The Rays' front office has been busy ever since last summer, mulling over possible deals to move their surplus of starting pitching for a bat. They have yet to make that anticipated move, and trade talks are likely just starting heat up again now.

Have they Rays regretted not dealing starting pitching for hitting when they had a chance? I highly doubt so, as pretty much all of the Rays' struggles this season are because of the numerous injuries that have hit the team. They really could have used better depth offensive-wise, but the starting pitching they decided not to trade away has also come in handy.

If there's one thing the Rays have learned after [nearly] the first half of the 2012 season, it's that they can no longer depend so much on the key bats in their lineup to stay healthy and produce consistently throughout the entire year.

That's exactly why I believe it's time for the Rays to finally trade starting pitching in order to bolster their lineup. Their offense was anemic in the month of June, and three of the four left-handed power bats (Carlos Pena, Hideki Matsui and Luke Scott) are hitting under .200.

Even with Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce back in the lineup the Rays lack a decent bat off the bench, at least outside of Jeff Keppinger.

So if the Rays do turn to the trade market in search of a bat this month, who could they target? And which arm could they be willing to deal?

Let's start with the latest name to hit Rays trade trade rumors, Alfonso Soriano. There's no room in the Rays' outfield for the 36-year-0ld left fielder, but he would be an excellent addition as a pinch-hitting bat off the bench. Being a more effective hitter against left-handed pitching than Joyce, the Rays could also platoon and start him against lefties.

Soriano's .269/.325/.484 line with 15 home runs and 46 RBI isn't exactly sparkling, but it would definitely give the Rays' offense a big boost. As you can see from the numbers, he can hit pretty well for power, something that the Rays are in serious need of at the moment. It would be great if the Rays could acquire Soriano before the deadline, especially considering how much of an upgrade he would be as a backup outfielder/pinch-hitter over Matsui.

If the Rays were to trade for Soriano, they probably (and should) deal some of their surplus of starting pitching. Alex Torres is a legitimate option, along with Alex Cobb and Chris Archer. The Cubs are in need of starting pitching, but then again they're really in need of everything.

Besides Soriano, there haven't been many specific names come up recently in Rays deadline rumors. There are two specific positions, however, that the Rays are in desperate need of. The production at shortstop—both offensively and defensively—has been extremely low ever since 2011. The other hole on the Rays roster is at the catching position, where the production has been even worse.

The Rays' two catchers (Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton) are hitting .200 and .214 respectively with very little power. Therefore, there are three [underachieving] names that come to mind who could be on the market this month: Nick Hundley, Kurt Suzuki and Ramon Hernandez

Let's start with Hundley, who could be the largest possibility for the Rays from the three. Hundley—who agreed to a contract extension with San Diego this spring—is hitting .166 with the Padres this season, and was recently demoted to the minors to make room for top prospect Yasmani Grandal. With Grandal's emergence, the Padres no longer have much use in Hundley. His awful offensive numbers are definitely a red flag, but he is good defensively and did hit .288/.347/.477 last season.

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Oakland's Kurt Suzuki is another overpaid and underperforming backstop, who has likely been on the Rays' radar ever since the offseason began. He's hitting .214/.251/.262 without any homers and just 16 RBI, but he does lead the league in caught-stealing percentage. It'll be interesting to see if the Rays pursue him for the deadline.

Last but not least, Colorado's Ramon Hernandez could be a possibility for the Rays at the trade deadline. The 36-year-old catcher has the ability to hit with some power, and is a pretty solid defender. He's only played 27 games this year due to a hand injury and is currently hitting .215 and has hit four homers. However, he hit .282/.341/.446 last year and threw out 37% of base-stealers.

As for shortstops, there aren't as many options as there are at the catcher position. However, Marco Scutaro is one name that will likely be available at the trade deadline. His playing time has been so significant this season in Colorado mainly because of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's injury issues. Scutaro has hit .285/.336/.385 with the Rockies this year, numbers that should give the Rays a nice offensive upgrade at the position. Also keep in mind that the Rockies would love to bolster their starting rotation, which is another good reason why they could get into some serious talks over Scutaro before the end of the month.

 

Stay tuned throughout the month as Rays trade deadline coverage continues at TheRaysWay.com.