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07/26/11 1:11 PM ET

Trade picture will become clear for Rays, others

When you are the Tampa Bay Rays, this is your reality: you have the sixth-best record in the American League, you have the smallest payroll, and you are in third place in the East, eight games in the loss column behind the Yankees. The Rays are out on an island in St. Petersburg trying to balance the challenges of today's pennant races with the economics of trying to keep open a window and remain competitive for as long as possible.

So when talk-radio personalities were discussing the rumors of the Rays trading James Shields and one said, "They got nothing for Matt Garza," the couple of general managers who heard it laughed. "They probably wouldn't know who the Rays got in the deal," said one general manager.

Such is the life for small-market general managers in a high-finance business. One morning recently, Indians GM Chris Antonetti left a message for his good friend, the Pirates' Neal Huntington, "from one dumb general manager to another." Never mind that the rise of the Tribe and Bucs have been two of the feel-good stories of the season, now Antonetti and Huntington are facing criticism for not running out and trading prospects for veterans.

Never mind that the Indians did offer to pick up all of Carlos Beltran's remaining Mets contract and give up a good player in return. The deal Scott Boras negotiated with the Mets for Beltran includes a no-trade clause, which Boras refers to as a "ring clause," meaning that if things ground to an end in New York, Beltran had the right to choose where best to go get a ring before entering the free-agent market, and Cleveland did not fit.

Trade Include

And to trade Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Alex White or Drew Pomeranz for a two-month rental would be absurd. Just as it would be foolish for Huntington to trade Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie or the likes for Josh Willingham.

What much of the media and fans become at this time of year is the indulged teenager on Christmas morning who expects the newest iPad and the keys to a BMW. Grandpa slipped Apple stock in a card? Not immediate gratification.

"If the Cubs put Garza on the market, they wouldn't get what the Rays got," said one GM on Monday. Sam Fuld has really helped. Nineteen-year old shortstop Hak-Ju Lee is hitting .324 with an .822 OPS in the Florida State League, and one scout who watched him recently says "he has a chance to be a star." Outfielder Brandon Guyer is hitting .305 with an .875 OPS in the International League, has already hit one homer for the Rays and plays hard all the time. Fireballing right-hander Chris Archer has had an inconsistent Double-A season, but throws 92 to 95 mph with a 90-mph slider and likely will be an important player by 2013, possibly at the end of games.

In 2013, Shields -- who has pitched Tampa Bay into the seventh inning in all but one start -- will be making $9 million, which will be somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the Rays' payroll. Hence, Andrew Friedman is studying every alternative and possibility, be it trading Shields, which is unlikely, or trading B.J. Upton.

Desmond Jennings was recalled this week and has convinced the Rays that he can be a very good defensive center fielder. He can fly. Yes, Upton is constantly characterized as an underachiever, and, yes, he can be frustrating. His average has gone from .300 to .273 to .241 to .237 to, right now, .229. But he also sits at 15-20 homers a year, has stolen 40 or more bases three times, is arguably the best defensive center fielder in the league and can score from first on any double. That is a very good player, just not a franchise player.

So between now and 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, Friedman will sort through what the Giants, Braves, Nationals, Indians and anyone else can trade for a 26-year-old game-changer, one who might be the difference in San Francisco winning another World Series. Upton's price will be higher because he is not eligible for free agency.

A trade involving Beltran is more complicated because Boras has indicated that his client wants to win and has privately led teams to believe he prefers the National League. Given the pitching of the three NL mega-powers -- the Giants, Phillies and Braves -- putting Carlos Beltran on any of those three teams could tip the scales deep into October.

The notion that Deadline trades alter franchises is warped by Texas getting Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jared Saltalamacchia for Mark Teixeira in 2007. "The Rangers could do that because they could wait for Feliz and Andrus to get out of low-A and Harrison to come out of Double-A," says one NL GM. "Many teams cannot do that."

Colorado's owners may be frustrated by the Rockies' inconsistencies, but they don't want to trade Ubaldo Jimenez on a good contract for four kids in A-ball.

In 2008, the Indians had to move defending Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia and got Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley -- good but not franchise players like they got for Bartolo Colon in 2002. When in 2009 they traded another defending Cy Young Award winner, Cliff Lee, they got four players, none of whom are currently starting. They did get a solid starting pitcher in Justin Masterson for Victor Martinez. The Athletics show nothing for trading Matt Holliday. The Diamondbacks have the promise of Tyler Skaggs to show for All-Star Dan Haren. The Mariners last year got Justin Smoak, who is hitting .227, and two promising pitchers in Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke, who a year after the trade have two wins between them. It's not as easy as it sounds, especially now that teams seem frightened to trade prospects.

The word spread around the general managers' world on Monday that Hunter Pence and Shields were essentially not going to be traded and were off the market. Teams like the Tigers, Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox interested in Hiroki Kuroda were awaiting word whether or not he would accept a trade to any of those teams. "He is very deliberate and detailed about whatever he does," says a Dodgers official.

Running down to Sunday's Deadline will be like Tax-Free Weekend at Wal-Mart, as relievers and right-handed-hitting outfielders fly off the shelves. But as far as big names are concerned, teams like the Rays still are studying the yesterdays, todays and tomorrows of the Trade Deadline.

Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.