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It is time for Tampa Bay Rays to be bold once more at trade deadline

ST. PETERSBURG

Ask yourself a question:

Why have the Rays been able to stay competitive in the AL East the past four seasons while possessing a tiny fraction of the resources of the cartels to the north?

The No. 1 reason, naturally, is they have been remarkably shrewd. As much as anyone in baseball, they have exploited undervalued assets to their great benefit.

But that's only part of the story.

Intellect is of little value if you're too scared to put it to use. And that's where the Rays have shined again and again.

They weren't afraid to trade Delmon Young the season after he drove in 93 runs as a 21-year-old. They weren't afraid to trade Edwin Jackson the season after he tied for the team lead in victories. And they weren't afraid to trade Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza, too.

They have been aggressive. They have been brazen. They have been daring.

And now, it is time for the Rays to be bold once more.

Against all odds, the Rays have remained in contention this season after trimming the roster of their seven highest-paid players from 2010. They have survived April's horrible start, Evan Longoria's season­long slump and Manny Ramirez's CVS account.

They have gotten to the second half of the season still within sniffing distance of the American League wild card.

And that is why they should be more aggressive than ever before when it comes to the nonwaiver trade deadline in two weeks.

The end of July has passed the previous three seasons without the Rays making much of a splash in the trade market. And with two division banners hanging from the catwalks at Tropicana Field, it's hard to argue with the results.

But there is an opportunity this season that is not guaranteed for 2012, no matter how fertile and deep the farm system is today.

Quite simply, the Rays are good enough to catch the Yankees. It doesn't mean they will. It doesn't even mean they should. But the potential is there, and that shouldn't be taken lightly.

Tampa Bay has the starting pitching capable of staying in contention, and New York's roster has just enough creaking and groaning to make you wonder if it is vulnerable.

So what does all of that mean in practical terms?

Well, it certainly does not mean they should give up Jeremy Hellickson or Matt Moore if that is the cost for a high-profile rental such as Carlos Beltran or a season-and-a-half's worth of Hunter Pence.

And it doesn't mean they make a trade simply to appease voices such as mine, if the chances of moving the needle seem remote.

But somewhere in the middle is the possibility of increasing 2011's odds without doing irreparable harm to the future.

So where do the Rays begin?

Forget about catcher. It has been a black hole offensively this season, but the Rays are not going to get a frontline guy in July. Ditto for shortstop because Jose Reyes is not worth the prospects he will cost.

That leaves leftfield and the bullpen. And there are possibilities in either spot.

Beltran and Pence are at the high end in the outfield, and Jeff Francoeur and Laynce Nix are closer to the bottom. In the middle is a Josh Willingham or a Michael Cuddyer.

Willingham would be a downgrade defensively, and Cuddyer might not be available if the Twins decide they are contenders, but either of those guys would provide the right-handed power missing in the lineup.

In the bullpen, Toronto has a handful of relievers (Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel) capable of pitching in the eighth inning and with palatable contract options in 2012. Bringing back Grant Balfour might be another possibility.

Obviously, much of this depends on what other teams are seeking in return. Even with another arm in the bullpen or another bat in the lineup, the Rays are not guaranteed of running down the Yankees. So that has to be weighed when making a choice.

But the Rays are close enough to contention to be willing to take a risk. A calculated risk. An educated risk. A measured risk. But a risk, nonetheless.

For the fear is the Rays become a newer version of the A's, a small-revenue team that was forever in contention but never quite good enough to grab the brass ring.

That's why, when you are close enough to the post­season to smell it, you have to be willing to sacrifice to get there. And the people in uniform in the Rays clubhouse believe the opportunity is there in 2011.

So it's time for the Rays to do what they do best. Be sharp. Be savvy.

Above all else, be bold.

It is time for Tampa Bay Rays to be bold once more at trade deadline 07/16/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 17, 2011 12:23am]

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