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Tampa Bay Rays players try to block out trade rumors

Rays starter James Shields has heard his name in trade rumors frequently but seems able to laugh it off: “There’s a lot of crazy talk going around.”

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Rays starter James Shields has heard his name in trade rumors frequently but seems able to laugh it off: “There’s a lot of crazy talk going around.”

Rays right-hander James Shields was getting ready for pregame stretching one day last week when the clubhouse televisions began to buzz about the latest trade rumors.

"Shields could be moved," MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported.

With the nonwaiver trade deadline at 4 p.m. July 31, it's baseball's silly season, with rumors and reports — many of which are not true — spreading like wildfire on Twitter, TV and talk radio.

"There's a lot of crazy talk going around," Shields said, smiling.

On one day, a CBSSports.com report said Shields was frustrated with the Rays and would perform better elsewhere (which Shields denied). On another, ESPN's Jim Bowden said Shields was discussed, along with Ben Zobrist, in a potential trade with the Angels (a report that drew laughs from the Rays brass).

As much as players try to avoid the chatter and tune it out, they hear it from their friends and family, who are wondering what the future will hold.

"It's very tough to go through," Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "I think, for me, I've dealt with it for the last three-four years, so I've kind of gotten used to it. But you know, if it's new to you, it's definitely tough, especially when you've been with an organization for a number of years."

•••

Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman, an ex-Ray and Seminole High product, recalls getting traded on the deadline day in 2009, when the media beat his team to the punch.

Kotchman, then with Atlanta, was hanging out in the home clubhouse in his Braves shorts when he saw on the television scrawl that he had been traded to Boston for Adam LaRoche.

Kotchman's agent, Casey Close, had given him a heads up that something might be happening, but Kotchman still had no answers for his teammates, who kept approaching him at his locker with questions.

"I was like, 'Do I go to batting practice, or do I get ready for stretch?' " Kotchman said. "You're in a holding pattern."

Being in that kind of limbo can be challenging for players, who are worried about leaving teammates and relocating their families while trying to remain focused on the field.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said on a few occasions, they've approached players and re-assured them a rumor wasn't true. But, for the most part, players are left on their own.

Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan said he follows the rumors a lot, with closer Chris Perez acknowledging it affected him more as a younger player.

"I think maybe some guys get kind of caught up in that too much, where if they like where they're at, they try to do too much to stay," Perez said. "Or, vice versa, if they don't like where they're at, they kind of shut it down and facilitate that trade on their own."

Upton said he felt the burden of the uncertainty the most last year.

"It's always a possibility, but I felt like last year was a serious possibility," Upton said. "Especially where we were in the standings, at the time, and everything that was going on. But I made it. I'm still here."

Shields said he doesn't read too much into the rumors, because that's all they usually end up being.

"A lot of things people throw out there, and it's all talk," Shields said.

Indians leftfielder Johnny Damon, an ex-Ray, remembered early in his career when there were talks he was headed to the Yankees, but one report that he didn't want to play in New York.

Damon, of course, ended up playing four seasons in the Bronx (2006-09), winning a World Series his final year.

"A lot of things get made up this time of year," Damon said. "But I think people realized that if they want the real source, just come to me."

But as Rays infielder Jeff Keppinger, who has been traded five times (three times in July), points out: "Come this time of year, I don't think anybody is labeled 'untouchable.' "

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Rays players try to block out trade rumors 07/23/12 [Last modified: Monday, July 23, 2012 9:29pm]
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