ST. PETERSBURG - Twenty-four hours before baseball's deadline to complete trades without passing players through waivers, the Rays' baseball operations staff was bunkered in a Tropicana Field conference room, poring over its options.
Nothing was finalized or considered imminent Monday evening, but executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the team will keep its options open through today's 4 p.m. deadline.
'The volume of calls definitely picked up today,' Friedman said. 'I think anytime you're approaching a deadline, the sense of urgency kind of picks up a little bit. That being said, I wouldn't characterize anything as close or even likely to happen - with the obvious caveat that things can change.'
RHP Al Reyes probably is the Rays' most valuable remaining trading chip. Just about everyone - including the Rays, of course - is looking for relief help, and the veteran would be a welcome addition to many bullpens around the league. The Mariners are thought to be a leading contender for Reyes' services, particularly after apparently losing out on Royals closer Octavio Dotel, who reportedly is on his way to Atlanta. Seattle and about a dozen other teams had scouts at Tropicana Field on Monday night.
The Rays don't believe they have to move Reyes. They have an affordable 2008 option ($1 million-$2.25 million depending on incentives) on their closer, and they know they'll have to find a comparable arm to replace him next season if he leaves. But the addition of Dan Wheeler would allow them to adequately staff the ninth inning if they can get a solid return on Reyes. Or, they could keep Reyes and flip Wheeler to another team.
Not that Reyes has any say in the matter, but he said he'd like to stay with Tampa Bay, the team that took a chance on him after he underwent Tommy John surgery following the 2005 season.
'I'm happy here,' Reyes said. 'I like it here and they give me the opportunity. A lot of teams, they didn't think I was going to come back. Tampa, they gave me a shot, they signed me last year when I was hurt and they didn't know if I was going to come back this year. They paid me to come back and I appreciate that. I'm happy with the way they've been treating me here.'
NEW-LOOK INFIELD: Brendan Harris made his first start of the season at 2B Monday, but it won't be his last.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Harris primarily will play second now that Ty Wigginton is gone and B.J. Upton is entrenched in CF, with Josh Wilson and Ben Zobrist playing SS.
'It's shortstop by committee right now,' Maddon said.
Harris made 86 starts at short after taking over for Zobrist in early May, but the other two are considered better defensively at the position. The Rays wanted to get a look at Harris at second earlier, but the opportunity didn't arise with Upton and Wigginton there.
All three players will be in the mix to back up Akinori Iwamura at 3B.
AN ABERRATION? Wheeler had a ready explanation for the 5.07 ERA he brought to Tampa Bay - well above his numbers from the last two seasons. He pointed to a rough June, when he had a 10.43 ERA, lost three games and blew three of five save opportunities. His ERA for April, May and July combined his 2.83, with nine of 10 save chances converted.
'I'm not an excuse-maker,' Wheeler said. 'I feel like I just had a bad month. When you make bad pitches to big-league hitters, they make you pay - that's the flat-out truth. There was a period of time when I was out there making bad pitches, and there's no excuse for it. That's just baseball. Sometimes you make bad pitches and they pop them up. It seemed like every time I made a bad pitch, I got hurt.'
FARM FACTS: Durham starter Jeff Niemann threw just five pitches Monday night, facing one batter, before leaving the game with what was described as 'right shoulder fatigue.'
Friedman said Niemann will be examined further but early reports were 'fairly positive.'
NOTEWORTHY: Wheeler requested and received jersey No. 35, which had been Elijah Dukes' number. ... RHP Jae Kuk Ryu will start in Durham after spending 10 days in the Rays' bullpen. ... Maddon said tonight's starter, Edwin Jackson, was available for emergency bullpen or pinch-running duty during Sunday's game.