Tampa Bay Rays Had to Trade James Shields to Remain Competitive

Jamal WilburgCorrespondent IDecember 10, 2012

October 2, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields (33) smiles in the dugout after pitching the fifth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. Shields threw a complete game with a career high 15 strike outs. Baltimore Orioles defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

James Shields being traded by the Tampa Bay Rays was inevitable. It was just a matter of general manager Andrew Friedman getting enough in return to pull the trigger on a deal.

The Kansas City Royals made the pot sweet enough, and the Rays sent Shields along with pitcher Wade Davis and a player to be named later. The Royals sent Tampa Bay their top prospect outfielder Wil Myers, right-handed pitcher Jake Odorizzi, left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard.

The Rays certainly got cheaper and younger in the deal. Shields, who will turn 31 later this month, was the oldest pitcher in the Rays rotation and at $10.25 million in 2013 would've been one of the two most expensive players on the roster.

With only two years of control remaining for Shields, the team would likely have lost him to free agency eventually. It makes sense both strategically and financially to move him now and get something in return.

It’s always tough for a team to trade one of its top pitchers and another major league starter in return for prospects, but the Rays had no choice in the matter. They had to trade strength for weakness.

It’s no question that the Rays' strength is their starting pitching.

Even after the trade they still retain a stable of six arms while gaining two more pitchers in Odorizzi and Montgomery to add to the pipeline for the future. After all, they have to start their backfill plan for the eventual loss of David Price who will shortly become too costly for the Rays' pockets as well.

They need offense and they need to find it creatively in order to fit their financial model.

The Rays were already a struggling team at the plate before losing their leader in home runs and RBI, B.J. Upton, to free agency. When you add in the likely departures of Luke Scott and Carlos Pena, you have over one-third of the team’s home runs and power hitting from 2012 not returning in 2013.

At least when the Rays lost Carl Crawford to free agency they had Desmond Jennings developing in the minors to eventually be his replacement. In losing Upton, they had no prospect on the radar to fill the gap in the outfield.

This is where Wil Myers becomes so valuable. Sure, he is only a prospect and there is a possibility that the projections may never materialize at the major league level. That is a risk that the Rays had no choice but to take with no other options and a budget that doesn’t allow them to go after top-tier free agents.

If you want to look for why the Rays had to trade Shields for offense, look no further than his final start with Tampa Bay against the Baltimore Orioles in October. Shields threw a gem of a performance with a complete game two-hitter, allowing no walks while striking out a club-record 15 batters.

Despite that performance, Shields and the Rays lost 1-0.