CHICAGO — With little financial flexibility and a premium on their own prospects, the Rays don't seem likely to make any big deals leading up to the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline.
But executive vice president Andrew Friedman said he would be creative and explore all options. And word around the game Wednesday was he was doing exactly that with reports the Rays are interested in the two premier available starting pitchers, Cleveland's Cliff Lee and Toronto's Roy Halladay.
Manager Joe Maddon wouldn't name names but didn't discourage the speculation that Friedman was making inquiries.
"He's got some interesting things out there," Maddon said. "We've talked about different things. You know him. He's always got good ideas, and he's definitely willing to take the plunge if somebody else is.
"It's all good stuff. But like most years, nothing ever happens. So we'll just see. And if nothing happens, I am fine. I'm good with our group."
Friedman — without discussing specifics — said he was just doing what he is supposed to do.
"We are always very active in conversations this time of year and this year is no exception,'' he said. "As we have said, we have supreme confidence in the 25 guys we have but we'll continue to have conversations in the event something lines up."
ESPN's Buster Olney reported the Rays are looking at Halladay, who pitches against them Friday in Toronto, but "it's very, very unlikely" they'll make a deal "because of their financial constraints" and how important their prospects are to future success.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal had the Rays in on Lee and Halladay, reporting they were "engaged in a whirlwind of activity" that involved "major, major stuff," but also noted that "payroll flexibility remains a significant obstacle."
Lee, the 2008 Cy Young winner, is making $5.75 million in the final year of his contract and has a $9 million option for 2010. Halladay requires a much larger commitment as he makes $14.25 million this season and $15.75 million in 2010 and has a no-trade clause.
Minor-league RHP Wade Davis and INF Reid Brignac are likely to be a prime target in any major trade. The Rays also might have to clear payroll space by trading from their team.
PAIN IN THE BACK: RHP Chad Bradford said the lower back stiffness that forced him from the game without throwing a pitch came "kind of out of nowhere."
The Rays will wait until today to see how he is. Bradford said he hopes it is just a spasm, but he had a similar problem in 2005 that led to surgery.
"Hopefully, it's just a bump in the road,'' he said.
MOUND DUTY: LHP Scott Kazmir is set to start today, having gotten past the tightness in his left forearm from the cramping that forced him from Saturday's game. He was pitching well at the time and expects to continue improving since rebuilding his mechanics.
"It feels like I've got my fastball back," he said. "It feels like my body is cooperating. It feels like my body is doing what I want it to do. I'm not fighting myself any more. Hopefully, I get the feel a little bit more for my slider and just kind of go with it."
Kazmir said he won't be under any limitations today, but because the cramp was caused by dehydration, he planned to start drinking lots of fluids Wednesday night and would have a bottle of water at his side between innings.
MISCELLANY: 2B Ben Zobrist extended his career-high hitting streak to 12 games. … DH Pat Burrell has now homered in 30 ballparks. … RHP James Shields hasn't won since June 20. … Before Tuesday, the Rays were one of four teams without a win when trailing after eight innings. The Cardinals, Nationals and White Sox still are.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.