Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
Back earlier in 2010 when the Seattle Mariners put a “For Rent” sign squarely on the chest of starting pitcher Cliff Lee, the Tampa Bay Rays were quick to phone the Mariners and see just what they had to dangle in front of the seafaring squad to entice them to send the left-hander to another coastal town at the opposite end of the country.
The Rays were not in denial that it would only be a 3-month rental, possibly 4 at the most, and would have to probably give up some substantial player personnel to push this deal towards the finish line.
There were more than a few speculations that the Mariners wanted a pitcher in return who was already Major League ready, or currently on the Rays 25-man roster. There was also a good indicator that the Mariners would be wanting possibly two infielders, one from the Rays stable farm system, and then possibly another MLB ready candidate.
Whispers were prevalent that the Mariners were seeking Rays rookie Wade Davis or possibly Rays farmhand (at the time) Jeremy Hellickson as a first point on the triangle of talent to secure Lee’s services for the remainder of 2010. But Davis had begun to shown a more mature pitching style at that moment and was beginning to show his true colors and adaptability to Major League hitting when the deal was being considered.
Hellickson on the other hand has run into a few situations in his recent starts about that time and was still a very unproven MLB commodity. With neither of these Rays pitchers’ solidly in the chatter between the two teams, this discussion was over quicker than it started. But who else might have been on the wire for the Mariners to consider? What other MLB caliber players or possible Rays farmhands possibly would have been plucked to complete a trade of this magnitude?
Rumors abounded all over the stadium that the Mariners were more than eager to solidify their shortstop position, and their attention went immediately to Reid Brignac. The young Rays infielder had developed a more power infused hitting stroke, and his defensive play had made him a valuable asset to the Rays not only as a left-handed option, but as a cog that could be popped into positions all over the infield.
Ray farmhand Matt Sweeney, who was acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 was also seen as a possible trade addition as a future third base option for the Mariners and might be a year or two out of the Major Leagues with the Mariners, but would have to change positions to get to the same level with the Rays because of 3-time All Star Evan Longoria standing in front of him on the Rays depth chart.
Word was also circulating that Leslie Anderson, the former Cuban National team member was also being scouted as a possible future Mariners option at first base with both current M’s Casey Kotchman and Russell Branyan being Free Agents in 2011. Options were plentiful, but the Rays also did not want to give up too much in MLB potential for a short rental property like Lee.
In the end, this possible trade came back to haunt the Rays as Lee eventually went to American League West divisional winner the Texas Rangers and solidified their pitching staff after a short adjustment period. During the post season, Lee has now extended his winning streak thanks to two remarkable performances again the Rays in Game 1 and Game 5 of the ALDS.
It is a bit ironic that the one pitching piece the Rays had sought to bolster up their rotation in the end helped to create the demise of the team that wanted to acquire him. Ultimately the left hand of Lee added to the Rays misery and their early departure in the ALDS, but they got to keep pieces of their farm system and team who could play major roles in 2011.
Hellickson and Davis should be key components for many years of a maturing Rays rotation and be two valuable right-handed options in the Rays pitching staff for at least the next 5 years. Reid Brignac could have developed enough in 2010 to possibly unseat incumbent Jason Bartlett and his possible 4.5 million 2011 salary and make Bartlett trade bait this off season/. Matt Sweeney is growing his power potential with every game he plays and should be a great power option possibly in late 2011 or 2012,possibly at Designated Hitter.
Anderson is going to play in the Arizona Fall League (Peoria Saguaros) to gather some more training and game experience with a possibility for a 2011 Spring Training invite to challenge for the Rays First Base position. All five of these players who were thought to be in the trade process between the Mariners and Rays for the limited services of Lee until the end of this season.
The Seattle and Rays management not liking the players pairings for Lee and then shutting off talks and then having the Mariners end up sending Lee to Texas might be one of the best deals this season for the Tampa Bay Rays. People argued at the Trade Deadline that the Rays might have been too picky or too silent and it cost us a chance to go deeper into the postseason.
In the end, the Rays front office’s strict guidelines for a substantial return on their short term investment in Lee might turn out to be their hidden gold mine by keeping their stockpile of young talent.
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