The Tampa Bay Rays may have picked up the boost they need in the second half. The team added some pop to its lineup Thursday, acquiring New York Mets first baseman Lucas Duda for pitcher Drew Smith, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
The 31-year-old Duda is hitting .246/.347/.532, with 17 home runs, over 291 plate appearances this season. Duda’s strikeout rate limits his upside, but he walks and hits for enough power to offset his low batting average. Despite his .246 average this season, Duda’s 127 wRC+ – an advanced stat that measures offensive performance – says he’s been 27 percent better than the average hitter.
Duda will add to a Tampa Bay offense that has been surprisingly productive this year. The club entered Thursday ranked sixth with a 105 wRC+. That success has come in the form of bounce back and breakout years from Logan Morrison, Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr.
The Rays will be able to keep all three of those players in the lineup with Duda by moving some key pieces around. Dickerson, who has split time as the team’s designated hitter, will now take over as the primary left fielder. That allows Duda to replace Brad Miller, who is hitting .202/.342/.330, at DH. Though not regarded as an elite fielder, Duda could also spell Morrison at first occasionally.
Duda is in the final year of his contract, and is slated to be a free-agent at the end of the season.
Smith, a 23-year-old reliever, has a 1.60 ERA spread over three minor-league levels. He’s spent the majority of his season in High A. Smith started the year with the Detroit Tigers, but was dealt to Tampa Bay in April. He entered the season ranked as Detroit’s No. 24 prospect according to Baseball America. He’s battled injuries during his young career, but can touch 97 mph with his fastball.
After a strong first half, the Rays have found themselves in a bit of a slide following the All-Star break. The team has gone just 4-6 over their last 10 games, and now sit behind both the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals in the American League wild card race.
While the Yankees have been a consistent presence in that race all year, the Royals have emerged as a major threat after reeling off eight straight wins. Both clubs have already made moves to solidify their status as contenders in the second half.
With the Duda acquisition, the Rays have announced their intention to do the same. With the wild card race already tight, Duda might be just enough of an upgrade to give the Rays that extra win they need to play in October.
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