For small-market teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, the trade market is the key to filling in holes on the roster. The Rays are in desperate need of hitting, particularly a first baseman and a DH, which means they will likely need to trade away some of their excellent starting pitching.
Fellow starters Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann are probably more likely candidates to be traded away, but James Shields trade rumors haven't totally disappeared. With Shields entering his first club option of his contract coming into the offseason, rumors starting heating up since last season's trade deadline.
After Shields was optioned by the Rays back in October, the trade possibilities started to gradually cool down. However, there are still plenty of teams in need of starting pitching help that they couldn't find from free agency.
Trading James Shields seems to be more like "food for thought" at the moment, rather than a serious possibility. There might not be many clubs who are willing to offer enough for Shields, and the Rays themselves may want to hang on to him.
The exciting part about a potential Shields trade is that the Rays would get some serious offensive production out of the deal, while hoping that rookie Matt Moore can replace Shields at some point in the future.
The question is, what kind of deals can teams offer to make the Rays bite?
Take a look at seven different trade possibilities that may be enough to send the Rays ace out of Tampa Bay.
Blue Jays' Top Prospect Travis d'Arnaud
If any team is looking to add a big-time starting pitcher, it's the Toronto Blue Jays.
Toronto has been in many discussions to acquire a starter since the offseason began, including being barely outbid on Japanese prodigy Yu Darvish. As far as we know, the Jays haven't been looking into a James Shields trade yet. However, it wouldn't be a shocker if they show interest in him at some point in the future.
What would it take to get the Rays to send their ace out of Tampa Bay?
Veteran first baseman Adam Lind could potentially be a start to a deal. With the Rays in desperate need of a first baseman, Lind could be a great addition for the club. The left-handed slugger owns a lifetime .267 batting average and has established himself as a consistent 20-plus-homer-type player.
Blue Jays' No.1 prospect Travis d'Arnaud would essentially be the center of the trade package. The 22-year-old first-round draftee is one of the best position-player prospects in the American League. He hasn't reached Triple-A yet, but his .311 batting average with 21 homers and 78 RBI in Double-A last season combine to show that he isn't far from moving up.
D'Arnaud is a catcher, which would be his most attractive asset if the Rays were to pursue him. His defensive skills are pretty impressive, lead by his great arm behind the plate. The most interesting part about the possibility of d'Arnaud being traded is that he may not have a bright future in Toronto. Rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia appears to be emerging as the team's main catcher.
Outfielder Jake Marisnick is one minor leaguer you've probably never heard of. Marisnick is also considered one of Toronto's better prospects, and clearly for a good reason. Marisnick has the ability to a be a five-tool outfielder in the majors.
The 20-year-old possesses great fielding and throwing ability, excellent speed and rapidly rising hitting skills. Marisnick hit .320 along with 14 homers, 77 RBI and 37 stolen bases through his 118 games at Single-A Lansing.
Possible Trade: James Shields to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for 1B Adam Lind, minor league C Travis d'Arnaud and minor league OF Jake Marisnick.
Mets' Infielder Daniel Murphy
2011 was another disappointing season for the New York Mets, and poor starting pitching has been a big part of their struggles. The Mets simply need at least one more good starter to become a competitive team again.
James Shields would give the Mets rotation the boost they need, and they may have some offensive players to offer.
Daniel Murphy, a first baseman who also can play other positions around the infield, could very possibly be in the interest of the Rays. As Ike Davis appears to be the future first baseman of the ball club, Murphy probably has a much better job opportunity in Tampa.
Former star outfielder Jason Bay just hasn't been the same in the past two years like he was in his glory days with Boston and Pittsburgh. The slugging left fielder is still only 33, and many wonder if he can put up the ridiculous run production that he did in the past. The Mets would likely have to eat some of Bay's salary.
A big part of the trade would have to be a talented prospect like Wilmer Flores for a deal to be possible. Though I would think that it would really be a blow to the Mets to give away a young shortstop like that after losing Jose Reyes this offseason, the Rays could use a shortstop and would need serious value on top of Bay and Murphy.
Flores, who is the Mets' top hitting prospect, has a while to go before he hits the big leagues. At just 20 years old, Flores still managed to drive in over 80 RBI in a full Single-A season. The youngster is progressing in all parts of his game, but his exceptional hitting skills are what could ring bells in Tampa.
Possible Trade: James Shields to the New York Mets in exchange for 1B Daniel Murphy, LF Jason Bay and minor league shortstop Wilmer Flores.
