The second half of the 2013 regular season is underway. Five and a half games out of first place in the AL East and three games behind in the Wild Card race, the Tampa Bay Rays have plenty of work to do these next three months.
Without further delay, take a look at my five bold predictions for the second half of the season.
Good pitching will return to Tampa Bay
After posting historically good numbers in 2012, the Rays’ pitching staff was surprisingly mediocre in the first half of the season. Reigning Cy Young award-winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Roberto Hernandez and most of the bullpen struggled in the first half.
However, things appear to be turning in the right direction going into the second half. Jeremy Hellickson has been sharp in his last three starts, Matt Moore looks to have returned to his early-season form and the bullpen has been excellent as of late.
Also, David Price is returning to the rotation tonight and Alex Cobb—who led the rotation earlier this season—should return after the All-Star break.
Matt Moore will have excellent second half
It’s been a roller coaster ride of a season for Matt Moore so far. The phenom southpaw was outstanding in April and May, but had three straight bad starts in June before returning to form in his last three starts.
Moore’s fastball velocity has been down all year, but he’s done great work with his offspeed stuff and is still unhittable when he commands his pitches. He really looks poised for a huge second half.
The Rays will trade either Ryan Roberts or Roberto Hernandez before the deadline
As usual, I don’t expect GM Andrew Friedman and the Rays to make a lot of noise at the trade deadline later this month, but I do expect to see one small trade.
Ryan Roberts is definitely a possibility. With Wil Myers now in the majors, the Rays don’t really have a spot for Roberts on the roster, especially with the offense performing so well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dealt for some relief pitching help.
Roberto Hernandez is another potential candidate. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year, and there are a few teams in the league that could really use his services. With Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Alex Torres and Jake Odorizzi, the Rays could certainly afford to trade Hernandez.
Wil Myers will make big push for AL Rookie of the Year
With just 14 games played, it may be a little early for the “Wil Myers for Rookie of the Year” talks, but it’s something to keep an eye on in the second half.
Myers’ transition into the big leagues has been a pretty smooth one, as he’s swung the bat well posting a .345 wOBA. As of right now he’s not one of the top candidates, but I think he’ll prove in the following months why he was considered the top hitting prospect in baseball.
The Rays will clinch a playoff spot
Can the Rays return to the postseason in 2013? It won’t be easy with Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees in the same division, as well as the Athletics or Rangers as likely serious contenders for a Wild Card spot.
If the “Tampa Bay Rays pitching” returns—which I think it will—and the offensive remains productive, I believe this team will be playing in October.
Will the Rays be buyers or sellers come the Trade Deadline July 31? Unless they fall to dead last in the AL East, there’s absolutely no way the Rays are going to sell. Tampa Bay currently stands just a game out of playoff position, and if we’ve learned anything from the past season, it’s that the Rays are a team definitely capable of overcoming that.
Just because the Rays will be buyers at the deadline, however, doesn’t mean they won’t sell off any major assets. James Shields is one name that could be on the trade market in the next couple of weeks, regardless to the Rays’ position in the standings.
Due to his contract situation, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that Shields has been mentioned often in recent trade rumors. The Rays have a pricey $9 million option on the the 30-year-old right-hander next season, so if they don’t trade him away this month, they could lose him to free agency in the offseason. The Rays have three pitchers—Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Wade Davis—who could all replace him in the rotation, and the Rays would likely bolster their offense with some major-league ready talent as well as some prospects.
With Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce healthy in the lineup the Rays’ offense is much better than it than it’s been in the past month, but some disappointing performances from other bats in the lineup so far this season give the Rays a good reason to deal an arm for a bat. The Rays definitely see themselves competing this October, and they likely could be active at the deadline to give themselves the upgrade they need. There are a handful of teams out there that would love to add Shields to their rotation, the question will be how much the Rays are willing to deal him.
Shields is not the only arm that could be used as trade bait to bring in a bat. Alex Cobb and prospects like Chris Archer, Alex Torres and Alex Colome are other possibilities.
The Rays are reportedly seeking a young catcher and [relief] pitching. They’re also looking at shortstops and likely a corner outfield/DH right-handed power bats such a Alfonso Soriano, who has been all over trade rumors in the past month and could be a possibility for the Rays. The Rays could really use somebody like him who could platoon with both Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who are both left-handed hitters.
The Rays are in it to win in 2012, and signing Soriano would really help the short-term cause.
After Shields, B.J. Upton is the next big name to be subject to trade rumors this year. There’s been Upton trade talks every July for the past three years, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out this year as he becomes a free agent after the season. Assuming the Rays won’t become sellers by July 31, however, it seems unlikely that they’ll trade him.