Offensively Challenged Rays Must Trade Pitching: Fan's Opinion

Yahoo Contributor Network

As next week's All-Star break approaches, the Tampa Bay Rays frustratingly sit a season-high 7.5 games removed from 1st place. With the red hot New York Yankees coming to town for a 3 game set, that deficit could alarmingly swell, if the club cannot improve on the subpar 3-7 performance displayed in the past 10 contests.

While the Rays have been hampered by injuries all season, this news is especially disheartening when considering the team occupied the division's top spot just 1 month ago. Though 3rd baseman Evan Longoria and outfield Matt Joyce remain sidelined, boosts from the return of hitters Jeff Keppinger, Luke Scott, and Desmond Jennings simply never happened.

After beginning the home-stand by dropping 3 of 4 to the Detroit Tigers over the weekend, it is apparent that offensive woes are the cause of the Rays' struggles. While starting pitching remains solid, and the bullpen has received new arms to ensure success, the miserable performance of the club's offense is preventing consistent victory.

During the 3 loses to Detroit, Tampa Bay posted 2, 2, and 3 runs. In each contest, their pitching was sufficient to win, but the needed run support simply was not present. Even in Friday's sole victory, the Rays only managed 4 runs -- a total that sadly resembles an offensive surge these days.

Following Sunday's loss, manager Joe Maddon took to Twitter to vent his frustration on the issue. Maddon typed, "At some point you have to cover your mistakes with your offense. We haven't been able to do that."

For this reason, the time has come for the Rays' to explore trading some of the team's vaunted young pitching for improvements to the club's lineup. While 1st base, middle infield, and catcher stand out as positions in need of an upgrade, help at any spot is appreciated when carrying an unacceptable .232 team batting average -- 2nd worst in the entire major leagues.

Rays' fans would near unanimously agree that studs David Price and Matt Moore should remain untouchable. However, beyond this core duo, General Manager Andrew Friedman will be in the strongest bargaining position if making all else available.

This should include starting pitching prospects Alex Cobb, Alex Torres, and Chris Archer. Each youngster has gotten a taste of the big leagues, but has yet to earn a firm role with Tampa Bay. Furthermore, though 26 year-old Wade Davis has pitched effectively out of the bullpen, with 64 starts since 2010, he carries his greatest value if dangled to teams in need of pitching as a starter.

The recent trade of Jim Thome from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Baltimore Orioles stings bitterly as a missed opportunity. Slipping deeper into last place and nearing the return of Ryan Howard, Philly shipped the veteran for a pair of lesser prospects to an AL East team. Now Thome not only cannot help the ailing Rays, but the slugger will quite possibly hurt them. Ever-frugal Tampa Bay further would have appreciated that Thome is owed less than $1 million for the remainder of the year.

As the season reaches its half-way point, faltering teams will undoubtedly look to unload similar players. Additionally, franchises that remain in contention and desire pitching will likely pay a higher price in surplus offense.

The Rays must take advantage of these opportunities and upgrade their offense before it is too late. As Joe Maddon indicated, good pitching alone cannot capture enough games to win a pennant. Though injuries have hurt, the Rays' lineup itself is fatally flawed and needs an injection of talent. Signing free agents off baseball's scrapheap like Hideki Matsui and Brooks Conrad simply has not worked.

Andrew Friedman has received positive value from trading pitchers Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza in the past. This time, however, the executive must focus on importing veteran hitters who can help immediately.

Otherwise, the once bright hopes for 2012 season will be extinguished long before another September comeback can become possible.

Sources:

Yahoo! Sports, Twitter.com, ESPN.com, BaltimoreSun.com.

More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:

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Jeff Briscoe is a regular contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and a follower of the Tampa Bay Rays . He talks Rays' baseball and more on The Sports Train radio show in Southwest Florida.

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