Will “Mad” Max be a Ray come the weekend?

With the trade deadline quickly approaching, one huge question surrounds the Tampa Bay Rays: will they land another impact player? Just a few days ago they netted a huge catch in Nelson Cruz, and FanGraphs has them at a +85% chance of making the playoffs for a third consecutive season. In short, while the chances of a postseason berth haven’t changed dramatically over the last week — they are expected to play meaningful baseball past September — one cannot help but wonder if they will bolster the roster heading into what they hope will be a deep postseason run? If I’m a gambling person, I’d have to say yes. However, will they acquire the big arm of Max Scherzer? I’m not convinced. Still, there are options, and let’s weigh some of them … including Scherzer.

Max Scherzer

Scherzer is particularly interesting, to say the least. And since the Rays are coming off a World Series appearance, one would assume that the potential for a deep postseason run would sweeten the pot not only for the right-hander but also his agent, Scott Boras. Put another way, a veteran hurler like “Mad” Max would want nothing more than to appear in a World Series, especially with free agency looming. Yet, trades don’t always follow the whims and want of a fanbase, and a trade involving the right-hander would be complicated for myriad reasons.

Scherzer is due $11.8-million for the balance of the season, which is a pretty penny to pay, although that money can be deferred until 2028. Even so, more than $100-million in deferred money is still owed to him for 2022-28.

However, Ken Rosenthal (the Athletic) offered an advantageous caveat to that deferred money.

The uniquely structured seven-year, $210 million free-agent deal Scherzer signed with the Nationals in January 2015 essentially pays him $15 million per year from ’15 to ’28. Scherzer’s payout this season is a $15 million portion of his $50 million signing bonus. He already has received half of that amount, with the other $7.5 million due in September.

The signing bonus, however, is solely the Nationals’ obligation, and not one an acquiring team would pay, according to two sources with knowledge of how a trade would work. The acquiring team instead would be responsible for the remainder of Scherzer’s $35 million salary for 2021 — about one-third. And that amount, because it is deferred entirely until ’28, would be valued at less than it is now.

— Ken Rosenthal

Even so, Scherzer also has full no-trade protection as a 10-5 player, and he would have to okay a move to Tampa Bay by waiving his no-trade clause. … although he is reportedly open to waiving his no-trade rights. Yet, Boras previously suggested Scherzer would require some type of incentive (for example, a contract extension) in order to waive those trade rights.

It should also be noted that Scherzer “strongly prefers the West Coast” according to Mark Feinsand (MLB.com). While that doesn’t mean Scherzer would veto a move to the Rays, the probability of that happening is vastly reduced if the hurler was presented with multiple trade options, such as a potential deal with the Dodgers, Giants, or Padres.

Kyle Gibson

The former Twin has rejuvenated his career after being one of the worst starters in the league last season. Gibson sits atop of Texas’ rotation with 6-3 record, a 2.86 ERA, a 3.75 FIP, a 1.18 WHIP, 94 strikeouts, and a 2.29 K/BB across 113 innings. His last three starts haven’t been anything to write home about, with the right-hander performing to a 7.79 ERA with a 1.08 K/BB. What’s more, the lowest BABIP of his career combined with his Statcast profile gives a false representation of his numbers, making one question whether or not his “career season” is sustainable? Given the latter, a postseason meltdown wouldn’t bode well for any team much less Tampa Bay.

The right-hander is controlled through 2022, which is a plus for the Rays, yet he still has $7-million remaining on his three-year contract, which is less so. In all fairness, he could always be flipped to another team after the postseason to save payroll space. Even so, I don’t see Erik Neander making a deal for a player with an unproven track record, like Gibson.

Jon Gray

The Rays have been connected to right-hander Jon Gray, along with the Astros, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees.

Gray has put together a solid season for the Rockies, going 6-6 with a 3.67 ERA and a 4.20 FIP, with a 1.22 WHIP, and a 2.28 K/BB across 98.0 innings. Opponents are hitting just .220 against him and striking out 22% of the time. For whatever reason, the right-hander has performed better at home than away, maintaining a 3.14 ERA at Coors Field versus a 4.43 ERA in 40.2 innings away from home. To that end, his opponent SLG and BABIP also are vastly different at home (.323 SLG and .183 BABIP) than away (.466 SLG and .341 BABIP). While BABIP is predicated on the fielders behind him and could be remedied to an extent by the Rays’ elite defense, a question begs, could the Rays’ coaching staff help Gray knock back his opponent slugging percentage? After all, he is on the cusp of being an extreme groundball pitcher, boasting a 49.8% groundball rate in 2021.

Gray has a good track record in an unforgiving environment, and it would be easy to see how he could be successful in Tampa Bay, especially under the tutelage of Kyle Snyder. He has the ability to be a No. 2 or 3 starter in a good rotation, which could only help the Rays if Tyler Glasnow doesn’t come back, or Chris Archer proves to be ineffective.

Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant is widely expected to be dealt, by the North Siders, and whoever else the Cubs trade could contribute to what they do with the former NL MVP.  Should the Cubs remove a significant amount of payroll, they could be open to absorbing more of Bryant’s salary, around $6.8-million remaining, in order to obtain better prospects from the Rays.

Adding Bryant would represent a major boost to the Rays lineup, and Bryant also brings the versatility — he can play all over the infield and outfield. A trade for Bryant would present a positional logjam for Tampa Bay, although the Rays could send a big-league position player back to the Cubs.

Conclusion

While an acquisition of Scherzer or Bryant would be fantastic, I see a trade for a Gray to be more reasonable, if only because there are fewer moving parts. Also, the Rays would arguably benefit more from an additional arm than an extra bat when you consider the current state of the starting rotation. While Gray is no Scherzer, it would be difficult for the Rays to compete with, say, a Mets or a Dodgers given what is mentioned above.

In all honesty, I could be very wrong, which I would gladly welcome. Only time will tell though, and the clock is ticking.

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