Small-market clubs leading the way prior to the MLB trade deadline

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

One day soon the Tampa Bay Rays will know exactly how the 2017 trade deadline worked out for them, whether they overtook the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox or simply thrashed around enough to get everyone’s attention for a minute or two in late July.

Either way, it was admirable they tried, which isn’t supposed to sound condescending. The Rays went a week without winning at about the worst possible time, when ownership and the front office could’ve been talked into the Rays as a mirage of mediocrity. Heck, a few weeks ago Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi and anybody else not named Longoria could’ve been dragged across the front stoops of contenders and hardly anyone would’ve found fault in that. Then they played better, and then they lost for a week, and now they don’t have a game against a non-contender until the middle of August, which means Rays president for baseball operations Matt Silverman is left to guess whether a hard buy is the proper course for a small-market club that lacks the financial fastball to make a mistake.

Still, spread over a month, most of it in the past hours, the Rays:

Traded two minor leaguers for shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.

Paid a little cash for reliever Sergio Romo.

Traded pitcher Erasmo Ramirez for righty Steve Cishek.

Traded a minor leaguer for lefty reliever Dan Jennings.

Traded a top-30 prospect for Lucas Duda.

The Tampa Bay Rays have been active leading up to Monday’s baseball trade deadline. (AP Images)

Notice you haven’t read anything yet about Sonny Gray or Yu Darvish or Justin Wilson or Justin Verlander, where the big fellas shop. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn Darvish was feasible in the right circumstances, because the cost for a couple months of Darvish was only a few million dollars more than that for a couple months of Duda, and pitching is what the Rays do. The squishy part for the Rays is when the price is substantial in dollars and prospects, so something they don’t have a lot of and something they’re going to need for tomorrow, assuming a continuation of the former and knowing they had no shot at Darvish in free agency.

The trade deadline is supposed to work for everyone and probably does in the long run, so long as you’re not the kid who spent his Christmas and birthday money for the jersey of a guy with a big, expiring contract on a bad team. Gotta do your homework there, Jimmy.

So, with the better part of three days until that deadline, and presumably a lot more to come, the Chicago Cubs’ acquisition of Jose Quintana and the Washington Nationals’ of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson was to be expected, while the quick-strike moves of lower payroll teams have been the better part of the early story.

The Milwaukee Brewers entered 2017 with the league’s lowest payroll. Being slowly pulled under by the Cubs, the Brewers on Wednesday traded for reliever Anthony Swarzak (from the rebuilding Chicago White Sox) and reportedly are players for the available high-end starters. The Arizona Diamondbacks, 26th in payroll, acquired J.D. Martinez from the Detroit Tigers, second in payroll. The Minnesota Twins, 22nd in payroll, added starter Jaime Garcia from Atlanta. And the Rays, 28th in payroll, bought from the New York Mets, Miami Marlins, White Sox and Seattle Mariners. The San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and, perhaps, Baltimore Orioles, all in the top ten in payroll, are sellers. There are at least eight buyers in the bottom half of major league payrolls.

Payroll is fastball. Farm system is deception. Trade deadline is the guess hitter standing in against both. He’s got a bat, he’s got a chance. We’ll know in a month or two.

No matter what happens by Monday’s deadline, the team from New York that can’t ever get straight what it is, offloaded one of its better players (and his salary) to the team from St. Petersburg, Florida, that survives its means, that often survives beyond its means. And that, in itself, makes the deadline a little more interesting, and the Rays (along with their small-market companions) better for trying.

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