CLEVELAND – Known for smart, savvy moves to improve their roster, the Guardians pulled off a puzzling one on Monday.
The Rays made one out of desperation.
In the midst of a tight playoff race, Cleveland traded Aaron Civale, the club's hottest pitcher and one of baseball's best over the past month, to Tampa Bay for minor league prospect Kyle Manzardo, currently sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Despite being neck and neck with Minnesota in the AL Central, the Guardians dealt Civale, who can help them defend their division title, for the 23-year-old Manzardo with no proven major league record.
"This was a really tough trade to make,” said Chris Antonetti, the club's president of baseball operations. “But we did feel it was a unique opportunity to acquire someone like Kyle. It came at a steep cost, but we do feel we have some options to turn to.”
Civale's name has been thrown around in trade speculation for weeks, which has coincided with the 28-year-old right-hander pitching as well as he has in several seasons. Civale went 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA in six July starts and worked six scoreless innings Sunday in a win over the Chicago White Sox to improve to 5-2.
The Rays have had their share of pitching problems this season, and Civale gives them another solid starter for the playoff push. Tampa Bay entered the week 1 1/2 games behind first-place Baltimore in the AL East and leading the wild-card standings by four games.
“He's got some postseason experience. And he knows how to win. I think that's what helps,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said in New York.
Civale is expected to join the Rays at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and make his Tampa Bay debut Saturday in Detroit. He will replace rookie Taj Bradley in the rotation. Bradley was optioned to Triple-A Durham on Monday, and the Rays recalled right-handed reliever Ryan Thompson.
“This was the most obvious need that we had,” Tampa Bay president of baseball operations Erik Neander said on a Zoom call. “This was the big item for us. If we’re going to pay a big price it makes sense to do it for someone you have a chance to keep around for more than a few months.”
The Rays have been short on starters with Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen suffering season-ending injuries, and Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow missing time.
Civale slots into a rotation that includes McClanahan, Glasnow and Zach Eflin, who had an MRI on his left knee last week but remains on track to pitch Tuesday against the Yankees.
"I’ve seen his name on ESPN recently about a pretty good month of July, so that makes me excited," Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe said before the opener of a three-game series against the Yankees. “Hopefully he comes in and doesn’t miss a beat and keeps doing exactly what he’s been doing. No more pressure than what he’s been dealing with over in Cleveland."
Tampa Bay's starters have been effective — their collective 3.75 ERA ranks second in the majors behind the Padres — but they’ve also left a lot of work for the bullpen by working just 509 innings, 26th in the majors entering this week.
“I feel like our pitching has done a really good job to date, and we just added another one that's good,” Cash said. “If we can keep him healthy along with the other guys, we should be OK.”
The Guardians have dealt with injuries to their rotation all season and are currently missing ace Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill. While the move with Civale creates a major pitching void for Cleveland, president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said getting a player of Manzardo's stature was more important.
Antonetti said it's possible the Guardians could make more trades before Tuesday's deadline to address their pitching issues. The team has leaned on rookies Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen and Gavin Williams for much of the season, but all are nearing inning limits in their first major league seasons.
Noah Syndergaard, acquired last week in a trade with the Dodgers, could help. The oft-injured right-hander pitched well in his debut for the Guardians on Monday in Houston — two hits in 5 1/3 innings — before being hit on the right leg with a line drive.
Manzardo, 23, was named Tampa Bay's top minor leaguer in 2022 after hitting .327 with 22 homers and 81 RBIs in 93 games between Class A and Double-A. Antonetti expects Manzardo to be playing in minor league games by the end of the season.
Cleveland has been in the market for a young power hitter for some time. The team is hoping Manzardo can end that search.
“The industry holds Kyle in high regard and we think he can develop into a really good offensive player and he’s a guy that’s near or close to the major leagues at some point in the next few seasons,” Antonetti said. “Those guys are not easy to acquire and so we made the choice in this case as we surveyed the landscape, but this is the right path forward for us.”
AP Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick and AP freelance writer Larry Fleisher in New York contributed to this report.
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