Will the Rays be buyers or sellers come the trade deadline on July 31? Unless they fall to dead last in the AL East, there's absolutely no way the Rays are going to sell. Tampa Bay currently stands just a game out of playoff position, and if we've learned anything from the past season, it's that the Rays are a team definitely capable of overcoming that.
Just because the Rays will be buyers at the deadline, however, doesn't mean they won't sell off any major assets. James Shields is one name that could be on the trade market in the next couple of weeks, regardless of the Rays' position in the standings.
Due to his contract situation, it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that Shields has been mentioned often in recent trade rumors. The Rays have a pricey $9 million option on the the 30-year-old right-hander next season, so if they don't trade him away this month, they could lose him to free agency in the offseason.
The Rays have three pitchers—Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Wade Davis—who could all replace him in the rotation, and the Rays would likely bolster their offense with some major-league ready talent as well as some prospects.
With Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce healthy in the lineup, the Rays' offense is much better than it than it was in the past month. However, some disappointing performances from other bats in the lineup so far this season have given the Rays a good reason to deal an arm for a bat.
The Rays definitely see themselves competing this October, and they likely could be active at the deadline to give themselves the upgrade they need. There are a handful of teams out there that would love to add Shields to their rotation—the question will be how much the Rays want to deal him.
Shields is not the only arm that could be used as trade bait to bring in a bat. Alex Cobb and prospects like Chris Archer, Alex Torres and Alex Colome are other possibilities.
The Rays are reportedly seeking a young catcher and [relief] pitching. They're also looking at shortstops and likely a corner outfield/DH right-handed power bat such as Alfonso Soriano, who has been all over trade rumors in the past month. The Rays could really use somebody like him who could platoon with both Matt Joyce and Luke Scott, who are both left-handed hitters.
The Rays are in it to win in 2012, and signing Soriano would really help the short-term cause.
After Shields, B.J. Upton is the next big name to be subject to trade rumors this year. There have been Upton trade talks every July for the past three years, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out this year as he becomes a free agent after the season. Assuming the Rays won't become sellers by July 31, however, it seems unlikely that they'll trade him.