For nearly half a decade, the Tampa Bay Rays have brought relevant baseball to the state of Florida and have been a serious player in the American League East. Since dropping the “Devil” from their team name, the Rays have won 90 games four times, made three postseason appearances, won two division titles, and represented the American League in the World Series once, losing to Philalphia in 2008.
Yet, despite all of that success, Andrew Freidman and company have begun each of the past five seasons handicapped. A perennially low payroll requires them to let talented players leave when they become overpriced and then fill those slots with young, inexpensive rookies or with low cost/high reward veterans. So far, it has been a poker game that Freidman and his team have managed beautifully, making an endless stream of what always seems to be the right choice.
The 2013 offseason may represent Freidman’s biggest gamble yet.
Quality drafting and player development have left the Rays with an overloaded pitching staff, giving them plethora of pitching options in which to trade from. Names like James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, and David Price have been brandied about already this winter, with names like top prospect Chris Archer and Jeff Niemann ready to step in to any open slots. The trick is figuring out which is the best one or two are truly expendable, both giving the Rays a solid return that will help the 2013 ball club and also leave them with a quality rotation for next season.
|162 Game Avg.||14||11||3.89||34||3||1||227||108||98||29||53||195||107||1.223||2.1||7.7||3.68|
It seems like it is almost a yearly affair for Shields to have his name mentioned in trade talks. That happens when you are set to become garner the highest single-season contract in franchise history in 2013, even if it is a modest $9 million. Franchises like Tampa struggle to dedicate such a large amount to any one single player. However, that $9 million, as well as the $12 million he is slated to earn in 2014, also makes Shields attractive to potential suitors, as it is a relative bargain to most franchises. Shields has given the Rays 31 or more starts in each of the last six seasons, 200 plus innings, and outside of 2009 and 2010, an ERA below 4.00.
That’s solid number two material for most teams out there. For the Los Angeles Dodgers, Shields would be an excellent buffer if Clayton Kershaw is not ready to go at the beginning of the season and he also gives them an upgrade over a quickly receding Josh Beckett.
|162 Game Avg.||14||11||3.06||32||1||1||204||74||70||26||71||139||124||1.193||3.1||6.1||1.97|
Hellickson has had an eventful couple of seasons in just his first two years in the majors. The 25-year-old right-hander won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2011 and then followed that up with a Gold Glove in 2012. Despite that, Hellickson may be the second-most available pitcher for the Rays behind Shields. Despite a 10-11 record and a very solid 3.10 ERA in 2012, Hellickson averaged only 5-2/3 innings a start last season, and his 6.3 K/9 rate left him with an FIP of 4.60, suggesting that he was perhaps more lucky than good. Still, there is upside here and as he develops, he’ll learn to keep his pitch counts down and utilize his 41.8% ground ball rate to his advantage.
Hellickson is still not first-year arbitration-eligible until next offseason so he is drawing interest from an assortment of teams, with clubs like the Padres, Blue Jays, Twins, and Royals all having interest. However, it may be teams like the Dodgers, Angels, and Diamondbacks who possess the right combination of prospects and players at the major league level to get a deal done.
|162 Game Avg.||17||9||3.16||33||1||1||218||84||77||20||72||201||124||1.173||3.0||8.3||2.80|
It is shocking to even remotely hear that David Price may be made available this winter. However, this is the world the Rays live in. Price is a serious contender for the American League Cy Young award in 2012, after posting a 20-4 record, a league-leading 2.56 ERA, and a 5.1 fWAR. As such, Price is due a major raise through arbitration this winter when he is first year (super 2) eligible, hence the Rays motivation to possibly move either him or Shields. See a trend here?
There is no doubt that Price has lived up to his ace billing since the moment he stepped onto the mound for Tampa and teams will line up to secure his services. With the Mariners constantly denying that Felix Hernandez will be available, teams may suddenly have their consolation prize. There is no point in listing potential suitors, as any team with a major package of players to flip will be lining up at the door.
Three very worthy candidates for movement and three very worthy prizes considering a very weak pitching pool on the free agent market. Expect Freidman and the Rays to busy this winter, but I can guarantee you one thing.
None of these pitchers will be traded within the division.