One frequently repeated factoid pertains to the Tampa Bay Rays’ fountain of pitching youth. The Rays, you may have heard, haven’t used a 30-year old starting pitcher since Jae Seo took the mound for the then Devil Rays in 2007.

Not only is this testament to their ability to keep young starters healthy and on the hill, it also speaks to their quest for cheap & controllable talent. Until now.

Today is Rays ace James Shields’s 30th birthday. It is the end of an era, one way or another.

Should Shields toe the rubber for the Rays on Opening Day, he is the end of the under 30 youth movement in name only. Does that make him somehow past his best before date? Obviously not. Just an oddity the Rays have coincidentally maintained for a few season. The Rays don’t prize pitchers in this age group for any reason other than cost. Shields is still good and still young, he just won’t be as cheap in the future.

The Rays can easily keep their youthful streak alive by trading Shields for another raft of near-MLB quality talent. James Shields is set to earn $7.5 million this season before his team options kick in and his annual salary starts creeping beyond the Rays modest means.

Trading Shields represents the most “Rays” move possible. It also gives them the exact flexibility the need and want when they give out option-heavy contracts of this ilk. The Rays never-ending cycle of talent is ready to graduate another class to the big league level. Friedman and company’s pipeline needs a steady influx of young blood to keep the cheap labour pool brimming. Moving Shields to a team looking to make a push in 2012 represents a great opportunity to do just that.

Which is to say nothing of the Rays chances in 2012. The Rays can certainly use a guy like Shields, he of the 200+ excellent innings year in and year out. Trading him doesn’t preclude the Rays from contention, we will all eventually learn.

So happy birthday, James. You are now one step closer to death and two steps closer to suiting up for the Detroit Tigers. Two things that are not entirely dissimilar, when you think about it.