The Rays are more likely than not to make a trade during the final two weeks leading up to the July 31 deadline for nonwaiver deals.
What's interesting, unless things change with a really bad start to this week, is it seems they are more focused on adding to their core than breaking it up. In other words, as much as they don't like to be labeled, more buyers than sellers.
"We've spent a lot of time and energy on it and will continue to do so, and obviously there are a lot of variables at play," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Friday. "But I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to line up on something that helps us in 2011 and gets in front of one of our to-do items this offseason."
Adding a player — a late-inning reliever and/or outfield bat seem mostly likely, though a frontline shortstop or catcher would be more valuable — would help as the Rays try to stay in the race.
And to facilitate, Friedman said:
• They'd be willing to acquire a "rental" player, a veteran who is headed to free agency after the season with no chance of staying, though "obviously we'd pay less for a rental player than we would someone with more years of control."
• They're "definitely open" to tapping into their prized farm system and deal a prospect (though left-hander Matt Moore can probably send out his dry cleaning). "There's certain guys we're very unlikely to move, but the fact that we have a really deep system helps us in that respect," Friedman said.
But the more significant message would be in not trading their higher-priced players, such as centerfielder B.J. Upton and right-hander James Shields.
Not only does that reinforce their intent to remain competitive this season, but it gives them a better opportunity in 2012, when they have reasons to feel even better about their chances: their young players are more experienced, they have fewer holes to fill (and potentially the money to do so after spending only $41 million this year), the Red Sox and Yankees keep getting older, the playoff field is expected to be expanded.
Obviously the potential return on any one deal can change their way of thinking. And there's the possibility of linking deals where, say, they trade Upton but get another top centerfielder.
But with two weeks to go, the Rays seem more interested in buying than selling.
"I think we've properly identified our areas of strength and the areas that we're more deficient than we'd like to be," Friedman said. "So we are pursuing different moves that would strengthen our weaknesses and not necessarily detract from our current strengths.
"We never like to shoehorn ourselves into being buyers or sellers, but we're looking for additive-type moves that will strengthen us as an organization and if they have a tail of value beyond this year, even better. It will put us in position to be even more aggressive on those, but it doesn't mean that's the only area we're focusing on."