Can Lucas Duda Power the Tampa Bay Rays to the Postseason?
You don't ordinarily hear the words "trade deadline buyers" and the "Tampa Bay Rays" in the same sentence, and yet, here we are, with just days to go until the July 31 trade deadline, and the Rays are buying.
As the New York Yankees make a push to land Sonny Gray and the AL East leading Boston Red Sox look to do some tweaking of their own, the Rays know they are in the thick of both the division race and the AL wild card picture, and decided to add a pretty significant offensive weapon to their arsenal. On Thursday, they sent merely a relief prospect named Drew Smith to the New York Mets in exchange for first baseman Lucas Duda, a left-handed power source who will give some more pop to the Rays' already-poppy lineup.
In 75 games this season (291 plate appearances), Duda is batting .246/.347/.532, with 17 home runs, a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .356, and a weighted runs created of 127. His isolated power of .286 ranks 6th among all MLB first basemen with at least 250 PAs, with a slugging percentage that is 10th.
He was a 30-homer guy in 2014 and and, in the Mets' run to the World Series in '15, bashed 27 dingers. He was hurt for much of last season, playing in just 47 games, but has bounced back to have another solid offensive season. He's only signed through this year, so this might be a straight-up rental for a team that doesn't usually do that sort of thing.
The addition of Duda does make the Rays' a bit lefty-heavy in their lineup, although Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison hit lefties well. Duda isn't quite as effective against southpaws, with a .224/.274/.483 slash line against them this season. There is some power there, but getting on base against them is a bit tough.
However, the addition of Duda allows the Rays to move Dickerson to the outfield, with Morrison likely staying at first and Duda becoming the team's DH. The offense (and defense) will improve even more when Kevin Kiermaier returns from the disabled list.
Offensively, Tampa has been surprisingly stout. They are currently fifth in all of baseball in terms of total position player WAR (according to Fangraphs), are tied for 6th in home runs, and are alone in 6th place in terms of wOBA and wRC+ as a team.
In addition to Morrison and Dickerson's outstanding seasons, the Rays have gotten a breakout season from outfielder Steven Souza, who has 21 homers and is batting .271/.373/.507, worth 3.0 WAR thus far. Evan Longoria hasn't been spectacular, but has been steady, with a slash line of .275/.325/.461 and 16 bombs in 2017.
The Rays certainly have some obstacles to overcome, but they have been surprisingly potent and are, without question, pushing their chips into the middle of the table. They trail Boston by 3.5 games in the East, but are just a 1.5 games out of the second AL wild card spot, lagging behind the Yankees and Kansas City Royals.
The Tampa Bay Rays are "all-in," a phrase you almost never hear.