The Tampa Bay Rays suffered a blow on Tuesday when an MRI revealed that ace Tyler Glasnow had developed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and a flexor tendon strain. It's unclear if Glasnow, who is attempting to rehab the injury in lieu of undergoing surgery, will be able to rejoin the rotation before the year is out.
The Rays, to their credit, have numerous internal options they could deploy in Glasnow's place over the coming months. Youngsters Luis Patiño and Brent Honeywell Jr. have already gotten their feet wet this season, and the Rays also have Brendan McKay and veteran Chris Archer working their way back from injury. (Shane Baz, another highly touted prospect who came over with Glasnow as part of the Archer trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was promoted this week to Triple-A, suggesting his arrival is near, albeit not imminent.) As a result, it's possible Tampa Bay determines it doesn't need to add another starter ahead of the July 30 deadline.
But, for the sake of content, let's say that doesn't prove to be the case. Let's say instead that the Rays, 43-25 and two games up in the American League East as of Wednesday morning, decide to spend the next six weeks turning over rocks and investigating nooks and crannies for another veteran starter. Who might they target?
Below, we've highlighted five realistic potential candidates. "Realistic" in this case means there's no Max Scherzer. The Rays, bless their hearts, probably aren't going to take on the $17-million-plus remaining on Scherzer's contract. These are the downmarket options, folks, and they're presented in alphabetical order.
Tyler Anderson doesn't have the prettiest statline, but he has a few things working in his favor. Foremost, his 4.89 ERA drops to a respectable 4.06 if you remove his disastrous nine-run start against the Atlanta Braves from the ledger. (We know, we know, it doesn't work like that.) Beyond the mathematical gymnastics, Anderson imparts an impressive amount of rising action on his heater, with an induced vertical break (19.6 inches) that ranks 15th in the majors among pitchers with 200-plus fastballs thrown. On that particular leaderboard, he's sharing space with the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Nick Pivetta (who the Rays liked in the past), and Dylan Bundy (another possible Tampa Bay target should the Los Angeles Angels again slide out of the race). Anderson should also appeal to the Rays because of his cost: he's an impending free agent who'll be owed just over $1.25 million the rest of the way.
Kyle Gibson has a 2.09 ERA on the season, which is remarkable considering he allowed five runs and recorded just one out in a miserable Opening Day performance. Without that start, his ERA would be 1.51. In 12 starts since, he's held opponents to a .532 OPS and has six more strikeouts (60) than hits allowed (54) across 77 innings. In other words, Gibson, long perceived as having more to offer than his numbers indicated, is making good on that promise. He does have another year and $7.7 million remaining on his contract; that could be a bonus if a team believes in his seeming breakout.
For the most part, the Rays like to acquire players whose perceived value trumps their transaction cost. Jon Gray, currently laid up with his own strained flexor, fits the billing. He's essentially the new Zack Wheeler: a veteran right-hander who is all but certain to see his stock skyrocket once he joins a new organization. The Rays had interest in Wheeler in his walk year, so it stands to reason they'd also find Gray (and whatever chicken is left on his developmental bone) appealing. We'll have to wait and see if he's able to regain enough fitness to make a deal possible.
Merrill Kelly is no stranger to the Rays. He spent the first five seasons of his career in their minor-league system before bolting to pitch overseas. The Rays didn't like him enough then to give him a shot, but maybe time has changed their appraisal. Or, maybe not, given that Kelly has an 81 ERA+ on the season. He has been a perfectly fine big-league starter for his career, and there is one statistic worth noting here as it pertains to his times through the order breakdown. Kelly has been roughly league-average the first time through the order; his troubles begin the second time through. Perhaps the Rays could pair Kelly with an opener, or just use him as a multi-inning reliever. Then again, if that's the endgame, maybe it's not worth the hassle of doing a trade call.
For whatever reason, it seems as though Jordan Lyles is capable of pitching well only while wearing a Milwaukee Brewers cap. He has a 167 ERA+ over two tours of duty in the Cream City and an ERA over 5.00 with each of his five other teams, regardless of service time. If the Rays decide to take a crack at him anyway, it'll likely be because of his fastball movement (he's 59th in induced vertical break) and his deep release point (35th in extension). Interestingly, based on those two data points and those two data points alone, Lyles compares favorably to Michael Wacha, who is already employed by the Rays. We'll let you (and them) decide whether or not that works in his favor.