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Front office believes current Rays can carry on

ST. PETERSBURG — After deciding there wasn't a deal to be made to bring in outfielder Jason Bay or anyone else to boost the stagnant offense, executive vice president Andrew Friedman put the onus on the players the Rays have to step up and lead the team to its first postseason berth.

"We have to keep in mind we've got a first-place club and, for us, offensively, we have struggled," Friedman said. "We believe basically we're going to have made an acquisition by the way our guys are going to perform over the last two months. They have track records that suggest such, and we believe there's a lot more to come."

They certainly appear to need something to spark an offense that has averaged only 2.7 runs over its last 20 games, hitting .216 and a staggering .136 (21-for-154) with runners in scoring position, and overall has dropped to 12th in the American League in average (.257) and 10th in runs.

Talks went right up until Thursday's 4 p.m. nonwaiver deal deadline, but Friedman — while refusing to address specifics of what was offered, requested, considered or rejected — said despite an "action-packed" final 90 minutes and some "out of the blue" calls, there wasn't anything that "lined up" for them.

"We had a lot of different conversations," he said. "At the end of the day, we didn't feel like things that were an option made sense for us, and others that we were trying to make an option obviously didn't make sense for the other side."

The Bay talks went down to the end, and it sounds as if the Rays reached a point where they didn't want to give up any more, and the Pirates felt they could get more elsewhere.

Reports out of Pittsburgh consistently mentioned prime prospects Reid Brignac and pitchers Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson, all of whom the Rays are reluctant to trade.

There was even a midafternoon MLB.com report that had them making the deal for "prospects including" Brignac and pitcher Jeff Niemann, but it is believed that the combination of Niemann and Brignac was neither offered nor asked for.

And the Pirates had other options. Though a three-way deal with Florida and Boston died earlier (allowing the Rays back in), the Pirates knew the Dodgers had interest, and must have felt they got more (with three big-leaguers and a top prospect) in the three-way deal that sent Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles and Bay to Boston.

"I'm not going to address speculation," Friedman said. "There was a lot of it out there."

As the division-rival Yankees made improvements by adding rightfielder Xavier Nady, pitcher Damaso Marte and catcher Ivan Rodriguez, and the Red Sox changed their entire foundation by trading Ramirez, and the potential wild-card-competing White Sox acquired rightfielder Ken Griffey, Friedman said he was just as confident as he was before the deals of the Rays' chances to reach the postseason.

"Our pitching and defense is going to remain our strength," he said. "I feel like offensively … and I've felt this way for over a month now, there's a lot more to come. We've got guys who have fairly established watermarks and levels of talent. As a unit, as a nine-person unit, we feel like we're going to score more runs. We feel very strongly about that.

"We weren't going to be able to acquire any one bat that was going to all of a sudden allow us to score 10 runs a game; that's not possible. We need our guys to reach just their watermarks, and who they are as players, we're confident we will."

One addition the Rays could make soon is the return of outfielder Rocco Baldelli, who has played well and felt good during a 20-day rehab assignment at Double-A Montgomery that ends tonight. But Friedman said "it's not clear yet" when or if Baldelli, who has been sidelined all season by a rare muscle fatigue condition, will return.

Teams can still trade in August for players that clear waivers, but Friedman said there really weren't any pending relevant discussions along those lines and that chances of such a deal were "remote."

The Rays also didn't improve the bullpen, which has done well despite health issues with Troy Percival and Al Reyes.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Front office believes current Rays can carry on 07/31/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 1, 2008 8:59pm]

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