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Five Rays that could be dealt before trade deadline: A fan’s take
Coming into July, the Tampa Bay Rays knew this was going to be a make or break month for their 2011 playoff chances. As the month draws to a close the Rays' playoff hopes appear to have been broken.
There's no doubt that the Rays are a quality team. They have one of the most talented starting rotations in all of baseball and they play solid defense. The problem is that they can't hit. The Rays team batting average ranks 23rd in Major League Baseball.
If they were in the NL Central or the AL Central, then pitching and defense might be enough to win the division. However, with the stacked teams in Boston and New York, the Rays don't stand a chance of competing in the AL East if they don't hit.
As the Rays' playoff hopes dim, it appears the Rays could become sellers before the trade deadline.
Let's take a look at the top five Rays most likely to be traded before the July 31 trade deadline:
Upton is having one of his more productive seasons in 2011. As of July 27, he is hitting .227 with 15 home runs, 53 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. Upton is also known as one of the premier defensive center fielders in all of baseball.
The Rays don't have to trade Upton this season since he doesn't become a free agent until after the 2012 season, but he is arbitration eligible and should see his salary increased to the $7-$8 million range in 2012.
The Rays are in the driver seat on this one. They don't have to trade Upton this season. Supposedly, the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants are interested in acquiring Upton. However, don't expect the Rays to part with Upton unless they receive a lucrative package in return.
James Shields had his share of struggles in 2009 and 2010 when he posted a combined 24-27 record with an ERA close to 5.00. In 2011, Shields looked to regain the form that once earned him the nickname "Big Game James."
So far in 2011 Shields has been one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball. His 9-8 record isn't impressive, but the Rays anemic offense has struggled to support their ace. So far Shields has posted a career best ERA of 2.53, while throwing seven complete games (he had five in his career before 2011) and three shutouts. Even with his 9-8 record, Shields is a Cy Young candidate in 2011.
Trade speculation around Shields is being fueled by two factors. First, the Rays have a farm system full of young, talented and cheap arms that are knocking on the door of the major leagues. Second, trading Shields now would fit into the Rays' philosophy of selling high to garner the best possible package in return (think the Scott Kazmir(notes) and Matt Garza(notes) trades).
The Rays hold team options on Shields for the next three seasons and the options are very reasonably priced based on Shields' performance. The Rays have stated that Shields in not on the market and it seems unlikely the Rays would part with their most dominant pitcher, even with the depth of pitching talent they have in their system. However, if someone offers a deal that's too good to resist don't be surprised if the Rays pull the trigger and part ways with Shields.
The Rays signed Farnsworth before the 2011 season to bring depth and experience to the back end of their revamped bullpen. Even the Rays couldn't have predicted how good Farnsworth has been this season.
As of July 27, Farnsworth is 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA with 19 saves in 23 chances.
The Rays signed Farnsworth to a very team friendly one-year contract that pays Farnsworth about $2.6 million in 2011. The Rays also hold a team option for 2012 that would pay Farnsworth about $3.3 million, which is still a bargain for an effective closer.
Farnsworth would be a desirable addition to any team seeking veteran bullpen help for a playoff push. However, it seems unlikely that the Rays would be willing to part ways with Farnsworth, unless some team is willing to substantially overpay for him.
Casey Kotchmann - first base
Kotchmann has been the second pleasant surprise of the 2011 season. The Rays signed him to a minor league deal in the off-season to provide organizational depth in case Dan Johnson(notes) struggled as the Rays everyday first baseman.
Since he returned to the majors, Kotchmann has been the most consistent hitter the Rays have had. As of July 27, he's hitting .328 with four home runs and 29 RBIs with an OPS of .839. Not too bad for a guy making $750,000 in 2011.
If the Rays get a decent offer for Kotchmann it wouldn't be a surprise to see them take it. He'll be a free agent after the 2011 season. While the Rays would like to have him back, they probably won't be the top bidder for Kotchmann's services in 2012.
Niemann got off to an awful start in 2011 and his ERA was up over 7.00 in the middle of April. A back injury landed him on the disabled list in May. Since his return he's looked like a different pitcher. In his last four starts he's given up a total of four earned runs. For the season he is 4-4 with a 3.86 ERA.
The Rays have one of the best problems in baseball. They have more major league-ready starting pitchers in their organization then there are spots available.
David Price(notes) and Jeremy Hellickson(notes) are untouchable. James Shields is locked up in a team-friendly contract for three more years and Wade Davis(notes) just signed a multi-year extension this off-season.
If the Rays are not blown away by an offer for James Shields and they hope to open up a slot in their starting rotation, then the most likely candidate to be traded is Jeff Niemann.
The Rays are in the exact position they'd like to be coming to the trade deadline. They have some desirable pieces to trade that could result in multiple quality prospects in return. However, they don't have to trade anyone and they'll still be in a position to be competitive in 2012. It should be interesting to see how all of this plays out over the next several days.
Sean McDonnell has been a resident of the Tampa Bay area for the past 21 years. He is an avid fan of the Tampa Bay Rays; Tampa Bay Bucs and USF Bulls.
* Statistical information provided by Yahoo! Sports
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