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What’s Next for the Tampa Bay Rays?

It’s been a busy last 36-48 hours for the Tampa Bay Rays. The defending American League champions have made two trades in their efforts to take back first place from the Boston Red Sox.

On Thursday night, the Rays made a huge splash by acquiring designated hitter Nelson Cruz from the Twins. Cruz’s big bat fill slot nicely into the middle of the order for the Rays.

This season, Cruz is hitting .293 with 20 home runs and has 51 RBIs with both the Rays and Twins. In his first game with the Rays, Cruz belted a solo home run to right field, immediately making an impact. Cruz’s only hit in his first game was a home run on Friday night. 

Cruz’s Impact

Cruz immediately gives the Rays a power bat for the middle of their lineup. The Rays who value roster flexibility can also utilize Cruz in the outfield when needed. Austin Meadows has been serving as the Rays designated hitter for a good part of the season. The move will allow the Rays to move around  Randy Arozarena, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Lowe and Meadows in the outfield. Plus, the Rays will also get back Manuel Margot from the injured list at some point, providing more depth for the team.

Ultimately the Rays needed more power in their lineup and Cruz will provide that. Besides the impact Cruz will make on the field, he will also make one off the field as well. Cruz was a polarizing figure within the Twins locker room and he loved his time in Minnesota. Last season, he prioritized returning to the Twins because of manager Rocco Baldelli. The Twins skipper has created a great environment with his club for his players, one that Cruz said focuses on recovery and player comfort.

During his time with the Twins, Cruz was known for the way he carried himself in the clubhouse. He would focused on his work habits and focused on bringing everyone together. Which is exactly what he’s starting to do with the Rays following the trade

Cruz began to acclimate himself with teammates at the team hotel and he sat along side Wander Franco on the bus to the stadium. Prior to his first game with the Rays, Cruz hung out by the dugout and the batting cage talking to coaches and players.

What’s Next for the Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays acquiring Cruz wasn’t their only trade they’ve made in the last 48 hours. The club also traded left-handed veteran Rich Hill to the New York Mets for two players. It’s not common for a team in contention for the playoffs to be trading away a commodity such as starting pitching.  However the Rays feel good about their pitching depth despite the Hill trade.

Rays general manager Erik Neander said the move allows the team to be in the best position to create more opportunities for their roster.

“We were trending in the direction of having to make some tough calls,” said Neander. “You always want to be so careful. We’re going to be open. If there’s a way to upgrade our starting rotation through another path, we’re always going to consider it.”

The Rays clearly have a need for starting pitching, they will have Chris Archer returning from the injured list and there’s a possibility they could get Tyler Glasnow back in September. If the Rays want to keep pace with the first place Red Sox, they should bring in another arm. Trading Hill and only focusing on their internal depth doesn’t make sense.

Could the Rays be Looking at Major Starting Pitching Upgrades Behind the Scenes?

There is starting pitching on the trade market, the Rockies have Jon Gray and the Rangers have Kyle Gibson who could be had for the right price. A name to watch for the Rays could be Marlins right-hander Pablo Lopez. The 25-year-old is more of a dark horse right now due to being placed on the injured list with a strained right shoulder. If the injury is deemed to be minor he could be a sneaky option for the Rays.

Gray feels like the more logical choice providing the Rays go with the names being mentioned in the mainstream media. If the Rays want to go bigger than Gray, who would only be a rental they could engage in trade talks again with the Twins and acquire Jose Berrios.

Conclusion

There are more moves left for the Tampa Bay Rays as they add more depth for their big league roster. Cruz was a great addition, he will provide a power bat in the middle of the lineup while being a great clubhouse presence for the team. Trading Hill on the surface was a head scratcher, however in his last five starts he was 0-1 with a 4.56 ERA and had a 1.52 WHIP.

Hill’s numbers were trending in the wrong direction and the Rays were prompt in shipping him out. I would expect the Rays to fill his rotation spot with a trade as they try and overtake the Red Sox in the AL East.

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– Chris Henrique (@ChrisHenrique on Twitter)

Feature image courtesy of Nelson Cruz Twitter handle

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