The Tampa Bay Rays have acquired All-Star reliever Jesse Crain, the team announced, a move that bolsters their bullpen and shows they are prepared to build for a possible postseason run.
Yes, the facts on Crain require some caution. Formerly of the Chicago White Sox, the right-hander has a 2-3 record with a 0.74 ERA in 36 2/3 innings this season. He has been on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder and last pitched against the Cleveland Indians on June 29.
That was enough to scare off some potential suitors, even possibly Tampa Bay’s top threat in the American League East, the Boston Red Sox. Despite Crain’s absence in recent weeks, however, this move is evidence that the Rays are willing to be aggressive to gain a piece that could become a low-risk, high-reward addition as they build for the closing stretches of the AL East race and beyond.
Crain could come off the DL late in the season and become a stable presence within a group that already features proven talents like Jake McGee and Joel Peralta. Crain is a 10-year veteran who spent seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins before joining the White Sox before the 2011 campaign. He has a seasoned eye that could become valuable in late-season pressure situations, as shown by his ability to lead AL relievers in ERA at the time he was placed on the DL July 3.
“Jesse has been one of the top relievers in the American League, not only this season but also throughout his entire tenure with the White Sox,” White Sox senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement. “We cannot say enough about what Jesse has meant to our bullpen, and the positive impact he’s had on our young relievers.”
For the Rays, the cost in gaining that positive impact is low. He is being sent for cash considerations or players to be named later. If Crain doesn’t work out to their liking, they could cut their losses without many second thoughts. The deal is complex, with Chicago’s return likely dependent on how well he pitches for Tampa Bay.
Still, Crain is in the final year of a three-year, $13 million contract. Conceivably, the Rays could receive All-Star-level production from the 32-year-old without much commitment. If his shoulder recovers as well as the Rays hope, then they have received a bargain. If not, there is little harm experimenting with a player whom the White Sox valued, one who could give Tampa Bay an extra lift in what should be a tight AL East race.
Sometimes, it takes such moves to preserve a chance to advance from good to great. The Rays weren’t expected to make major acquisitions before the trade deadline. Their offense and starting pitching have produced at elite levels since their run began before the All-Star break. This move is about fine-tuning a roster, and they have done so at a relatively small cost.
Tampa Bay saw an opportunity in Crain, one that others might have missed. The appeal of this deal is the low-risk cost for a potentially large payout; Solid contribution when the stakes are highest late. Until he is ready to return, he will remain on the 15-day disabled list. Meanwhile, Rays reliever Brandon Gomes (shoulder) was placed on the 60-day disabled list to make room on the roster.
Hahn, himself, sees this as a possible savvy decision by the Rays. He said as much, when in announcing the trade, he included the line, “We certainly think he has the ability to influence this year’s pennant very positively for the Rays.”
Crain has the career numbers to suggest as much: A 45-30 record with a 3.05 ERA in 532 relief appearances, with the first-time All-Star nod this season.
The Rays saw a chance. They acted.
They could have received a bargain in the process.