody via text than it is to on the phone,” said the GM. Check it out.

6/30-7/2 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

That kinda season in Tampa. (Mike Carlson/Getty)
That kinda season in Tampa. (Mike Carlson/Getty)

Once again, the Yankees are set to play a division rival as the Rays come to town for three games. This will be the Bombers’ fifth straight series against an AL East opponent and they’ve lost three of the first four. The Yankees will pass the season halfway mark tonight. It’s time to start stringing together some wins. They split four games in Tampa in mid-April and lost two of three to the Rays in the Bronx in early-May.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays just did the Yankees a solid and took three of four from the Orioles (in Baltimore!) over the weekend. Tampa has won four of their last five and eleven of their last 18 games overall. Despite that, they still have the worst record (35-49) and sixth worst run differential (-37) in baseball.

Manager Joe Maddon’s team is league average offensively with a team 100 wRC+ and an average of 3.79 runs per game. The Rays are currently without OF Wil Myers (wrist), OF David DeJesus (hand), and SS Yunel Escobar (shoulder). Myers and DeJesus are on the disabled list and won’t be returning anytime soon. Escobar is day-to-day and could return to the starting lineup as soon as tonight.

(J. Meric/Getty)
(J. Meric/Getty)

As usual, Maddon’s lineup is built around 3B Evan Longoria (107 wRC+) and 2B/OF Ben Zobrist (109 wRC+), but neither is having a particularly great year. OF Matt Joyce (121 wRC+) has been their best regular hitter while 1B James Loney (104 wRC+) and OF Desmond Jennings (103 wRC+) have been solid. OF Kevin Kiermaier (162 wRC+ in limited time) has been awesome filling in for Myers.

The rest of the offense is mix and match. C Ryan Hanigan (98 wRC+) and C Jose Molina (14 wRC+) share catching duties while UTIL Sean Rodriguez (96 wRC+) and OF Brandon Guyer (102 wRC+) sub in against lefties. OF Cole Figueroa (49 wRC+ in very limited time) and UTIL Logan Forsythe (76 wRC+ in limited time) fill out the bench. Tampa has stolen the third fewest bases in the league (Jennings leads the team by far with 12), so these aren’t the runnin’ Rays of a few years go.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP David Phelps (vs. TB) vs. RHP Chris Archer (vs. NYY)
Once David Price gets traded, the 25-year-old Archer is going to take over as the staff ace by default. He has a 3.29 ERA (2.96 FIP) in 16 starts and 93 innings this year, with improved strikeout (8.32 K/9 and 21.8 K%) and ground ball (47.5%) rates compared to his strong rookie campaign a year ago. Archer’s walk rate (3.48 BB/9 and 9.1 BB%) has jumped a bit and his homer rate (0.29 HR/9 and 3.9 HR/FB%) is unsustainably low at this point. I don’t think that will last all year. Righties (3.41 wOBA) have actually fared better than lefties (2.55 wOBA) so far this year, which is odd because Archer is a mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider guy. He throws only a handful of mid-80s changeups per start and those guys tend to have platoon splits, not reverse platoon splits. Small sample, I guess. Archer has never not pitched well against the Yankees — in four starts and 28.2 career inning against New York, he’s allowed four runs and 20 base-runners.

Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. TB) vs. LHP David Price (vs. NYY)
Could this be Price’s final start with the Rays? I think that’s possible for every one of his starts from here on out. Price, 28, has a 3.63 ERA (3.00 FIP) in 17 starts and 124 innings this year, but that really undersells just how good he’s been. He has 144 strikeouts (10.45 K/9 and 28.4 K%) and 14 walks (1.02 BB/9 and 2.8 BB%) on the season, and has struck out at least ten batters in each of his last five starts. The last pitcher to strike out double-digit batters in five straight games was sicko Johan Santana back in 2004. Price’s ground ball rate (42.8%) has been about average but he has been homer prone (1.23 HR/9 and 13.3 HR/FB%). His platoon split is small. As always, Price remains a fastball machine, throwing his low-to-mid-90s two and four-seamer and mid-80s cutter more than 70% of the time combined. He backdoors the cutter to righties for called strikes better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Unhittable pitch. Mid-80s changeups and upper-70s curveballs round out his repertoire. The Yankees have seen Price twice this season. One start went well for them (six runs in five innings) and the other didn’t (two runs in seven innings).


