The Tampa Bay Rays, winners of seven consecutive games, will enter play on Friday at 26-19. A good weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays (and a better weekend from the Philadelphia Phillies against the Boston Red Sox) would see them erase their one-game deficit in the American League East, and perhaps even convert it into a division lead of their own. Based on those credentials, this may seem like an odd thing to write about the Rays, but it's worth stating anyway: Teams seeking infield help should give them a call over the coming weeks.
That's because the Rays are in the unusual position of having three legitimate infield prospects taking care of business with the Durham Bulls, their Triple-A affiliate.
The spotlight tends to rest above only Wander Franco, the uber-prospect so valued by the organization that they're certain to manipulate his service time and suppress his earning potential. The Bulls roster includes two other young infielders of note, however, in Taylor Walls (hitting .327/.468/.490 and with the best defense of the bunch) and Vidal Brujan (leads the Bulls in homers, with six, and steals, with seven, in addition to his .333/.429/.650 line). Walls and Brujan, like Franco, have been cross-training at other positions. Both are on the 40-player roster, too, so Tampa Bay would only have to make a 26-player roster move to add them.
Such optionality gives the Rays the option of making moves involving veterans already on the roster whenever they please, including … well, now.
The Rays shopped shortstop Willy Adames and outfielder Austin Meadows over the winter, according to sources with other teams, and it would make sense for both to pop up in the rumor mill again. Adames is off to a slow start this season and is set to qualify for arbitration come the offseason, making him the most sensible candidate to depart before the deadline. Meadows, who is also nearing arbitration, has started off the season in hot fashion. Tampa Bay has always had reservations about his defense, though, and may value him less than other teams.
Even if the Rays opt to keep Adames and Meadows for a bit longer, they could stand to part with others. The Rays recently claimed Wyatt Mathisen off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks, a notable move given that Mathisen would appear redundant on a 40-player roster that already includes Mike Brosseau (a hero in last year's postseason) and Kevin Padlo. Mathisen's addition doesn't necessarily mean that either Brosseau or Padlo will be moved, but his presence in addition to those of Walls, Brujan, and Franco certainly up the odds.
Brosseau in particular could appeal to teams seeking a readymade starter at either the keystone or the hot corner. He's off to a poor start this season, but for his career he's hit .249/.307/.456 (111 OPS+) with 15 home runs in 118 big-league games. As an added bonus, he won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2022 season, making him a cost-effective option.
As with Adames and Meadows, the Rays could opt to hoard their depth for a while longer. It stands to reason that at some point this summer, and perhaps sooner than later, they'll take advantage of their situation and deal from strength.