3 potential additions that make Rays a perfect Pirates trade deadline partner

Tampa Bay kicked off the trade action with a deal to Milwaukee. Could the Pirates take advantage of the Rays' willingness to sell?
Tampa Bay Rays v Atlanta Braves
Tampa Bay Rays v Atlanta Braves / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

Trade season has begun. As first reported by Jon Heyman, the Brewers opened the festivities, picking up Aaron Civale from the Rays in exchange for Milwaukee’s No. 21 prospect (per MLB Pipeline), infielder Gregory Barrios. If Tampa Bay, sitting just three games out of the Wild Card race, continues to be willing to sell, it could make a compelling trade partner for the Pirates.

The Brewers-Rays trade indicates that Tampa Bay is willing to deal with relatively little short-term return. Barrios is currently in High-A and is demonstrating superior fielding skills and good bat-to-ball acumen. The Rays already have three top 10 prospects that man the left side of the infield. Civale has had a difficult season so far. He holds a 5.07 ERA and -7 pitching run value, so it’s not like the Rays parted ways with an ace. Instead, they took a gamble on a young player and made room for Shane Baz’s imminent return to the rotation.

Could the Pirates swing a similar deal for one of Tampa Bay’s more consistent performers?

The lowest cost option here is Garrett Cleavinger, a left-handed middle reliever who is having a solid year with the Rays. He features a dynamic sweeper and a fastball in the high-90s, but he’s coming off a lackluster June (6.10 ERA in 10 ⅓ innings over 12 appearances). That followed a stellar May (0.71 ERA in 12 ⅔ innings over 14 appearances). The Pirates could rightfully take a chance on getting the May version of Cleavinger, especially since the Rays have other bullpen lefties waiting in the wings. Even if the Pirates occasionally get the June version of Cleavinger, that’s preferable to Justin Bruihl.

Cleavinger enters arbitration after this season, so he has three years of club control. Jose Siri, the next target for the Pirates, is in the same contractual boat. The Pirates’ outfielders have collectively struggled on both offense and defense. Even Bryan Reynolds, the most consistent bat on the team, has a -9 outs above average in the field. Siri is the type of player that could turn all of that around for a team that desperately needs to add to the outfield at the Trade Deadline.

Siri has turned his personal season around, so the asking price may be higher than some predicted earlier in the season. In June, his batting average jumped 26 points, and his xwOBA of .330 indicates that his poor results may be partially the result of luck. Siri does himself no favors, though, with his high whiff rate of 37.3 percent. Put simply, he struggles to make contact, but when he does, the ball pops off his bat with a 15.2 percent barrel rate and a .479 xwOBACON. 

Siri’s glove, though, is the real selling point here. He has contributed seven outs above average at center. His speed, which ranks in the 99th percentile, would have Pirates fans dreaming about Oneil Cruz and Siri sharing the basepaths. And as the clip below seems to indicate, he can almost play all three outfield positions by himself.

The final option, and the one most likely to cost at least a couple high-level prospects, would be to target Zach Eflin. The right-hander hasn’t been quite as dominant as he was when he led the American League with 16 wins in 2023. Still, his ability to control the zone and produce ground balls would lend a different flavor to the heater-heavy Pirates rotation. Eflin still has another year on his contract, so he could continue to provide veteran leadership (and playoff experience if the Bucs get there) as Jared Jones and Paul Skenes develop.

The Rays seem like a solid trade partner with the Pirates. They have what Pittsburgh needs: quality outfielders, reliable relievers, etc. The Pirates have what Tampa Bay needs: a bevy of pitching prospects. The degree to which the Pirates plan to deal at the Trade Deadline will depend largely on their success over the next few weeks, but if Pittsburgh does begin to buy, it could do worse than looking toward Tampa Bay.