Yankees' Top Prospect Catcher Jesus Montero
The New York Yankees are really one good starting pitcher away from being the best team in the MLB. If the Yanks had a arm like James Shields in their rotation in the last two years, they probably would of won the pennant in both of those seasons.
New York is very aware of that, and it's no surprise that they have been seeking starting pitching this offseason. It doesn't seem like they're heading towards any sort of blockbuster trade to get a starter, but they have some young talent that makes a potential swap an interesting idea.
Catcher Jesus Montero, who is the Yankees' top prospect and baseball's No.1 catching prospect, would be the guy to lead the young trade package for Shields. Montero has very impressive hitting abilities and he is a catcher; something that should obviously attract the Rays. Montero, who hit .328 during his first brief stint in the MLB, has all the tools to become a star slugger in the big leagues.
Outfielder Chris Dickerson possibly would be another piece to the trade. Dickerson is nothing special quite frankly, as he spent most of his time with the Yankees down in Triple-A. The Yankees would need to offer more to make this deal work, and they do have a couple of exciting prospects deep in their farm system.
First round draft pick Slade Heathcott and prodigy Mason Williams are two more young outfielders that the Rays would love to add to their minor league system. Both are just in Single-A right now, but their left-handed hitting abilities plus their good defense could be enough to complete a potential trade package for Shields.
Possible Trade: James Shields to the New York Yankees in exchange for C Jesus Montero, OF Chris Dickerson, minor league OF Slade Heathcott and minor league OF Mason Williams.
Rangers' First Baseman Mitch Moreland
The Texas Rangers made it all the way to the World Series in both of the past two years. I think it's fair to say that starting pitching is what was the difference between a AL Champion Rangers ball club and a World Champion Rangers ball club. Their starting pitching was simply not adequate to prevail on baseball's biggest stage.
The Rangers would surely love to pick up an ace like James Shields, but the question is whether they are able to give away some of their outstanding offense along with an intriguing starter like Matt Harrison. First baseman Mitch Moreland's name pops up right away as a player the Rays could definitely use on their roster. The 26-year-old power-hitting lefty is in just his second year in the big leagues, and he already plays the first-base role pretty nicely.
Speedy outfielder Craig Gentry had his first year of decent MLB playing time last season, and he could likely be a trade piece for Texas in the future. Gentry is emerging as someone who could be a solid MLB player. His excellent base-running skills and above-average defense are already very impressive, but he's also improving as a hitter.
Don't be too shocked to see either (or both) Gentry or Moreland be traded away sometime in the future, as Texas may not have too much need for them on their squad. Both David Murphy and Julio Borbon can take over in the outfield, while Mike Napoli could probably fill in at first base.
If the Rays were to work out a Shields trade with Texas, they would likely also get pitching out of the deal. With Neftali Feliz and Shields (if they are to make a trade) joining the rotation next season, southpaw Matt Harrison probably would be a sensible trade piece.
The Rays are certainly not looking to add to their starting pitching, but they have been seeking bullpen help throughout the offseason. The Rays would love to use Harrison as an effective left-handed reliever out of their bullpen.
Still, I think that the Rangers are going to need to throw in another prospect into the pile to make a deal possible.
First-round draft pick Jake Skole, a member of the Rangers' top 10 prospects, is a thought. The 19-year-old outfielder has plenty of pop in his left-handed bat, which would be a great addition to the Rays' farm system. Adding Skole as the final player of the trade might be close to enough to pry Shields away from Tampa. Below is the final deal that I think would get Texas the deal.
Trade Possibility: James Shields to the Texas Rangers in exchange for 1B Mitch Moreland, OF Craig Gentry, LHP Matt Harrison and minor league OF Jake Skole and cash.
Cardinals' First Baseman/Outfielder Allen Craig
With the team's ace Adam Wainwright returning (who missed all of last season due to injury) and the same starters from last year, the Cards' rotation looks pretty set. It seems as if St. Louis will enter the spring with Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook.
To reel in James Shields to St. Louis, the Cardinals would need to sacrifice much of their talent that they would use to replace Albert Pujols.
Right off the top, Allen Craig's name comes to mind. Craig, who plays in the outfield and first base, batted an impressive .315 average in his second big league season. Craig would probably be someone the Rays would like to add to their roster, but his offseason knee injury could have them thinking otherwise.
The Rays have emphasized their focus on strengthening the bullpen this offseason. Considering that, right-handed reliever Fernando Salas could be a player that the Cards could add to the trade package. The 26-year-old Mexican-native posted a 2.28 ERA last season through 75 innings pitched out of the 'pen.
