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This time, counting cost is different for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Perhaps the word entered your mind with the first strikeout. Perhaps, because you are a patient soul, it held off until the first popup.

Sometime during the Rays' 4-3 win over the A's on Wednesday, however, you thought about it. Again. And again.

Trade. Please.

And furthermore, soon.

It has become a mantra around here. By now, even the Rays' bat rack is whimpering for help. Every time another opposing left-handed pitcher turns into Sandy Koufax, every time the meat of the order looks like leftovers, you cannot help but think about the possibility of a deal.

Nothing wrong with that. By and large, everyone loves the sound of the cavalry coming to the rescue. Editorially speaking, we all are in favor of reinforcements. Who doesn't love the notion of a team in a pennant race bringing in a mercenary or two to help close the deal?

After all, this is Tampa Bay, where the Rays are 100 games into their first season worth talking about and eight days away from the first trading deadline worth contemplating. You remember, don't you? Historically, the trading deadline has been a day for the franchise to try to cram all of its large contracts into the outbox and hope someone else will pick them up. More than anything, it was a goodbye party with cleats.

This time, it's different. This time, the Rays could use a right-handed bat with some thump. This time, they could use another arm in the bullpen. This time they have first place to protect.

So, yeah, you would like to see them make a deal. For Xavier Nady. For Matt Holliday. For Brian Fuentes. For Brett Favre.

The real question here is not who, however. The real question is, "How much?"

For Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman, that's the tougher decision. In Friedman's time here, he has shown an eye for adding nice pieces at a value price.

This is an important time for Friedman, however. His team is about to enter the most important month of its history, which means that Friedman might be in the most important week any Rays dealmaker has had.

Let's sum up: Friedman has to decide what potential he can afford to lose and which risks he thinks are worth taking. He has to decide how much to give for a half-season rental and how much for perhaps a lesser player with a better contract. He has to figure out the difference between Seizing the Day and Selling the Farm.

So what should Friedman offer up?

David Price? No. And furthermore, no. If a team asks for Price, Friedman's response should be to laugh so hard that he drops the phone. These are negotiations. This is not Price-haggling.

Wade Davis? Jeremy Hellickson? Reid Brignac? Almost certainly not. You can't blame an opponent for wanting those guys, but it had better offer up a better ballplayer than any of the rentals who have been knocked around in the rumors. For those guys, you would need a cornerstone player who would be here for a half-dozen seasons.

Jeff Niemann? Fernando Perez? Mitch Talbot? With the right return, yeah, the Rays should be willing to talk about those guys. True, all three of those players have potential. On the other hand, who is going to give away a great player for nothing? After all, Steve Phillips isn't even with the Mets anymore.

Does it sound like too much to give? Does it sound like not enough?

Remember, the Rays are after a role player here. For instance, everyone talks about the right-handed bat. And it is true, left-handers seem to baffle the Rays like a Spanish test written in Russian. Any day now, you expect a Rays opponent to rush out and sign Lefty Grove, Lefty Gomez and, what the heck, Lefty Driesell. Also, Kenny Rogers, Martina Navratilova and Paul McCartney.

Do the math, however. Roughly speaking, one-fourth of major-league starting pitchers are left-handed. That means of the Rays' remaining 62 games, they should face a lefty about 15 times. That means about 60 at-bats (maybe as many as 75 if you count pinch-hitting and late-inning substitution) for the new guy.

Now, how much is 75 at-bats worth? Granted, the Rays could use some right-handed pop for the playoffs, but that certainly isn't worth a Price or a Davis or a Hellickson.

Face it. No matter who the Rays bring in, what is left of the season depends on whether their core players begin to hit. You want to know why the Rays are struggling against lefties? Because last year, Carl Crawford hit .318, B.J. Upton hit .281 and Carlos Pena hit .271 against left-handers. This year, those numbers are .233, .262 and .204, respectively.

And that's the thing. Even a good right-handed batter isn't going to make up for that much of lost average. There is only so much one guy can do.

In times like these, of course, every bit helps.

Gary Shelton can be reached at (727) 893-8805.

This time, counting cost is different for Rays 07/23/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2008 6:05pm]

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