As the MLB trade deadline approaches, the Tampa Bay Rays have fallen under .500 in a highly competitive division. After losing three straight the team is now 13 games behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East.

The Rays are still in the Wild Card hunt at 5.5 games back. However, it’s a crowded field. Tampa Bay would need to overcome the Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, and Boston Red Sox to grab a postseason spot in 2024.

It’s not impossible but it is unlikely. The Rays have just a 12.8 percent chance to reach the playoffs this year, according to FanGraphs. With their postseason hopes on life support Tampa Bay must assess the season and determine their trade deadline strategy over the next couple weeks, according to The Athletic.

The Rays have made the playoffs five straight years, appearing in the World Series as recently as 2020 (when they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers). However, consecutive sweeps in the Wild Card round in 2022 and 2023 illustrated that the team has fallen from legitimate contender status.

The outcome of games against the New York Yankees, Cleveland Guardians, and Toronto Blue Jays heading into and following the All-Star break should reveal the Rays’ approach to the remainder of the season. If the team turns into sellers, Tampa Bay’s talent will garner a great deal of interest, per The Athletic’s report.

Randy Arozarena is the most prominent – and anticipated – trade asset on the team. The 29-year-old left fielder has struggled mightily this season but he’s worked hard to turn things around. Through 87 games, he has 11 home runs to go along with 11 steals but Arozarena has just a .668 OPS and an OPS+ of 92. It’s crazy to think the former Rookie of the Year, who was the ALCS MVP in 2020, has labored to raise his batting average slightly above the Mendoza line.

Still, Arozarena is a tremendously talented player. He posted three consecutive 20/20 seasons (at least 20 home runs and 20 steals) demonstrating his rare power/speed combo. In 2023, Arozarena had 23 homers with 83 RBI and 95 runs scored. He added 19 doubles (way down from the previous year when he hit 41) and 22 steals, accumulating 3.5 WAR in 151 games.

Arozarena is making $8.1 million this season and is under team control until 2027. So, despite his struggles, there will be demand for the former All-Star outfielder. But it’s not just the offense that teams hope to acquire from the Rays at the trade deadline. Tampa Bay pitching is drawing interest from teams determined to buy, according to The Athletic.

Rays’ key players could become targets at the trade deadline

Jun 28, 2024; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Zach Eflin (24) throws a pitch against the Washington Nationals in the third inning at Tropicana Field.
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Would-be contenders looking to bolster their starting rotation would be happy to add Zach Eflin. Like Arozarena, Eflin has had a bit of a down year striking out 72 batters in 92.1 innings while registering a 4.19 ERA, a 1.148 WHIP and an ERA+ of 93 in 16 starts this season. However, he demonstrated how effective he can be in 2023, finishing the year with a 3.50 ERA, 9.4 K/9, an ERA+ of 119, 3.5 WAR, and a league-leading 16 wins for the Rays. Eflin finished sixth in Cy Young voting last season.

The 30-year-old righty is making $11 million this season and is set to earn $18 million next year before hitting free agency in 2026. This means a deadline deal for Eflin would give the acquiring team an extra season with him in the rotation.

Teams buying at the trade deadline are also interested in the Rays’ bullpen. Closer Pete Fairbanks and reliever Jason Adam appear to be particularly appealing, per The Athletic. Fairbanks is making a very reasonable $3.67 million this season while Adam is earning just $2.7 million and neither pitcher hits free agency until 2027.

Fairbanks, 30, has 14 saves in 31 appearances so far this year to go along with a 3.23 ERA, 9.1 K/9, and an ERA+ of 122. In 2023 he was even better with 25 saves, 13.5 K/9, and a 162 ERA+ in 45.1 innings pitched.

Adam has had an excellent season for the Rays. The 32-year-old righty boasts a 1.86 ERA, a minuscule 0.879 WHIP and an ERA+ of 212 in 39 appearances this year. So far this season he’s accumulated 1.6 WAR putting him in reach of his career-best 2.7 WAR from 2022.

The Rays have the third lowest payroll in baseball at just over $96 million so the team is not in a situation where a significant salary dump is necessary. That means Tampa Bay has options at the July 30 trade deadline and even a little bit of time to figure out how to proceed.

It should become clear in the next couple of weeks if the Rays will ride out the season hoping for a shot at the playoffs or sell off some of their attractive pieces to rebuild and focus on the future.