Wednesday: LHP Vidal Nuno (vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (vs. NYY)
After a very rough start, the 24-year-old Odorizzi has turned his season around of late, allowing two or fewer runs in each of his last four starts. He owns a 4.14 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 16 starts and 82.2 innings with a very high strikeout rate (10.56 K/9 and 25.2 K%). His walk rate is kinda high (3.70 BB/9 and 9.5 BB%), his ground ball rate is low (35.6%), and his homer rate is probably a touch low as well (0.76 HR/9 and 7.4 HR/FB%). Righties (.318 wOBA) have been a bit better than lefties (.297 wOBA). Reverse platoon splits seems to be a trend on Tampa’s staff. Odorizzi uses a four-seamer right around 90 mph to set up his mid-80s slider, which is his top secondary pitch. He’ll throw a handful of mid-80s changeups and rainbow upper-60s curveballs per start. The Yankees scored three runs in four innings the only time they saw Odorizzi earlier this year.

Bullpen Status
Because RHP Grant Balfour (4.27 FIP) had some big time meltdowns earlier this year, Maddon has been using a closer by committee system in recent weeks. Balfour, LHP Jake McGee (1.58 FIP), RHP Joel Peralta (4.22 FIP), and RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo (4.50 FIP) have all grabbed saves at one point or another. McGee in particular has been fantastic and is not just a lefty specialist.

Peralta, RHP Brad Boxberger (4.27 FIP), RHP Kirby Yates (4.52 FIP in very limited time), and LHP Cesar Ramos (4.46 FIP) all pitched in yesterday’s game. Ramos threw 45 pitches and probably won’t be available tonight in anything other than emergency. Everyone else threw only one inning and should be good to go tonight. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen and then check out The Process Report for everything you need to know about the Rays.

The perfect fit and the trade that will (probably) never happen

(Mike Carlson/Getty)
(Mike Carlson/Getty)

Now that the season is roughly 40% complete and we’ve had more than two months to evaluate the Yankees, their needs are obvious. They need another starter and another bat, in simplest terms. You can argue they need two starters and two bats, really. Specifically, they need a veteran innings eater and either an infielder (either second or third base works) or right fielder. Alfonso Soriano looks toast and Carlos Beltran‘s bone spur means he’s stuck at DH for the foreseeable future.

Digging up trade candidates these days is not easy because of the second wildcard spot, which keeps most teams in contention until August or even September. Even if they’re not really in it, they can still sell the idea that they are in it, like the Yankees did last year. All you need to do is stay close enough to keep fans excited. Selling off veteran players may be the best baseball move, but driving fans away has a very real and negative impact. Ask the Astros.

As of today, the division rival Tampa Bay Rays have the worst record in baseball. By a lot. They currently have the worst record (25-42) and second worst run differential (-52) in baseball, three games worse than the Cubs. The next worst AL team is the Red Sox at 29-36. Tampa was recently shutout in 31 straight innings and they’ve been a disaster this season. I thought they’d be good because the Rays have been annoyingly good since 2008, but the magic finally wore off. The pitching well dried up too.

Because they’re so bad, there are already rumblings the Rays could look to trade some veterans and restock the young player cupboard. David Price is the big name for obvious reasons. He’s making huge money ($14M) and will be a free agent after next season, and there’s no way Tampa will a) let him walk for just a draft pick, or b) be able to afford to sign him long-term. Expect a ton of Price rumors in the coming weeks. Others like Matt Joyce, David DeJesus, Jeremy Hellickson (once healthy), and Joel Peralta could be shopped as well.

Then there’s Ben Zobrist, the versatile switch-hitter who seems to play a different position every other game. He is the team’s third highest paid player at $7M and his contract includes a very affordable $7.5M club option for 2015 that will surely be picked up. Like Price, the Rays probably won’t let him walk for nothing more than a draft and probably won’t be able to sign him long-term. Even if they could, he’s already 33, and they might not want to re-sign him after next year.

Zobrist, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, is that “perfect fit” I referred to in the post title. He can play both second base and right field, two positions of need in the Bronx, and he’s a switch-hitter with some power and a lot of patience. His walk rate has always been strong (10.6% this year, 12.1% from 2011-13) and while his power production has dipped to a .121 ISO this year (.176 from 2011-13), it may be partially explained by the dislocated thumb he suffered sliding into a base earlier this season. We’ve seen Zobrist play against New York for a long time, we know he’s a quality player.

(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

The appeal for the Yankees is obvious. Zobrist can not only play second and right, but he plays them both well and can shuttle between the two positions on a near daily basis without suffering at the plate. I don’t think everyone understands just how hard that is. He’s also a true switch-hitter without a platoon split historically, he walks, he has some pop, he steals some bases, he’s familiar playing the shift, and he’s very familiar with the AL East and those grueling late-season battles for postseason position. And the contract is more than reasonable. It’s a bargain, really.

