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What the Brett Phillips acquisition says about the Rays future

Thursday afternoon the Rays and Orioles, in accordance with many teams in many professional sports leagues, decided to postpone their game in light of the recent societal issues in America. For more on this pressing issue see what our very own Diego Franco-Carreno had to say.

Before that, however, Tampa, who is expected to be busy before this trade deadline, struck their first deal. They acquired outfielder and Tampa native Brett Phillips from Kansas City in exchange for shortstop prospect Lucius Fox.

Phillips was originally a highly touted prospect in the Brewers organization but was traded along with Jorge Lopez for Mike Moustakas. In his third season with Kansas City, Phillips is struggling to a batting average of .226 (7 for 31). He is only 26 years old, though, and capable of playing all 3 outfield positions very well. For Tampa, they get a glove-first type player with room to grow at the plate. His strikeout rate is currently at 23% but the expected metrics say that he’s potentially fallen on bad luck at the plate, and if he can get the ball in the air more, he could become an asset. He is currently out of options so he will join the Rays active roster, forcing their hand at some roster construction.

Lucius Fox just turned 23 and was the prize of the Matt Moore trade to the Giants trade years ago. A native of the Bahamas, he has a slight athletic frame at 6’1, 180 lbs. He’s played shortstop mostly, but in the Rays system, he has seen action at second base and center field. For Tampa, he was simply another talented guy in a crowded farm system littered with middle infield prospects with a slim chance to get a lot of playing time on the big league club. At AA Montgomery, Fox stole a league-high 37 bases and got on base at a .340 clip while batting .230. He’s definitely a prospect worth acquiring for a rebuilding Royals squad, especially for a dispensable outfield piece like Phillips.

Expect the Rays to dip into the farm system some more for pitching reinforcements down the stretch as they have 9 key pitchers on the IL and 5 out for the season. (Sure, the Yankees are the only team that can blame losses on injuries.)

Anyway, what does this mean for the Rays future outfield? A multitude of outcomes are present here and have fans speculating at what’s to come. I could easily see Josh Lowe (OF), the Rays number 10 prospect, getting shipped for a rental or controllable starter to eat up innings. The club is high on Randy Arozarena, who was acquired with Jose Martinez from St. Louis for Matt Liberatore in the offseason, so I don’t see him going anywhere. Other farmhands I could see being dealt are Nate Lowe, Taylor Walls, Kevin Padlo, and Esteban Quiroz. As for minor league pitchers it could Joe Ryan, JJ Gross, Riley O’Brien, or Michael Plassmeyer.

That brings us to the major league roster. Could this spell the end of the Kevin Kiermaier era in Tampa? I would be surprised to see him dealt in-season as a clubhouse leader and the longest-tenured Ray, but the front office is as unpredictable as it gets so you can’t rule it out. Note that KK left Wednesdays with back spasms and as injury prone as he is, he could be a tough sell to another ball club.

Then there’s the group of new guys: Yoshi Tsutsugo, Manny Margot, and Hunter Renfroe. As a group, they’ve somewhat underperformed offensively but not enough to be a complete castoff halfway through a shortened season. Margot has actually had a hot August hitting .373 with a .938 OPS. Paired with the best glove of the three mentioned, he was the first anointed KK replacement if that departure were to happen. Renfroe has a big bat with a lot of swing and miss and definitely doesn’t hurt you in the field. But his lack of consistent contact can be tough to watch, I don’t know if that’s enough to ship him out of town for pitching help though. As for Yoshi, the former Japanese league star, his so-so start in my book gets a mulligan for the fact that he’s never seen any of these pitchers before and adjusting to a new league may not prove major dividends until 2021. In short, I don’t see Tampa flipping him.

If I was betting man the likeliest of outfielders to be traded currently sit at KK, Renfroe, Margot, and Yoshi. Austin Meadows is certainly not even in the conversation to get traded. The team may keep all of these guys now, though, as they’ve traded Jose Martinez, also involved in the outfield roster crunch, to the Cubs for two players to be named later. Still, six outfielders is a lot, and one of the four mentioned above could still be dealt for pitching help.

Erik Meander and company have proven time and time again that the Rays operate in a way almost no one outside of the organization can expect. To his benefit, it has worked most of the time. Bottom line is that they need pitching help pronto, and trading for a utility outfielder was rather surprising. Charlie Morton, Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks, Colin Poche, Andrew Kittredge, Chaz Roe, Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, Jose Alvarado, and Brendan Mckay are all injured. The pitching acquisition will not be splashy a la Nick Anderson last year, but will hopefully prove to be fruitful by the end of the year.

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