Yes, my fellow Yankees fans, it's the offseason again, and for the second consecutive year the winter follows a disappointing season in the Bronx, with the Yankees' World Series hopes crushed by the Detroit Tigers in Game 5 of the ALDS.
It's the St. Louis Cardinals, not the Yankees, who are the 2011 champs, and right on cue, it's time to figure out how to solve the Yankees' starting pitching woes, an issue that has become all too familiar in recent years.
Now let me start off by saying that although I learned not to assume anything following the Cliff Lee fiasco last season, I had felt 100 percent assured in Brian Cashman's ability to re-sign CC Sabathia to a new lucrative deal.
He ended up inking the big man to a two-year contract extension, assuring that Sabathia will end his career in the pinstripes he loves so much. So now that CC is locked up and scheduled to take the ball on Opening Day 2012, the next issue is to figure out who follows him in the rotation.
Rookie sensation Ivan Nova cemented his status for 2012 with a 2011 campaign that has him as one of the main contenders for AL Rookie of the Year, but questions still remain about his validity as a number two starter in New York.
The Yankees would without a doubt feel comfortable slotting him in at No. 3, but in the Bronx a No. 2 starter is supposed to be a second ace, and Nova is not an ace. As for the back end of the rotation, expect A.J. Burnett to take one spot after his great performance in Game 4 of the ALDS.
It started to look like we might see 2009 A.J. again, and if we do, he would be more than acceptable at No. 4. A fifth starter could be found internally or in the free agent market, with names like Hector Noesi and Edwin Jackson coming to mind.
While the free agent market also contains a few potential impact starters, each of them is shrouded in uncertainty for a variety of reasons. White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle is probably the most consistent guy out there, but that very quality might raise his price tag to an unreasonable figure.
The same can be said about the Ranger's "ace" C.J. Wilson. In my opinion, Wilson is not an ace. Wilson is not even a No. 2 pitcher; he is just a third starter who had a great year. He also clearly showed he can't handle big situations, becoming the first pitcher to ever lose an All-Star Game, an ALDS game, an ALCS game and a World Series game in the same season.
Finally, we have the Japanese superstar Yu Darvish. While I personally believe Darvish will be highly successful at the big league level, there is still some question to how his success in Japan will translate to the MLB.
Japan's NPB league has been described as a AAAA level of the minors, but even at that Darvish's numbers are crazy. The Yankees will likely place a significant bid on him, but since it's a silent auction, even they could be outbid by a lesser team. They need a backup plan in case they don't win the rights to Darvish.
That backup plan should be James Shields. For the second consecutive year, the Rays have an abundance of quality starting pitching and could be looking to sell and re-stock their farm system yet again. If they were to trade Shields, the Rays would still boast a rotation of David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and Alex Cobb, still one pitcher too many for the basic five-man rotation.
Last offseason, they dealt Matt Garza to the Cubs for a package of five players, most of whom were top prospects. With that deal already clearly favoring the Rays due to Garza's struggles in Chicago, the price could be a bit cheaper to acquire a Rays starter this offseason.
However, with the career year that Shields had in 2011, they could demand a similar package. In 2011, Shields went 16-12 with a 2.83 ERA and 225 strikeouts in about 250 innings. He also threw 11 complete games, four of them shutouts and made his first All-Star team.
These kind of numbers would make a lot of teams happy to have Shields locked up for three years for just $28 million, but for the Rays and their microscopic payroll, Shields is a bit on the expensive side. All of these factors point to a trade, and the Yankees would love to be on the receiving end for the 29-year-old righty.
Now that you see the appeal of Shields, the question is, what will it take for the Yankees to pry him away from their division rivals? After seeing their rookie catcher thrive in September, the Yankees will likely shy away from trading Jesus Montero, but there are still plenty of players that Tampa Bay might be interested in.
A potential package could include corner infielder Brandon Laird, catcher Francisco Cervelli, and outfielders Chris Dickerson and Greg Golson. If the Yankees don't think they will be able to get the most out of him, even Phil Hughes could be included in a deal.
It would be unwise to move players like Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Eduardo Nunez or Montero for anyone, much less Shields, but if the Yankees can swing a deal without surrendering these top prospects, they should definitely do so.
It would immediately solve their rotation problems by adding a pitcher who has a proven track record in the AL East, and could be the piece that makes the difference in next year's playoffs.
I don't think anyone would argue that a Yankees rotation consisting of Sabathia, Shields, Nova, Burnett and Jackson wouldn't immediately rank amongst the top rotations in baseball, and with the Yankees' offense, a top rotation would be a deadly tool to have.
And there's nothing saying that the Yankees wouldn't try to swing such a deal even if they do win the bid for Darvish. You can never have too much pitching, and a rotation of Sabathia, Darvish, Shields, Nova and Burnett would immediately make the 2012 Yankees the World Series favorites, a title that is always warmly welcomed in the Bronx.
Follow me on Twitter, @ChrisSbalcio