I don’t need to spend any more time explaining why Zobrist would be perfect for the Yankees, right? The real question is whether the Rays would be open to trading him within the division, and, if they are, what they would want in return. The last time Tampa made a notable intra-division trade was … well, never, really. The three-team Joe Kennedy/Mark Hendrickson/Justin Speier deal with the Blue Jays and Rockies in 2003 is the biggest by far. The only trade they’ve made with the Yankees came in 2006, when Tampa sent Nick Green to New York for cash. That was before Andrew Friedman became GM.

The Blue Jays have made it clear they are unwilling to trade impact players within the division but the Rays have not really done that. They seem like the type of front office that would be open to trading a player anywhere as long as they received the greatest possible return, but who really knows? Zobrist figures to be in high demand (Mariners? Tigers? Dodgers? Giants? Blue Jays? Braves? Athletics?) so they shouldn’t have a problem digging up high-end offers. They’ll be able to get full value and deal him out of the division, so it’s the best of both worlds.

The Rays have shown a tendency to seek big trade packages with a lot of throw-ins — five players for Matt Garza, four players for Jason Bartlett, five players for Alex Torres (plus a prospect) — and I assume the same would be true with Zobrist. Victor Martinez, another solidly above-average player who was traded a year and a half prior to free agency, was dealt from the Indians to the Red Sox for a young MLB ready player (Justin Masterson) plus a top ten (Nick Hagadone) and top 20 (Bryan Price) prospect in the system. That seems like an okay framework for Zobrist.

What could the Yankees give the Rays along those lines? Geez, I don’t know. John Ryan Murphy, Manny Banuelos, Jose Ramirez, plus two throw-ins? Add another playing coming to the Yankees as needed? It won’t be Austin Romine and Vidal Nuno, that’s for sure. Figuring out an acceptable trade package is something for the front offices to determine. Talking about them is part of the fun of being a fan but ultimately we have no idea how these teams value these players. Based on everything I’ve seen in my years watching baseball, how we view players and how teams value them is often very different.

If the Rays do decide to sell — given their place in the standings and generally pro-active approach, it seems very likely they will sell — the Yankees should make a call about Zobrist because he’d be a great addition to the roster and help address several needs at once (offense, defense, second base/right field) both this year and next year. Several other teams will do the same and that will probably put the Yankees at a negotiating disadvantage with their division rival. Zobrist would be a perfect fit for the Yankees and chances are they have little shot of actually getting him.

The very flawed and wide open AL East

In case you haven’t noticed, the AL East is a dumpster fire this season. Here are the standings before we go any further:

AL East standings 050814

Yuck. All five teams are clustered together in mediocrity. Dan Syzmborski posted his updated ZiPS division projections yesterday based on what has already happened this year, and the system has the Blue Jays in last place at 80-82. It also has the other four AL East teams tied for first at 83-79. Keep in mind that’s not a prediction of what will happen, it’s just an estimate of each team’s talent level. Point is, the division is crazy close.

As we’ve seen the last few weeks, the Yankees are no doubt a flawed team. They need another starting pitcher and another infielder, and another bullpen arm wouldn’t hurt either. Playing better defense would help too. More than anything, they need players like Carlos Beltran, Derek Jeter, Brian McCann, and CC Sabathia to improve their performance going forward.

The Yankees are a flawed team and that’s okay because the other four AL East teams are flawed too. We’ve learned a lot these last five weeks. Here’s what we know about the division a little more than one month into the season.

Overall Batting: 94 wRC+ (17th in MLB) and 4.32 R/G (9th)
Overall Rotation: 4.42 ERA (24th) and 4.32 FIP (25th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.81 ERA (16th) and 4.38 FIP (27th)
Defensive Efficiency: .683 (29th)

Machado. (Presswire)
Machado. (Presswire)

The O’s went into the offseason needing a starter and they still need a starter. Ubaldo Jimenez (5.19 ERA and 4.83 FIP) has not worked out so far — turns out making a bunch of starts against the Astros, White Sox, and Twins late last year didn’t mean he had turned his career around — and the Miguel Gonzalez (5.28 ERA and 4.86 FIP) magic has finally worn off. Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, and Wei-Yin Chen are solid but nothing more. The middle relief unit is also a mess, though the trio of Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, and Darren O’Day have been outstanding. The other four guys are the problem. Now that Manny Machado is back and Chris Davis (oblique) will soon come off the DL, Baltimore will out-hit many of their pitching problems this summer. That strategy can work, we saw the Yankees do it from 2005-07. They do lack high on-base players to fully capitalize on their power, however.

