The Rays have the second-best record in baseball thanks, in large part, to one of the game's deepest rotations. The team can bring all of its starters back next year, but Tampa Bay is likely facing a lower payroll, so the rotation could line up differently in 2011. The Rays may have to consider trading a starter to clear payroll room and address other needs, but next year's rotation should remain strong.
David Price's evolution has continued in 2010. The former first overall pick has gone from late-inning reliever to Cy Young candidate in his short major league career and the Rays aren't about to trade him. Wade Davis (4.29 ERA) and Jeff Niemann (3.97 ERA) have turned in strong seasons and both figure to be cogs in next year's rotation. The Rays placed the two right-handers on the disabled list last month and Niemann has struggled immensely since returning, but both are expected to be fully healthy by 2011.
Matt Garza and James Shields complicate things. Shields earns $4.25MM next year and Garza could make $6MM or so through arbitration, so the budget-conscious Rays may have to consider trading them – at least that's what some executives suggested to ESPN.com's Buster Olney last month. Shields' team-friendly contract and strong strikeout (8.5 K/9) and walk (2.2 BB/9) ratios should make him appealing in spite of his 4.73 ERA. Garza, who threw a no-hitter this year, has a 3.53 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9, so he will appeal to rival teams, too.
It would likely be harder for the Rays to part with either of those pitchers than it was for them to trade Scott Kazmir, Jason Hammel or Edwin Jackson, but the club's left fielder, first baseman and closer are headed for free agency. GM Andrew Friedman has to replace (or re-sign) Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano somehow, so he may market Shields and/or Garza, considering their salaries and the organization's depth.
When Davis and Niemann went on the disabled list, the Rays were able to call on Andy Sonnanstine and Jeremy Hellickson. Sonnanstine, who goes to arbitration for the first time this winter, has extensive experience as a starter, but has only started three games this year. Joe Maddon has been using the righty in low-leverage situations, and Sonnanstine has responded with a 4.29 ERA and twice as many strikeouts as walks.
Sonnanstine may be best-suited for long-relief, but Hellickson appears ready to start in the major leagues. In case his 2.45 ERA and 9.4 K/9 at Triple A weren't convincing enough, the 23-year-old has turned in four dominant starts in the major leagues. The Rays will presumably find a way to work the young right-hander into their rotation next year.
Jake McGee posted a 3.06 ERA with 10.7 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in the upper minors this year, so he provides Tampa Bay with yet another option. Matt Moore, a 21-year-old left-hander, has struck out an astounding 208 batters in the Florida State League and while he's not yet ready for the majors, he figures to rise quickly through the Rays' system.
The Rays have a tremendous amount of starting pitching depth in their organization. Other needs are about to emerge for the team, so it would make sense for them to consider trading Garza and Shields. Both would be sought-after and the Rays would likely have a strong rotation even if they traded one of their more established starters away.