If there was ever a time for the Tampa Bay Rays to be aggressive buyers, it's ahead of the 2023 MLB trade deadline. The Rays arguably have their best chance to win a World Series in the 25-year history of the franchise. One or two key additions at the MLB trade deadline could put Tampa Bay over the top in its quest for a title.
The Rays don't have to make a blockbuster trade for a superstar like Shohei Ohtani. Tampa Bay started the second half of the season with the best record in the American League. They rank second among AL teams in runs scored and third in ERA. Only the Texas Rangers have a better run differential.
Following a historic start, the Rays hit a speedbump in the weeks prior to the All-Star break. Tampa Bay went 7-13 during a 20-game stretch. It's allowed the Baltimore Orioles to threaten their spot atop the AL East. How should the Rays look to improve the roster?
Let's take a look at 3 sneaky MLB trade deadline targets for the Rays to consider.
3. SP Trevor Williams, Washington Nationals
If the Rays are going to make one move at the 2023 deadline, it should be for a starting pitcher. A lack of reliable starters ultimately doomed Tampa Bay two years ago when the team's 100-win season ended with a thud in the ALDS. Rays ace Shane McClanahan is coming off an injury. Tyler Glasnow is looking to regain his old form upon his return from Tommy John surgery. Zach Eflin is the only other reliable Rays' starter.
Trevor Williams could be a Game 4 starter for Tampa Bay in a playoff series. Williams has been far from spectacular with a 4.45 ERA and a 1.44 ERA in 18 starts. The Nationals' starter is only one season removed from posting a 3.21 ERA. Given Tampa Bay's track record with pitchers, Williams could return to his 2022 form when he puts on a Rays uniform.
Trading for Williams wouldn't be as costly as a trade for the likes of Lucas Giolito or Dylan Cease. Williams has one year and $7 million left on his contract, a deal that could fit in with Tampa Bay's inexpensive payroll. Expect the Nationals to seriously consider moving Williams this year as they continue their rebuild.
2. RP Brad Hand, Colorado Rockies
There was a time when Brad Hand was one of the biggest prizes at the trade deadline. In the middle of his third straight All-Star appearance, Hand was traded to Cleveland at the 2018 deadline during the Guardians' (then Indians) pursuit of a championship. Five years later, Hand isn't even one of the top-two trade candidates in his own bullpen. The 33-year-old can still be a sneak effective reliever, one that can get big outs in the postseason.
Hand has a 5.16 ERA in 33 appearances for the Rockies. The reliever's ERA is bloated due to a few bad outings before the All-Star break and pitching in the Denver altitude. Hand entered June 27 with a respectable 3.42 ERA. The veteran had a 2.80 last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he pitched two shutout innings in the World Series.
A strong bullpen has been a constant for the Rays in recent seasons. Tampa Bay's collection of relievers hasn't been quite as good in 2023. Tampa Bay's bullpen ERA of 3.79 ranks eighth out of 15 AL teams. No pitcher who has thrown more than 20 innings has a sub-2.00 ERA.
1. RP David Robertson, New York Mets
The notion that the Mets would sell at the 2023 trade deadline seemed impossible just a few months ago. After the All-Star break, it's probably more likely that New York will trade veterans than make additions for the stretch run. Owner Steve Cohen indicated that the Mets would be willing to move impactful players if the team doesn't turn its season around. New York is eight games out of the final NL wild-card spot, and a Mets' playoff run could soon be a long shot.
Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are the biggest names that could be moved in a New York firesale. David Robertson is the most logical trade candidate and possibly one that could help a contender the most. Verlander and Scherzer have failed to meet expectations in 2023. It's been just the opposite for Robertson, who has a 2.06 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 39.1 innings.
Cohen might choose to hold onto Scherzer and Verlander because of their diminished trade value and their potential to help the Mets next year. Robertson is headed for free agency after the 2023 season. He's relatively cheap and would bring a wealth of playoff experience to the Rays.