Despite reports coming out last week that the Rays were quietly shopping James Shields, the latest word out of Tampa Bay is that the team’s best starting pitcher will remain so, at least for the rest of the year.
The Rays currently sit nine and a half games out of the AL East Division lead and six and a half out of the Wild Card. While catching the Red Sox and Yankees this year seems unlikely, dealing Shields, even at the height of his value, seemed like a questionable move. The right handed starter, with the seventh lowest xFIP in baseball right now (and seventh lowest ERA), has been an absolute ox all season long for Tampa Bay, single handedly pitching more complete games than all but four entire teams.
Surely, next year’s version of the Rays, would stand to benefit from a pitcher capable of not only eating a large quantity of innings (four straight 200+ innings seasons), but consistently delivering quality outings all at a low cost. The next three years of his contract are all team options at the relatively inexpensive price of: 2012 for $7 million, 2013 for $9 million and 2014 for $12 million.
Think about a starting rotation next season for Tampa Bay that would consist of Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann and Alex Cobb, with top pitching prospect Matt Moore ready to step up if any one were to go down to injury. Then imagine a New York Yankees lineup that’s yet another year older, and compare it to a more experienced Rays lineup that would include a full season of production from Desmond Jennings.
I’d like their chances.
Of course, a lot could depend on the development of Moore, who in his first ever start at Triple A, struck out seven of the 20 batters he faced, only allowing a single run. If the twenty-two year old lefty can continue this trend at that level, he may make the decision to trade Shields all the easier. And as others have suggested, with the way that Shields’ contract is constructed, he doesn’t stand to lose any value if he’s traded in the offseason, rather than now.
The bottom line is that the Rays can afford to wait.