The Rays were the best team in baseball for most of the first half, but the Braves have since blown by them and they are no longer even the best team in their own division. Reeling from four straight losses, Tampa has been overtaken by the Orioles, who are 8-2 in their last 10 games. While the two are in a virtual tie for first, Baltimore has a slightly better winning percentage as of this post.
Then there’s the matter of the Rays’ rotation, which has been beset by injuries and may need serious support just to finish the season. Only three Tampa pitchers — Zach Eflin (18), Shane McClanahan (18), and Taj Bradley (14) — have made more than nine starts, and two others — Drew Rasmussen (8), Jeffrey Springs (3) — have suffered season-ending injuries. Josh Fleming (3) is on the 60-day IL and will begin a minor league rehab assignment this weekend, and Tyler Glasnow (9) got a late start as he works back from Tommy John surgery.
What’s more, Glasnow has never started more than 14 games in a season and hasn’t logged more than 88 innings in a season since 2018. He does, however, have a tattoo of Ol’ Dirty Bastard on his right foot and he hates disgraced pharma-bro Martin Shkreli for further bastardizing what the already ill-fated Once Upon a Time in Shaolin project.
Pitching woes are clearly central to the Rays’ slowdown, but I think it’s fair to say the real nexus of their troubles came when Cubs broke them by taking two of three at Wrigley in late May. By beating Bradley and McClanahan before dropping the third game, started by Eflin, the Cubs may have shown other teams that the emperor wasn’t really wearing any clothes. The Rays came into Chicago at 39-16 and are 21-23 since, not exactly a great sign in a division where all the teams are above .500 right now.
Marcus Stroman won that first game against Tampa by tossing a complete-game, one-hit shutout that is undoubtedly top of mind for the Rays’ front office. As discussed during the “Onto Waveland” podcast, the Rays are “doing homework” on Stroman as they look to bolster their rotation to stave off the Orioles and the rest of the AL East.
I know most of you are clenching up a little at the idea of a trade with the Rays that will inevitably turn out poorly for the Cubs, but there might be a little more leverage this time around. The Blue Jays have also been rumored to have interest in their former starter, even though some doubt the veracity of that information, and the Orioles could use a rotation upgrade as well.
Baltimore’s 4.57 rotation ERA ranks 18th in MLB and their two highest-volume starters are north of that. Kyle Gibson has made 20 starts with a 4.77 ERA and Dean Kremer has a 4.80 mark in as many starts, so you can see how they might want to shore that up. Tyler Wells is at 3.72 over 18 starts and Kyle Bradish has a 3.05 ERA across 17 starts, so the cupboard isn’t barren. Finally, there’s flame-throwing rookie Grayson Rodriguez with a 7.33 ERA across 11 starts.
That group’s not terrible by any stretch, but would anyone trust them in a playoff series? Adding Stroman could be just what they need to continue pushing past the Rays and ensure they’re not just a one-and-done postseason team. It’ll help if they actually use closer Felix Bautista in a deciding game should it come to that.
Though I haven’t seen any reported interest from Baltimore, it makes sense that they would be looking to improve one of their weak spots at the deadline. They’ve also got a stacked farm system that boasts eight top-100 prospects according to MLB Pipeline. And while Jed Hoyer would be hung up on for even thinking about Jackson Holliday, there are three Triple-A infielders ranked from 63-75 who might be able to impact the Cubs in the immediate future.
Landing a real stud will take more than a two-month rental, so Hoyer is probably going to have to sweeten the pot quite a bit. It actually makes sense to do the opposite of the Yu Darvish/Victor Caratini trade with San Diego, which netted four young prospects in return. Given the 40-man implications and minor-league roster limits, the Cubs might be better off getting back fewer players than they give up. I guess the Javier Báez/Trevor Williams swap for Pete Crow-Armstrong is a better comp.
Whether they’re able to engage Baltimore, another AL East team, or even the Astros — who’ve reportedly expressed interest in both Stroman and Cody Bellinger — the Cubs need to put themselves in an advantageous position if/when they indeed become sellers. At the risk of getting a little hyperbolic here, Hoyer absolutely cannot afford to miss on this trade deadline because the Cubs must be serious contenders next year.
Regardless of what you feel about where this team should be and what it should do, I think we can all agree that Hoyer is just about at the end of the runway and needs to take off soon before someone pulls his ejection handle.