The Tampa Bay Rays have reportedly held "preliminary discussions" about both Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer and Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant ahead of Friday's 2021 MLB trade deadline.
ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Tuesday the Rays are "expected to be active" to upgrade their roster before the deadline, even if they don't land one of those marquee names.
Tampa Bay is second in the AL East with a 60-40 record and 1.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox (62-39) in the division race. It tops the wild-card standings with a 5.5-game edge over the Seattle Mariners (55-46), who are currently the first team outside the playoff picture in the AL. Oakland is in the second wild-card slot at 56-45.
So the Rays are in a strong enough position to believe another deep playoff run is possible. They reached the World Series last year before falling short against the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
Scherzer struggled a bit by his high standards during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign, posting a 3.74 ERA and 1.38 WHIP across 12 starts, but he's been right back to his dominant self this year. He's compiled a 2.83 ERA and 0.89 WHIP with 142 strikeouts in 105 innings.
Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post reported Monday the 37-year-old right-hander is "open" to a potential trade and wouldn't use his 10-and-5 rights to block a deal.
Scherzer would immediately take over as the ace for the Rays, who are without Tyler Glasnow because of an elbow injury.
Meanwhile, Bryant's story is much the same as the Nationals starter. He struggled last year to the tune of a career-low .644 OPS, but he's bounced right back to form with an .856 OPS and 17 home runs through 91 games for the Cubs in 2021.
The 29-year-old has posted those numbers while shifting around between first base, third base and all three outfield spots to give Chicago valuable lineup versatility.
The Rays have long been known for trying to find unique market deficiencies, and a player like Bryant, who can provide MVP-level offense while playing all over the diamond, could provide a major boost for a team whose bottom half of the batting order has struggled much of the season.
It's unclear whether Tampa Bay has the payroll flexibility to add the remaining salaries of both Scherzer ($34.6 million) and Bryant ($19.5 million), but both players are slated to become free agents at year's end, so it would be a short-term financial commitment to chase a title.
Even if the Rays can only land one marquee name before the deadline, it could be enough to shift the AL East in their favor if the Red Sox don't make any blockbuster moves.