The Rays' needs are easy to diagnose: they need a bat. The Rays have gotten pitiful production from their DH position this season. Pat Burrell was awful and Hank Blalock didn't do much better, while Willy Aybar and John Jaso haven't produced spectacularly while filling in on occasion. The Rays (.745 OPS) do have one of the best offenses in the majors - currently tied for ninth with the Twins - but they still pale in comparison with the Yankees (.787 OPS) and Red Sox (.819 OPS). The Rays could use someone that is cheap and underrated, but they could also make a run at some of the big guns available. Ideally, they wouldn't trade for an outfielder or middle infielder, as they currently have lots of depth at those positions, and they don't need someone signed to a long-term deal. In other words, they want short-term offensive help that won't cost an arm and a leg and won't block the way for the Rays' young players.
Also, the Rays could use some more relief depth. The Rays' relievers have been very good so far this season, but if someone gets injured or begins to stink, who's the next to step in? Quad-A all-stars Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer? The Rays could look to add another arm to the pen, especially if they can find an effective lefty reliever that's good against both hands. Again, this reliever shouldn't be too expensive, but the Rays have bullpen slots opening after this season and so a player signed to a long-term deal would not be a problem.
With these two things in mind, here are some players the Rays should be interested in:
Corey Hart - OF
Hart is a good offensive player that is having a heck of a power surge this season (21 HRs already). He's a player built in the mold that the Rays like - fast, aggressive, good command of the zone - and he's relatively cheap this season and would provide the Rays with OF/DH depth over the next two seasons. However, it does seem silly to be acquiring another outfielder when we already have Joyce and Jennings waiting for roster spots, and Hart is not a great defender (career -11.3 UZR in the outfield). Also, the Brewers have supposedly set a high asking price for Hart, and I doubt the Rays are willing to overpay. If that price comes down, he's worth looking into.
Josh Willingham - OF
Willingham is a cheap outfielder that has great plate discipline (11.6% career walk rate) and provides some pop (.215 career ISO). He's been putting up a career year to date, posting a .412 wOBA and 3.2 WAR already. He's on the far side of 30, though, meaning that the Nationals might be shopping him around come the deadline. My main concern would be that like Hart, he's an outfielder with another year of arbitration eligibility and would clog the Rays' bench to a degree. Short term, though, you would be hard-pressed to find another player that could put up comparable numbers for that cheap.
Adam Dunn - 1B
Adam Dunn would be a perfect fit for the Rays - and the Nationals would make great trade partners - but Dunn has refused to DH in the past. Also, Dunn has played his entire career in the National League. While he is a better hitter than Pat Burrell ever was, you have to wonder if his numbers might slip a bit by moving to the AL East. That said, I would pursue him in a heartbeat if he changed his mind about DHing.
Paul Konerko - 1B
The only negative thing about Konerko is the money owed him this season; I don't know the state of the Rays' books, but an additional $6M might be outside their budget unless they're able to offload some contracts in the process or through another trade. If the Rays were able to take his salary on, though, Konerko would be an excellent addition to the team. Although he's 34 years old, he's still hitting the ball well and currently has an insane .401 wOBA. Even if he cools off to a more normal .370 wOBA, he's still one of the best offensive players that the Rays could add and would be a virtual lock to garner Type-A status at the finish of the season, giving the Rays two additional draft picks next year. If the White Sox are willing to trade him - which now that they're in first place, seems more and more unlikely - he'd be a great acquisition. Yes, please.
Chad Qualls - RP
That 8.33 ERA might fool you, but Qualls has pitched well this season. He's striking out batters at a career high rate (8.90 K/9) and generating an extreme amount of groundballs (56.4%), but he's been hurt by balls in play (.456 BABIP!!), with letting runners on base score (50.5% LOB%), and with the homerun ball (16.0% HR/FB). He's walking more batters now than ever before in his career (3.5 BB/9), but that's projected to lower along with his strikeout numbers as the season progresses. In short, he's a damn good pitcher that's getting hosed by luck, and some team is going to be smart enough to pick him up for pennies on the dollar. Here's hoping it's the Rays.
Matt Thornton - RP
Thinking of acquiring Matt Thornton makes me giddy. He's one of the best relief pitchers in the game - not to mention one of the best lefty relievers in the game - and he's signed to a very team-friendly contract through next season. While the Rays have been burned in the past by acquiring relievers signed to long-term deals, Thornton is a higher quality pitcher than any reliever the Rays have ever had (including 2008 Grant Balfour). He's posted a 1.72 FIP so far this season, averaging 13 K/9 (!!!) and 2.67 BB/9. He's got filthy stuff, generating a 15% SwgStr%, but he's a 33 year old player on a White Sox team that needs to get younger. He won't come cheap, but the White Sox could use some middle infield help.
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