ST. PETERSBURG -- Stu Sternberg addressed the media prior to Tuesday night's game, and the Rays' principal owner's message was clear: The Rays are going for it.
In the past, Sternberg has stressed the importance of a franchise such as the Rays being true to their payroll and budget in order for the team to survive.
"We're well beyond stretched [in regards to payroll]," Sternberg said. "This, for me personally, is a very special year. It's a special team, can be a special team, and we're going to do whatever we can and whatever is necessary to try and give us the best opportunity to win this year."
Sternberg's statement brought the natural follow-up question: "So there could be a payroll addition?"
To which he answered, "Yeah."
Further discussion brought the question of whether he would be willing to say the Rays would consider making a "significant" addition.
"By any means necessary," Sternberg said. "We'll do whatever. Money won't be an object. Players are always an object for us and the money will be an impediment, but we'll figure it out if it makes all the sense in the world for this team."
When a reporter mentioned to Sternberg that his message should be pretty well received in the community, Sternberg noted that in his mind the message that was conveyed came during the past offseason.
"We made a commitment to just completely obliterate our budget," Sternberg said. "And we're going to do what we can with one very large eye on the future, to do what we can."
The reality that the Red Sox and Yankees are always looking to improve at all costs prior to the Trade Deadline is a "part of our hard drive," according to Sternberg.
"We know that's there," Sternberg said. "But quite frankly, in another division, even this year, we're still going to try and do our best to put the best team we can out there.
"If crazy things had lined up and we were way out in front of both of these teams, we'd still be out here trying to do what we can to give ourselves the best opportunity. You'd look a little differently. You'd be more concerned about the postseason as opposed to making the postseason. But our eye is really on making the postseason."
Despite all of the promise Rays fans could draw from the words of the team owner on Tuesday, he was frank about the status of left fielder Carl Crawford, who is in the final year of his contract with the team and will likely be one of the most attractive free agents on the market after the season. When asked if the Rays will be able to keep Crawford, Sternberg said: "Remains to be seen. It will be difficult."
-- Bill Chastain
Upton not paying attention to trade rumors
ST. PETERSBURG -- B.J. Upton said Tuesday "there's nothing to" the recent rumors suggesting he might be dealt before the upcoming Trade Deadline, and he wouldn't believe anything until it happens.
Several rumors, including a Twitter post by Peter Gammons, have Upton becoming part of a deal to bring Seattle left-hander Cliff Lee to Tampa Bay. Upton said he wasn't worried about the rumors, as his name has been brought up in rumored deals around the Trade Deadline in the past, but he is still happy with the Rays.
"You know it's coming every July, whether it's me or anybody else in this clubhouse. There's always talks about it," Upton said. "You can't look into it, can't let it affect you. You've just got to go out there and keep playing. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, then I'm going to do my job either way."
Further complicating the situation is Upton's public confrontation with Evan Longoria in the Rays' dugout on June 27. The argument started over a comment Longoria made about Upton's lack of hustle on a triple hit to deep center field.
Upton had not spoken with Andrew Friedman, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations, about a potential move, and he doesn't expect to anytime soon.
"If he wants to say something, then he'll probably say something about it to me," Upton said. "I won't ask him about it, and I won't look too much into it."
Manager Joe Maddon said he speaks with Friedman regularly and knows "well in advance" about potential trades, and he had not heard about the Upton rumors until he arrived at Tropicana Field on Tuesday.
"I don't know how those things actually get started. He's a young fellow, and you would think it's going to bother a young guy more than a veteran type," Maddon said. "And then it is compounded more by recent events, and I understand all that. There's nothing I can really add to it or tell him, because there's nothing from our end regarding that being true."
-- Adam Berry
Benoit valuable member of Rays' bullpen
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joaquin Benoit hasn't exactly overpowered opposing hitters this season, but he's developed into arguably the Rays' most effective pitcher out of the bullpen.
The right-hander threw a perfect eighth inning Monday night against the Red Sox, picking up the hold on a night when Tampa Bay used six relievers in a 6-5 win over Boston. Benoit touched 95 mph with his fastball, but he used his usual repertoire of sliders and changeups to make even his 93-mph heater a force to be reckoned with.
"It's coming out so heavy and so sneaky out of his hand. He throws it with little effort, so to hitters, that's kind of hard to judge visually," catcher John Jaso said. "Also, his changeup is a really good pitch. He throws it to lefties and righties, and I think that's huge on the scouting report. I think that's what they talk about over there: 'Watch out for his changeup.' So then he throws that fastball, and it's a little bit more than what they're looking for."
Benoit has a 0.73 ERA and a 0.53 WHIP so far this season, having given up just nine hits and four walks, compared to 36 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings of work. His emergence has helped make up for the loss of left-hander J.P. Howell to injury, as the reliable Benoit allows the rest of the bullpen to do their jobs while he serves as a shutdown setup man.
But it has taken time for Benoit to develop into that role, as manager Joe Maddon has only recently been more willing to use him in high-leverage situations to give him time to fully recover from the injuries that kept him from playing in 2009.
"That was the whole plan. Coming in off his maladies, I wanted to make sure that we did not overuse him, and we didn't," Maddon said. "As the season was in progress, he started building his confidence, and we started building his appearances also.
"I think you're seeing a guy pitching with a lot of confidence. Getting ahead of hitters matters most. He's been really pitch-efficient, too, in his outings -- meaning he's been getting on top. When he gets to two strikes, man, they've got to honor fastball, changeup and slider, and they're all good to both sides -- righties and lefties."
-- Adam Berry
Shields to host foster kids at Tropicana Field
ST. PETERSBURG -- A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Tuesday for the "Big Game James Club" in Suite 42 at Tropicana Field.
Shields and his wife, Ryane, have teamed up with Eckerd Youth Alternatives to create the exclusive club for foster children.
"Ryane and I feel privileged to be able to give back to a community that has been so good to us," Shields said. "We would also like to thank Eckerd Youth Alternatives for their role in helping make this a reality for us and for the kids."
About 50 foster kids will participate in the Big Game James Club, attending a series of games in a specially-decorated suite donated by the Rays and the Shields family.
"I think it's very cool," Shields said. "When I was a little kid, I always hoped to be on a big league baseball field and to be a Major League Baseball player, and to be able to help these kids out is a wonderful thing."
As part of the club experience, the kids will participate in baseball-themed activities and receive special credentials, ball caps and other Rays items. They will also receive their own "memory book" in which photos and other memorabilia can be added each week to commemorate their club experience, which is deemed especially important for children in foster care who too often don't have happy memories.
"I'm going to get to see them come up here every day. I'm actually going to bring each group on the field, one each -- there are five or six groups of 10 -- and I think these kids are going to have a blast," Shields said. "For these kids to be able to come up here in a suite and watch a baseball game from a real suite in a real stadium is pretty special."
When asked what he hoped the kids would derive from the experience, Shields answered: "Just memories. Just to be able to watch us go out there and play baseball."
Ryane added: "I just wanted to give the kids an opportunity to have a place to dream. I think that's important and to never give up no matter what's going on in their lives."
Eckerd Youth Alternatives is one of the nation's leading providers of services for at-risk and vulnerable youth. As a private not-for-profit organization, Eckerd serves more than 11,000 children annually through a continuum of 40 different behavioral health and child welfare programs nationwide.
-- Bill Chastain