Rangers Trade Rumors: Why James Shields Is Perfect Texas Fit, Not Josh Johnson

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 26:  James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles on July 26, 2012 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

As the deadline nears, the Texas Rangers continue their search for a starting pitcher, and the two biggest names still on the market appear to be James Shields of the Rays and Josh Johnson of the Marlins.

While the team has been linked to both pitchers, according to Scott Miller of CBSSports, the Rangers are far more interested in Shields. There is certainly plenty to like about both pitchers.

Johnson, a 28-year-old right-hander who has gone 6-7 with a 4.04 ERA on the season, has been average at best this season, but he has shown ace stuff in the past.

He's battled injuries throughout his career, making just nine starts last season before being shut down with shoulder problems, but he showed what he was capable of when healthy in 2010, as he won the NL ERA title with a 2.30 mark.

He's signed through 2013, set to make $13.75 million next season, so he is not just a rental player and that will have an effect on his asking price.

However, he was less than stellar in his latest audition Sunday night, going five innings and walking six while taking a no-decision in the Marlins eventual extra-inning victory over the Padres.

He has ace stuff and can dominate at times, but his inconsistency this season and high asking price is likely what led the Rangers to prefer Shields.

The 30-year-old Shields has also had a somewhat disappointing season, going 8-7 with a 4.52 ERA after a breakout year last year in which he went 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and 225 Ks to finish third in AL Cy Young voting.

However, a closer look at his numbers reveals that his high ERA has at least partially been a product of bad luck, as opponents are hitting .343 on balls in play this season off of the right-hander.

He too is signed beyond this season, and at a relatively reasonable price, with a $9 million option for next season and a $12 million option for 2014.

He's as durable as they come, making at least 31 starts and pitching at least 200 innings each season dating back to 2007, and over that time he has gone 66-55 with a 3.86 ERA. He has quietly been one of the most reliable starters in the American League.

With the Rangers dealing with a multitude of injuries to their starting rotation this season, it is no surprise that they are interested in someone with a proven track record of health and production.

At the end of the day, it is likely going to come down to whether the Rangers are willing to deal top prospects Mike Olt and Martin Perez, as it will undoubtedly cost at least one of those guys to acquire either starting pitcher.

According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports, the Rays are seeking a package "north of Greinke," referring to the package of prospects the Brewers received from the Angels for ace Zack Greinke.

That package was made up of shortstop Jean Segura (No. 55 prospect overall, No. 2 Angels prospect) and right-handers John Hellweg (No. 4 Angels prospect) and Ariel Pena (No. 9 Angels prospect).

The Angels' acquisition of Greinke has no doubt forced the Rangers' hand a bit, as they not only lost out on their preferred trade target but may now feel the need to make a counter deal to keep pace in what should be a great race for the AL West crown down the stretch.

We will see soon enough if the Rangers are willing to give up some of their top young prospects to bolster their rotation and improve their chances of making a third straight World Series trip.