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Tampa Bay Rays don't find right fit for trade as deadline expires

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays didn't make a trade by Friday's deadline for nonwaiver deals because they didn't have one to make.

Executive VP Andrew Friedman said they essentially considered two possibilities: major deals that would improve the team significantly at a hefty price and "under the radar" acquisitions that would cost little but could have a big upside.

In the end, despite one undisclosed late possibility, they didn't see what they believed was the right fit and chose to stick with their current group, confident it can play better and catch the Red Sox and Yankees.

"We were only going to do something if we felt like it … was an obvious, noticeable difference," Friedman said. "I'd say we were pretty aggressive in trying to get things done. But ultimately, it didn't line up."

Their discussions included aces Cliff Lee (traded to Philadelphia) and Roy Halladay (who stayed in Toronto) as well as relievers, including Heath Bell, whose high price kept him in San Diego. They also talked with Cleveland about C/1B/DH Victor Martinez (traded to Boston) but didn't have a fit for him. He isn't good defensively behind the plate, and the Rays didn't see giving him a lot of at-bats at the other spots.

Friedman said they focused more on "run prevention" (pitching and defense, likely catcher) because they believe their struggling hitters will rebound and they have built-in options such as using Willy Aybar more.

"We have faith in this offense," Friedman said. "Ultimately for us to get back (to the playoffs), these guys are going to have to click and get going. And I would absolutely bet on it before I would bet against it."

Friedman acknowledged fans might be frustrated because other teams made moves but said the Rays have to stick to their philosophy, and "you start making bad decisions when you do things for the wrong reasons."

He also said they will scour the waiver wire for potential August additions and take advantage of the "only benefit" of being in third place in the AL East, claiming priority over the Red Sox and Yankees. "Hopefully," he said, "we don't have waiver priority over them all month."

nelson GOES DOWN: RHP Joe Nelson said he was optioned to Triple-A Durham after Friday's game. The Rays are expected to announce a corresponding move today.

Nelson was acquired as a free agent in the offseason. He was 3-0 with a 4.02 ERA in 42 appearances. Nelson said he was a little surprised by the move but took it in stride.

"It isn't the first time," Nelson, 34, said. "Hopefully, I'll be back in September and see what happens. You're never happy about it, but it's a business. It's how the game is."

moving up: OF Desmond Jennings, one of the Rays' top prospects, has been promoted to Triple-A Durham. Jennings hit .316 with eight homers, 45 RBIs and had 35 steals for Montgomery.

STANDING TALL: RHP Jeff Niemann enters tonight's start having thrown a two-hit shutout against the Royals the last time he faced them, June 3. Niemann was quick to say, "You can't expect that two starts in a row."

But manager Joe Maddon has been pleased with how the 6-foot-9 rookie has handled himself — and been so consistent — acknowledging he never expected before the season Niemann would be the first Ray going for double-digit wins.

"I've really been impressed with what he's doing," Maddon said. "And the other thing is if … you just trailed him around between starts, his work ethic has been spectacular."

Tampa Bay Rays don't find right fit for trade as deadline expires 07/31/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 6:20am]
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