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Jones: Punchless Rays should be sellers at trade deadline

WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times Veterans such as outfielder David DeJesus can’t do the Rays much good this season except as trade bait.
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times Veterans such as outfielder David DeJesus can’t do the Rays much good this season except as trade bait.
Published Jul. 28, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG

Here we are again.

Days away from a trade deadline, and the Rays are in baseball purgatory. Not quite good enough to feel optimistic about their playoff chances and not so bad that they can be completely counted out.

This is starting to become an annual quandary with the Rays. Should they be buyers or sellers? Go for it or pack it in? Trade for now or trade for the future?

Maybe they should give up a starting pitcher or one of their extra bullpen arms for a bat that could slug them into the postseason.

Or, maybe they would better off parting with veterans to get a few prospects who could help down the road.

Which direction the Rays should go depends on how you feel about their chances of making the playoffs.

Well, put away your Rays-colored glasses. This is a no-brainer. This Tampa Bay season is over. Time to sell. Time to think about 2016 and 2017. That means giving up on 2015.

Fans, of course, don't want to hear that. They look at today's standings and see that the Rays are 7½ games behind the Yankees in the American League East with 61 games left. Better yet, they are only 31/2 games back in the wild-card race. Heck, a little hot streak — maybe five wins in a row or seven out of eight — and suddenly you're right back in the thick of things with a bunch of mediocre teams.

But with an embarrassingly anemic offense, the Rays simply don't seem capable of extended hot streaks or consistent play. The Rays aren't hanging on the outskirts of playoff contention because they are good. They are hanging around because baseball's wild-card system keeps everyone in the race, even those teams that really don't have a legitimate chance come October, teams like Tampa Bay.

No matter how stingy your pitching is, you can't win when you score two runs or fewer far too many nights. And the Rays aren't in the position financially to go out and get the big-time help they would need to make a serious stretch run.

Instead, the plan is to wait on injured players Desmond Jennings and Asdrubal Cabrera to get healthy — Cabrera should be back today — as if getting back guys who are hitting .222 and .223 with a combined five homers and 24 RBIs is suddenly going to cure the team's offensive woes.

So you're left with this. Do you want to give up assets to acquire help that gives you a slim hope of making a postseason where you will probably get throttled anyway? Or would you rather get busy on building a true contender even if that contender is a couple of years away? Or, a third option, would you rather stand pat and tread water, while not really getting better for the future?

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The answer seems obvious.

If I'm running this team, I'd let it be known that everyone is available with the exception of two: Chris Archer and Evan Longoria.

Archer is on the verge of being one of the top 10 pitchers in baseball, if he's not there already.

As far as Longoria, many fans have lost patience with his dwindling offensive numbers, but you don't trade a guy with this much talent who has yet to turn 30. The face of your franchise who is signed at least through 2022 deserves to have a little leeway to shake off a crummy season in which he has been surrounded by no protection.

Longoria is still your most talented player. You don't trade guys like that. You build around guys like that.

But everybody else — David DeJesus, James Loney, Logan Forsythe, Cabrera, Jennings, pretty much every other pitcher — is available. It might take a little extra to pry away players under team control for several years — pitchers Brad Boxberger, Jake Odorizzi and Jake McGee and outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, for instance — but I would never say never.

The Rays need offensive help. Badly.

Years of awful drafting and even worse player development have the left the entire organization devoid of decent bats. The current Rays might turn out to be the worst offensive team in franchise history and, other than Longoria, you really can't say any of this is a surprise. This is who they are. This is who they've always been.

Richie Shaffer, who has 16 homers in 49 games at Triple-A Durham, appears to be the only prospect who has a chance to help anytime soon. The quickest way for an organization to fix the offense (shy of signing big-name free agents, which the Rays will never do) is to trade for young players with potential and hope they pan out after a little more minor-league seasoning.

But trading for the future means giving up on the present. At this point, with a team floundering around .500 and no realistic chance of winning a playoff round let alone a World Series, that doesn't seem like a mistake the Rays will grow to regret.

Time to sell.

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