Although the Rays are not traditional sellers this year – at 49-51, they’re just 4.0 games out of the Wild Card, with only two teams separating them from the second spot – they are considering moving a pricey bullpen arm while the time is right.
According to Marc Topkin, the Rays are considering dealing Brad Boxberger, Kevin Jepsen or Jake McGee at the Trade Deadline because they can afford to do so, and because the Trade Deadline is the time to be opportunistic (especially for the cost-sensitive Rays with respect to arbitration-ready relievers).
Of particular note here, Topkin mentions that the Cubs, specifically, could match up well with the Rays in a deal for a reliever. Idle speculation? It’s possible. But when a writer specifically mentions a team name like that, there’s often a little more lurking beneath the surface than bald guesswork. We do know that the Cubs are considering their bullpen options (see, e.g., Jonathan Papelbon), and, with Joe Maddon intimately familiar with some of the Rays’ relievers, the Cubs might feel they have a slight information advantage over other possible Rays trade partners.
The other interesting thing about these particular relievers as Cubs targets? They aren’t just rentals for August and September. Each is under control through at least 2016.
We’ll see if this winds up going anywhere, but a bit on each of the three:
- Boxberger, a 27-year-old righty, has taken a step back this year after being all-universe in 2014. He’s got a 3.18 ERA/3.82 FIP/3.59 xFIP through 39.2 innings this year, with a 29.0% strikeout rate and 11.2% walk rate. He’s also got a bit of a home run proclivity. The one thing he’s got going for him? He’s not even arbitration-eligible until 2017.
- McGee, a lefty who turns 29 in a couple weeks, has been the all-universe guy this year (1.14/1.29/2.34 over 23.2 innings, 36.4% K rate, 3.4% BB rate) after a similar performance last year. The rub with McGee is that he’s already making some money – $3.55 million this year, with two more passes through arbitration after this year. In other words, he’s very good and comes with team control, but he’ll soon become a fairly price reliever. Of course, if he does what he’s done the last two years, he’s very worth it.
- Jepsen, a 31-year-old righty, has been the lesser performing of the trio this year (2.88/4.12/4.05, 19.1% K rate, 11.1% BB rate over 40.2 innings), though he was solid in his years with the Angels before coming to the Rays. Is he on the downside of his career now? Just a blip? Well, his fastball is down a little over a mile per hour since his best years with the Angels, so it’s fair to wonder. Jepsen makes $3.025 million, and would have one more year of arbitration next season before reaching free agency. I can’t imagine the return on Jepsen would be particularly steep, assuming he was attractive at all, that is.
Topkin’s article also mentions some starting pitchers and bench bats the Rays might consider moving, so it’s worth a read.