Overall Batting: 100 wRC+ (13th) and 4.15 R/G (16th)
Overall Rotation: 3.85 ERA (15th) and 3.83 FIP (14th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.14 ERA (9th) and 2.91 FIP (3rd)
Defensive Efficiency: .693 (22nd)

On paper, the Red Sox are the most complete team in the division. They’re average or better in every phase of the game, including defensively now that Shane Victorino (hamstring) is off the DL and Jackie Bradley Jr. has replaced Grady Sizemore as the regular center fielder. Bradley and A.J. Pierzynski are the lineup weak spots, Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow the bullpen laggers, and Felix Doubront the rotation drain. Jake Peavy’s walk and homer problems suggest he might perform worse going forward as well (3.09 ERA and 5.07 FIP). Otherwise Boston has productive players in just about every roster spot, a deep farm system, and a pretty big wallet. If they need help, they can go out and get almost anyone they want. The Red Sox are not as good as they were last year, nor are they as bad as they were for the first few weeks of this season.

New York Yankees
Overall Batting: 101 wRC+ (12th) and 4.27 R/G (10th)
Overall Rotation: 4.27 ERA (22th) and 3.88 FIP (16th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.91 ERA (19th) and 3.52 FIP (12th)
Defensive Efficiency: .690 (25th)

Outside of Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees have not had another reliable starter all season. Maybe Hiroki Kuroda will be that guy after his very good start against the Angels earlier this week and maybe Michael Pineda will be another one when he returns from his shoulder muscle problem. The back of the bullpen has been excellent. The lineup is being held back because of several underperformers, specifically Beltran and McCann. The Yankees have a ton of money, it’s just a question of how willing ownership is to use it to add players at midseason. The farm system is improving but it still remains to be seen whether other teams want some of their prospects in trades. But you knew all that already.

Overall Batting: 108 wRC+ (7th) and 4.24 R/G (11th)
Overall Rotation: 4.44 ERA (25th) and 3.76 FIP (11th)
Overall Bullpen: 4.17 ERA (23rd) and 4.23 FIP (22nd)
Defensive Efficiency: .701 (18th)

For the first time in a long time, the Rays have serious pitching problems. Matt Moore is lost for the year with Tommy John surgery, and both Jeremy Hellickson (elbow) and Alex Cobb (oblique) are still weeks away from returning to the rotation. They’ve been stuck relying on Erik Bedard, Jake Odorizzi, and Cesar Ramos to make starts. Those guys wouldn’t be anywhere near their pitching staff the last couple of seasons. The offense is fine but the bullpen is weak because it’s been worked hard thanks to the shaky rotation, though replacing Heath Bell with Brad Boxberger will help somewhat. Unlike the other teams in the division, Tampa doesn’t really have the financial wherewithal (or the prospects, at this point) to go out and make a trade to improve their weakness. They’re just trying to get by until Hellickson and Cobb return, hoping they’ll be the difference makers.

Imagine Dioner Navarro being your biggest offseason move. (Abelimages/Getty)
Imagine Dioner Navarro being your biggest offseason move. (Abelimages/Getty)

Overall Batting: 111 wRC+ (4th) and 4.88 R/G (5th)
Overall Rotation: 4.04 ERA (19th) and 3.75 FIP (10th)
Overall Bullpen: 4.94 ERA (27th) and 4.23 FIP (23rd)
Defensive Efficiency: .692 (24th)

You didn’t need the updated ZiPS projections to tell you Toronto is the weakest team in the division. They have a top heavy lineup with several black holes (second and third bases, in particular), one and a half starters (Mark Buehrle and Drew Hutchison, maybe R.A. Dickey on a good day), and a disaster of a bullpen. They gutted the farm system last offseason and are reportedly up against their payroll limit. Money is so tight that several players offered to deferred salary this winter if it helped the team sign then-free agent Ervin Santana. That blows my mind. In a division of flawed teams, the Jays have the most and biggest holes. That doesn’t mean they can’t make life miserable this season though. They’re always a pain.

* * *

The AL East has been the best division in baseball over the last 15 years or so, and I don’t even think it was close. At first it was just the Yankees and Red Sox, then the Rays got in on the fun, then two years ago the Orioles started making noise.

Instead of evolving into a division of powerhouses, it’s currently a division of mediocrity. It’s a collection of good but not great teams right now. The opportunity is there for any one of the five clubs to run away with the division but right now no one seems to want it. A blockbuster trade or unexpected development (like, say, a prospect coming up and having immediate impact) could decide the AL East.