Rays fortify bullpen before deadline
Three deals strengthen team's late-inning relief corps
ST. PETERSBURG -- Major League Baseball's 4 p.m. ET trade deadline came and went on Tuesday, and the Devil Rays did not make any more deals.
"We had a lot of conversations today and yesterday and, obviously, over the weekend," executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said on Tuesday. "We had a few conversations today that yielded more discussions. I wouldn't characterize anything as having got close. But just as we've maintained for the last couple of days, if something would have presented itself yesterday or today that we felt like made sense, we were going to be aggressive to do so. And if not, then we were extremely content with the moves we have made.
"We feel we have made the team better for 2007 and 2008. We still have a ways to go. And we feel like some of that will be filled internally. And the last mile, the last part of the building process, is some players we're going to have to get externally, whether through a trade or free agency."
The no trade news came as anticlimactic following the whirlwind 24 hours the Rays experienced Friday and Saturday nights that saw Seth McClung, Jorge Cantu and Ty Wigginton all sent elsewhere for pitching.
Shoring up the bullpen has been the theme of this year's trade season for the Rays.
Acquiring Dan Wheeler for Wigginton on Saturday was the marquee deal for the club. With Wheeler, the Rays strengthened their late-inning relief corps.
"Upgrading our bullpen has been a priority for us for a long time," Friedman said. "Obviously to get somebody of Dan's caliber we had to give up somebody of equal value, and Wiggy's meant a great deal to this organization the year and a half he's been here, both on the field and in the clubhouse."
The acquisition of Wheeler, 29, should indeed help shore up Tampa Bay's much-maligned bullpen. The veteran right-hander pitched for the Rays from 1999-2001. In nine Major League seasons, he has a 12-21 record with a 3.99 ERA and 25 saves in 302 games.
Wheeler, who pitched an inning without allowing an earned run on Monday night against the Blue Jays, came to the Rays with a 1-4 record, 5.07 ERA and 11 saves in 45 appearances this season.
The fact the Rays traded for Wheeler and opted to hang on to closer Al Reyes bodes well for the team's bullpen the rest of the season and in 2008.
"The bullpen is something we've been focused on a long time," Friedman said. "We talked about it in Spring Training, and it got to be a period of time where we felt like what we were going to have to do in '08 with the bullpen was going to be very difficult. Going into the market to try and find three to six guys, whatever the case may be, is a very difficult thing to do.
"We feel like we've taken a large step forward having Wheeler and Reyes going into the '08 season in terms of solidifying the one area we feel is our most glaring weakness."
On Friday night, the Rays traded McClung to the Brewers for right-hander Grant Balfour. The Australian-born Balfour was 0-2 with a 20.25 ERA in three relief appearances with Milwaukee this season. Thus far for the Rays, Balfour has allowed two earned runs in two innings.
The Brewers were forced to part with Balfour, who was out of Minor League options, because they needed roster space on Friday for Scott Linebrink, whom they acquired in a trade with the Padres on Wednesday.
Balfour underwent two major surgeries in 2005, but he worked his way back to the Majors.
He appeared in 24 games for Triple-A Nashville this season, going 1-1 with five saves and a 1.69 ERA. He also pitched in eight games for Double-A Huntsville, where he had two saves and a 2.38 ERA. All told, he has struck out 91 batters in 46 innings in 2007.
Cantu, outfielder Shaun Cumberland and cash were sent to the Reds for left-handed pitcher Brian Shackelford, right-hander Calvin Medlock and a player to be named.
Shackelford, 30, compiled a 2-0 record and a 4.11 ERA in 63 Major League relief appearances with the Reds over the 2005-06 seasons. He was 0-5 with one save and 4.96 ERA in 41 appearances with Triple-A Louisville this year. Shackelford originally was drafted by the Royals in 1998 as an outfielder, but he was converted to a pitcher in 2002.
Medlock, 24, has a career Minor League record of 29-15 and a 3.24 ERA in 164 games (41 starts) since he was picked by the Reds in the 39th round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. He was a combined 4-3 this season at Louisville and Double-A Chattanooga while striking out 76 batters and walking 19 over 63 2/3 innings.
Shackelford and Medlock were sent to Triple-A Durham, and they will pitch out of the bullpen.
While the non-waiver trade deadline has passed, it does not mean a trade can no longer be made. However, any players being traded now must clear waivers. Like all teams in baseball, the Rays will try to get all their players to clear waivers so they can be eligible to trade if something comes along.
Among players who might clear waivers whom the Rays would trade are veterans Casey Fossum, Greg Norton and Josh Paul.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.