Whether they're buying or selling, Rays may still trade Shields

Buyer or seller?

In the case of the Rays and James Shields, it may not matter.

Only half a game out of the second wild-card spot but in desperate need of an offensive boost, the Rays are suggesting to teams that they'll be willing to trade Shields, even if they still believe they can compete for a playoff spot.

In fact, trading Shields could either bring back a much-needed bat, or give the Rays enough financial flexibility to find a bat elsewhere.

Shields has struggled recently, giving up double-digit hits in each of his last four starts. But some scouts who have watched him recently believe that he'll be a better pitcher if he gets away from Tampa Bay.

"He'll be fine," one scout said. "To me, he just needs a different environment."

The Tigers, who seem to have determined that starting pitching is their biggest need, are one team that could be interested in Shields. The Rays, who have searched for years for a catcher, could look to build a deal around Rob Brantly, who is catching for the Tigers' Triple-A Toledo team.

The Rays are telling teams that they want to get through this week's homestand against the Indians and Mariners before deciding on a full course of action. By the end of the week, they may also have a better idea if and when Evan Longoria can return from the disabled list to boost their sagging offense.

In addition to Shields, they could look to trade center fielder B.J. Upton if they become total sellers.

Shields has been a key part of every Rays team since 2006, and has been the leader of their rotation over the last few years. But opposing scouts see signs that he has become frustrated, during a season in which his ERA has soared to 4.44 and the Rays' offense and defense have both been subpar.

The Rays have enough rotation depth to fill in if they do deal Shields. Jeff Niemann is expected back from the disabled list, to rejoin a rotation that would still include David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. The Rays could also bring Chris Archer back from the minor leagues to start games.

Shields isn't terribly expensive, with a $7 million contract this year, but his $9 million option for 2013 may be more than the Rays would like to spend.

The Rays are suggesting that they still think they can make the playoffs, but it's hard to see them as a championship team if they don't address their issues on offense.

"Their team is so ugly," said one scout who watched them over the weekend. "But their pitchers give them a chance."

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