The Tampa Bay Rays are not new to the MLB trade rumor conversation. Being a small-market team, the Rays do not have many options shopping in the free agent market. To fill in areas of need during the offseason, the Rays are practically forced to trade away some of their young talent. Players such as B.J. Upton, have been in the spotlight of Rays trade rumors for over a year now. As the Rays stand a month and a half into their offseason, new names have emerged arousing the Rays' Hot Stove. Earlier this week, catcher John Jaso was traded to Seattle for reliever Josh Lueke. It was a move that seemed to come out of nowhere. Many analysts were already projecting Jaso as the Opening Day backstop in 2012. Since the offseason started in October, more possible trade pieces have been named. Pitchers Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, and James Shields could all possibly end up as trade bait to reel in some offensive production from teams that lack pitching. The questions are, what kind of players will the Rays pursue? What players are they willing to trade away? The Rays' winter probably won't be a real busy one, but there's a lot to be done in the following months.

One player that Rays appear to have an eye on is Yonder Alonoso. The Cincinnati Reds' Alonso is one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball. Some people even believe that the 24 year-old has the same potential as his teammate Joey Votto. Alonso does resemble the former MVP in some ways. He's a thick left-handed batter who can hit for average and has power as well. From what scouts predict, he's the making of a great hitter like Votto. Besides for his phenomenal hitting skills, Alonso is also a first baseman. His ability to play at first makes him even more attractive from the Rays' perspective. With Casey Kotchman and Dan Johnson possibly not returning in 2012, first base is one of the Rays' areas to tend to in the offseason. 

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Alonso's not really a slick fielder like the first baseman the Rays have had in the past, but his offensive production could be a huge boost for the team. In just his second MLB season, Alonso put up excellent numbers for Cincinnati. He hit an impressive .330 and knocked out five homers through his 47 games. This is guy I believe the Rays should seriously go after. The former #1 draft pick has only a year left on his contract, he's young and healthy, and he can simply rake the baseball. A hard-hitting first baseman who can also serve as a DH; sounds like a perfect fit for the Rays. The question to ask now, is who would the Reds be looking for in return? According to sources, the Reds are looking for starting pitching and ideally a No. 2 in the rotation. James Shields is the type of pitcher they are looking to get out of a Yonder Alonso trade. If the Rays are willing to give away Shields to bolster their mediocre offense, Alonso could easily be a Ray. Shields is not the only pitcher that the Rays could trade. Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann are both young arms that the Reds may like in their starting rotation. Wether the Rays decide to go with the Davis/Niemann offer or the Shields offer, a deal could very well be in their reach.

The Reds are not the only team after Davis and Niemann's services; the Colorado Rockies also seem to have a bit of interest. Maybe not so much anymore though, as they just recently made a deal to pick up a young starter to fill in the rotation. On Wednesday the Rockies found pitching in the Angels' Tyler Chatwood, trading catcher Chris Ianetta. It wasn't the greatest of news for the Rays, as Ianetta would be a nice pick up considering the Rays' catching situation. After the Rays signed Jose Molina, any possibility of making a deal with Colorado quickly diminished. If the Rockies are still looking for more pitching, they do have Ian Stewart to offer. But because he is a third baseman and the Rockies already made their main move, a deal with Colorado seems highly unlikely.

In the last few years, pitching has been the main source for the Rays' trade away rumors. The one exception to that is center fielder B.J. Upton. The fact that Upton is still a Ray after two consecutive Trade Deadlines where he was almost traded, is a surprise to many. The Washington Nationals are one team that have been interested in Upton for a while now. With the potential in Desmond Jennings and Brandon Guyer now obvious, the long-anticipated B.J. Upton trade seems more likely than before. What the Nationals have to offer is young farm talent, including a catcher that the Rays should keep an eye on. 22 year-old Derek Norris is one of the Nationals' top catching prospects, and is a possible trade piece with Wilson Ramos emerging as their future catcher. Of course Norris would be just a part of a B.J. Upton trade. 20111202-092559.jpg

Infielder Blake Kelso and right-handed pitcher A.J. Cole are two more minor leaguers that could interest the Rays. Kelso is a utility player, that is known for impressing scouts with his 'Rays style' of baseball. The other guy is A.J. Cole, who is a 19 year-old pitcher who has great potential as a big league pitcher. These are all guys that the Rays could use in the future, but I'm still not sure how much I like the idea of Upton being traded. After all, he did just have his best year since 2008 and it seems as he might be on the way up. With the Rays in need of offense, keeping Upton is clearly the right move. Last year Upton finished top three in the five major offensive stats for the team, including first in stolen bases. Losing B.J. would be a pretty big blow for the team, especially considering their efforts to boost the offense. Upton is only going to get better I believe, and his improvement is noticeable. He may still strikeout a ton and hit for a low average, but there's also a lot of things he does right. On the defensive side of his game, he's probably even better. To start, there's only a few center fielders in the big leagues with the range Upton has. This gives him ability to play shallow and still be able to snag the deep flies. In addition to his speed, Upton also has a cannon of an arm. His accuracy is not exactly spot on, but he can throw the ball hard and far. At the end of the day, any pitcher would love to have B.J. Upton playing in center field for their team. B.J. Upton has been a piece to the Rays' puzzle ever since their magical run in '08. The team without Upton would be hard to picture.

To recap it all, the Rays should pursue the big bat of the Reds' Yonder Alonso. As for Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and Alex Cobb, I think it's very possible that one will be traded away this winter. Regarding the B.J. Upton trade rumors, Upton is pretty much a must-keep for the Rays' 2012 roster. The list of Rays trade rumor names is short, but if the right moves are made the Rays will have another successful season next year. In the MLB Hot Stove, it's about quality not quantity.