The scuffling Tampa Bay Rays needed to solidify their starting pitching rotation before Tuesday's MLB trade deadline. There was no disputing that fact, given the club's early-season injuries and the Baltimore Orioles' second-half surge. But few expected the reinforcements to come in the form of Cleveland Guardians' Aaron Civale.

The Rays swooped into acquire the 28-year-old right-hander Monday afternoon, sending back first baseman Kyle Manzardo (team's No. 4 prospect, per to make it worth Cleveland's while. The move obviously does not reach the magnitude of the Max Scherzer-Texas Rangers deal or a potential Justin Verlander blockbuster, but this small-market exchange of goods still leaves quite an impact.

The Rays boost their World Series hopes by staying true to their overall organizational philosophy. Meanwhile, the Guardians pick up a tantalizing offensive prospect who can provide a desperate punch to the lineup very soon, but they worsen their 2023 postseason hopes in the process.

There is a lot to unpack here so let's take a closer look and assign grades to both the Rays and Guardians for this intriguing Aaron Civale trade that snuck up on the MLB.

Rays Grade: A-

Live and breathe baseball?

🚨 Get viral MLB graphics, memes, rumors and trending news delivered right to your inbox with the Clutch Newsletter.

This is a quintessential Tampa Bay trade. Obviously, the team would be in better shape for a title run, on paper at least, if it had Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander on the roster, but we all knew that wasn't going to happen. The organization ranks near the bottom in payroll and attendance, so some creativity was necessary to land a potential difference-maker.

Rays general manager Pete Bendix did just that while staying true to the front office's model. Aaron Civale has bounced back big after missing two months with an oblique injury. He has a dazzling 2.34 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 13 starts this season. He can go deeper in games than most pitchers nowadays and is holding batters to a paltry .207 batting average.

So why not give Tampa an A then? A top-five prospect in your system seems like a bit of an overpay for a smaller sample size of high-level production. Civale has never quite put forth a full solid season before in his career. He also completely unraveled in his only postseason start last year against the New York Yankees.

The Rays have done a nice job of building up their offense, so they can afford to part with Kyle Manzardo, but perhaps not in a deal straight-up for this particular pitcher. The market is what it is, though, and tough sacrifices were going to be made in order to get better. This club deepens its rotation and now has four starters it can trust in October.

Moreover, this is not merely a rental. The former third-round draft pick is under control through 2025. This is the right place for him to continue to hone his skills until he hits the free agent market. A team-friendly deal that has value both in the present and future has to score high. We can nitpick, but this was the realistically the best deadline deal the cost-efficient Rays were likely ever going to make.

Guardians Grade: B-

Listen, I know many eyes will roll, but I have to penalize Cleveland for trading its best available starting pitcher while only being a half-game behind the Minnesota Twins for first place in the American League Central. Yes, we all know the team has flaws and look ill-equipped for a World Series run. Injuries have ravaged the rotation and forced the Guardians to take a chance on the struggling Noah Syndergaard. But I'm going to refer to an old cliche. Get in and anything can happen.

Practicality is brushed to the side when everything resets. That is what Terry Francona's gritty group is possibly looking at if they can overtake the Twins the rest of the way. All of their weaknesses and limitations matter far less when the postseason commences. This lineup, while bereft of power, has qualities that play well in the postseason. Timely contact hitting and savvy baserunning can allow Cleveland to catch the league by surprise for a second year in a row.

Instead, management is making the safe bet that nothing will really come of this season and is building for the future. However, Aaron Civale could have also factored into that plan. He is only 28 and is under team control for a while longer. That is a tough package to pass up, especially given how essential the position is to sustaining success.

Call me a dinosaur or narrow-minded, but shipping out a pitcher right after Shane Bieber was placed on the 60-day injured list feels downright reckless. Many fans will support this move based on the high upside coming back, but winning in 2023 must be the top objective as long as a playoff berth is in reach.

That being said, Kyle Manzardo directly addresses the team's biggest need. He smashed the ball in the minor league until the Rays promoted him to Triple-A. The 23-year-old was hitting just .238 with 11 home runs before being placed on the IL earlier in July. Hopefully he gets healthy soon and is an every-day MLB player in 2024.

Manzardo brings the Guardians more than fair return value. Again, though, context is important here. Scoff all you want, but this organization is tempting the baseball gods with such an unconventional move. This could set an unfortunate precedent for other small-market franchises who choose to step away and only focus on the big picture instead of the playoff one right in front of them.