The Tampa Bay payroll is at an all-time high. The Rays have numerous big-name free agents at the end of the season who, barring a new stadium built in the next six months, they will not have the money to keep.

Others, like shortstop Jason Bartlett, will most likely be traded because the Rays have younger and better options available (see Reid Brignac).

This year is the end of the line for how the Rays are currently built. But make no mistake—this year’s team is the best squad the Rays have ever put on the field, including their 2008 World Series run.

But will it be good enough?

The Rays started out unsustainably hot, and in June, they have cooled off. Considerably. An 8-9 record midway through the month, and a 10-15 record since May 23, does not a playoff team make.

At May 23 the Rays led the Yankees by six games and Boston by 8.5. Now the Rays have fallen out of first place for the first time in two months and are tied with the Red Sox for second.

Their hitting has been a mess. The Rays have failed to score more than three runs in a game in 50 percent of their games in the last month. Their pitching has been atrocious. In the month of June they support a 5.96 ERA. Their Gold Glove defense has also taken a step back.

But just as the Rays can’t be a .700 team, neither are they a sub-.500 team.

As the Rays emerge from their slump, the question is, where do they need the most help to fight off the Yankees and Red Sox?

Enter Prince Fielder.

The Rays’ pitching rotation is unfortunately going through a collective slump. But James Shields, the Rays ace, is off to a career start. Second to Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, Shields leads the league in three-pitch strikeouts. Shields is also tied with Seattle’s Cliff Lee for the highest percentage of swinging strikes. In other words, Shields has had great stuff.

Matt Garza has been inconsistent, but Jeff Niemann is fourth in the AL in quality starts. This doesn’t even count David Price, who is tied for first in the AL in ERA (2.45) and wins (10). While Wade Davis has shown signs of improvement (three ER or fewer in last two starts, 12:1 K/BB), the Rays have Jeremy Hellickson (9-2, 2.33 ERA in AAA) waiting in Durham.

This is what leads us to Prince Fielder.

The main point ESPN made about awaiting a Rays demise was their unbelievable average with men in scoring position. As the offense has been struggling to score runs, this is the one area where the Rays will need some help.

The Rays do not have a DH. Almost a month ago they designated Pat Burrell for assignment. Replacement Hank Blalock has done his best to make Rays fans believe Burrell had never left. Outside of Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena, this team is void of power.

Someone like Baltimore’s Luke Scott or the White Sox’s Paul Konerko would be nice, but Fielder is the top prize.

And the Rays have the resources to make the big splash.

This is where Wade Davis comes in. No team willing to be buyers at the deadline has a pitching prospect like Davis to offer. Most GMs when they have to sell a high-end player crave a return that offers an MLB-ready player. Instant gratification is the best way to soothe frustrated fans and owners.

Davis is the best MLB-ready pitching prospect in the majors. He’s already in an MLB rotation and is holding his own in the tough AL East. If he can pitch in the AL East, he can pitch anywhere. Milwaukee, which is desperate for pitching, would love to pair Davis with Yovani Gallardo for the next five-plus seasons. Milwaukee wouldn’t get a better offer for Fielder.

The Rays already have Hellickson in waiting and can replace Davis without missing a beat.

Nearly halfway through the season, it’s a three-team race in the AL East. The Rays need a push to keep up and surpass the Evil Empires. Adding a cleanup hitter like Fielder would boost their chances immensely.

And it might bring the Rays to their second World Series in three years.

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