James Shields is irreplaceable.
The Tampa Bay Rays sent infielder Elliot Johnson to the Kansas City Royals (h/t Marc Topkin of TampaBay.com) on Tuesday as the player to be named later from the December trade that sent Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City. In return, the Rays received a package of four prospects including Wil Myers.
From a production standpoint, Shields was a workhorse for the starting rotation. He was able to eat a lot of innings, allowing the bullpen to stay rested throughout the season.
Since becoming a starter full time in 2007, he has thrown for over 200 innings every season. The 2010 season was the only season he threw fewer than 215 innings, finishing with 203.1 innings pitched.
Although Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore are two very good young pitchers, they will have a hard time matching that production level.
Hellickson is more likely to eclipse the 200-inning mark this season. The 2012 Gold Glove winner is coming off of a 2012 season during which he pitched 177 innings over 31 starts. In 2011, though, he was able to tally 189 innings in 29 starts on his way to winning Rookie of the Year honors.
Moore is coming into his second full season as a starter. In 2012 he pitched 177.1 innings in 31 starts.
Although innings and production are important, there are other intangibles that will be missed as well.
The loss of Shields, coupled with B.J. Upton, means the Rays no longer have a player on their roster that was drafted and played in the majors under the old "Devil Rays" name.
This might not seem like such a big deal unless you believe that knowing where you come from is important as you start becoming successful.
That's part of what makes the Rays success story so much fun to follow and watch develop. Teams have been successful before with low payrolls, bad stadiums and overcome plenty of adversity to become contenders. The Rays' is virtually a rags-to-riches story.
It's always good to have leaders in the clubhouse that can remind teammates, who have known mostly success, what losing feels like.
Shields' value to the Rays was more than a simple roster spot and position in the rotation. That is what makes him impossible to truly replace. The best that the Rays can hope for is that they have acquired and developed enough pieces in order to minimize the loss of their former ace.
Even in the best-case scenario, he won’t be replaced.
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