Craig and Salas are a pretty good start to a potential Shields trade, but the Cards would probably need to throw in a couple of high-ranked prospects.
Nineteen-year-old phenom Oscar Taveras would be an exciting addition to the Rays' system. The left-handed outfielder has just started his venture in professional baseball, but he has proven that he can flat-out rake the baseball.
Prospect first baseman Matt Adams is also a big left-handed bat. The 23-year-old slugger has some big-time raw power, which he displayed in AA Springfield by smashing 32 homers with 101 RBI and a .300 average. With the loss of Pujols, the Cardinals are most likely going to want to get a grip on Adams rather than trade him away.
That's another reason why this trade seems unlikely. The Rays would probably demand a first baseman, and Adams would be vital to a possible deal.
Possible Trade: James Shields to the St. Louis Cardinals for OF/1B Allen Craig, RP Fernando Salas, minor league OF Oscar Taveras, and minor league 1B Matt Adams.
Boston's Top Prospect Third Baseman Will Middlebrooks
Just like the Boston Red Sox regular season last year, Boston's offseason with new GM Ben Cherington has been a failure so far. The Sox have some good starting pitching, but there's no arguing that they need to improve their rotation.
Although the Sox will likely want to sit tight with their rotation for the rest of the offseason, they may have enough young talent to pry Shields from Tampa Bay.
Ryan Lavarnway and Darnell McDonald are two interesting names from the big club that could feasibly be thrown into a trade for Shields. Lavarnway, who played 17 MLB games in his short 2011 stint, is catcher/DH with outstanding hitting skills. Through 116 games in the minors last season (AA and AAA), Lavarnway batted .290 with 32 home runs and 93 RBI.
Darnell McDonald, who's played five seasons in the majors and doesn't hold much value, might not have a future in Boston anyway. The 33-year-old corner outfielder struggled hitting .236 for the Red Sox last year, but hit .270 in 2010. He'd be a throw-in.
Third baseman Will Middlebrooks is unanimously ranked the top prospect in the Red Sox organization (including Baseball America) and would be the centerpiece of a deal. Middlebrooks has the ability to be an all-around excellent baseball player, which he displayed while making huge amounts of progress in the minor leagues during 2011. Because third is the only position he plays, I'm not sure what kind of future he would have alongside Evan Longoria and the Rays, but with his arm, he could end as a corner outfielder.
First baseman Lars Anderson may not be a big name, but he would be a crucial part of this deal. As the Rays are in search of a first baseman, the big left-handed slugger would be an attractive asset in the deal. Anderson batted .265 with 14 homers and 78 RBI last season for AAA Pawtucket. Middlebrooks would be able to handle first too.
Another thing to consider about Anderson, is that he probably does not have a future in Boston. Superstar Adrian Gonzalez seems to have made a name for himself there already, and will likely be playing in Beantown for while.
Possible Trade: James Shields to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for C/DH Ryan Lavarnway, 3B Will Middlebrooks, 1B Lars Anderson and OF Darnell McDonald.
Former Devil Rays Outfielder Delmon Young
A trade for a James Shields would likely put the Detroit Tigers over the top.
The Tigers have been seeking a starter to complete a pretty good rotation lead my AL MVP Justin Verlander. I doubt they are looking for an ace-type pitcher like Shields and rather a fifth-spot starter. Detroit probably wouldn't want to trade away a chunk of its young talent, but the Tigers have the right players to make a big deal work.
Former Ray and outfielder Delmon Young could be a potential trade piece for Detroit. Last season in his first year as a Tiger, Young didn't meet the expectations that were brought upon him after the blockbuster Tampa-Minnesota trade before the 2008 season. Young did a pretty good job producing runs, but his .268 average was the lowest of his career by 16 points. Also, his RBI total dropped 48 runs from the previous year.
Rookie outfielder Andy Dirks seems to have a bright future in the big leagues. Dirks played 78 games in his first season last year, batting .251 with seven homers and 28 RBI. Dirks holds a career Triple-A average of .343 (2010 and 2011) with 41 RBI and 11 homers through his 63 games in Toledo.
Young and Dirks would make up the offensive part of the trade package, but the real meat the Tigers would have to sacrifice is their No. 1 prospect, Jacob Turner. The first-round-drafted right-hander has been surrounded by scout hype for years now and was the No. 21 prospect in baseball heading into 2011. To acquire an ace like James Shields, that would mean giving up a potential future ace like Jacob Turner.
Possible Trade: James Shields to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for OF Delmon Young, OF Andy Dirks and minor league SP Jacob Turner.