Is James Shields The Next Rays’ Starter To Go?

Quality starting pitching is the best currency in the game, and no team has traded more of it in recent years than the Rays. They've traded what amounts to an above-average rotation within the last 27 months alone: Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, Mitch Talbot, and Scott Kazmir. There are a number of teams out there that would trade their starting staff for that fivesome right now. 

Tampa was able to trade away all those arms because their farm system continues to pump out top flight pitching prospects. If you dig through Baseball America's all-time top 100 prospects lists, you'll see that the franchise hasn't had a top pitching prospect bust since Dewon Brazelton, the third overall pick in the 2001 draft. That's the result of tremendous scouting and player development, as well as incredible luck. 

357100813012_Orioles_at_Rays If it wasn't for B.J. Upton's brief cameo in 2004, the longest tenured player on the team would be 29-year-old righty James Shields. He's given the Rays four straight seasons of 200+ innings with a 4.17 ERA overall, though he slipped to a 5.18 ERA with a league leading 34 homers allowed last summer. The 2011 season is the last guaranteed year on Shields' contract ($4.25MM), though he would still be under control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2012. The club also holds very affordable options for 2012 ($7MM), 2013 ($9MM), and 2014 ($12MM).

With David Price, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jeff Niemann still years away from huge paydays, Shields is the obvious candidate to be the next piece of trade bait. That contract is definitely team friendly, and guys that you can pencil in for 200 innings a year don't exactly grow on trees. As an added bonus, his fastball velocity has actually increased over the last few years, quite uncommon for pitchers that have logged so many innings. Throw in AL East and playoff experience, and you've got a hot commodity. Just look at the demand for Garza. 

Alex Torres (acquired in the Kazmir trade) and Alex Cobb will begin the 2011 season just a phone call away in Triple-A, and they represent the next wave of pitching help. Behind them will be Nick Barnese, Alex Colome, and Matt Moore in Double-A, and soon enough we'll be talking about Enny Romero and Jake Thompson in the same way. All seven of those guys were ranked among the team's 16 best prospects in the latest edition of Baseball America's Prospect Handbook.

Both the Rangers and Rockies had their eye on Shields this offseason, but the market for his services certainly wouldn't be limited to those two clubs. The Yankees and Nationals are known to be seeking pitching at the moment, and the Cardinals could also join the mix in the wake of Adam Wainwright's injury. More than likely, Tampa will hold onto Shields at least for the first half of the season before deciding to move him. They also have the option of waiting until next offseason, when they could take advantage of a thin free agent pitching market.

The Rays have been very successful in recent years thanks to their never-ending cycle of pitching. They get what they can out of a pitcher, then trade him once his contract becomes prohibitive and simply replace him with another high-end, young (and cheap) arm. Shields has started the last three Opening Days for Tampa, but 2011 could be his last with the team.

Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.

46 Responses to Is James Shields The Next Rays’ Starter To Go? Leave a Reply

  1. Seligs_Boi 4 years ago


  2. 5_tool_MiLB_fool 4 years ago

    i would opine that mitch talbot and scott kazmir don’t produce an “above0average rotation” but good article nonetheless. the rays have done a good job on replacing all those starters, however. Just have to see how Hellickson will replace Garza

    • NickinIthaca 4 years ago

      With the way Hellickson looked during his time in the bigs, I am looking forward to him taking over for Garza. He is either the real deal, or was the luckiest pitcher (with that small a sample size) in MLB last year. And I have a feeling it is the former. Next year, he and David Price are going to form a ridiculous 1-2 punch (with Price as the ace….)

  3. notsureifsrs 4 years ago

    “Alex Torres (acquired in the Kazmir trade) and Alex Cobb will begin the 2011 season just a phone call away in Triple-A, and they represent the next wave of pitching help. Behind them will be Nick Barnese, Alex Colome, and Matt Moore in Double-A, and soon enough we’ll be talking about Enny Romero and Jake Thompson in the same way. ”

    + eleventeen draft picks in the first two rounds this year. obscene

    with demand as high as it is, i expect that if shields has anything better than a crap year, he’ll be moved after the season

  4. Raysfanatic 4 years ago

    Please God. Get shields outta Tampa

  5. Motor_City_Bombshell 4 years ago

    And Chris Archer too!! He’s a guy who’s waiting in the wings.

  6. amputechture 4 years ago

    Shields is way underrated. career 7.38 k/9 , 2.00 bb/9, and xFIP of 3.85 to go along with durability. If he could keep the ball in the park he could put together a great season and fetch a great package. Rays have alot of sleeper pitching prospects like Joseph Cruz (2.85 ERA 131/39 K/BB in High-A Charlotte) Shane Dyer, and Dane De la Rosa but they get overlooked by Hellboy, McGee, Archer, and Alex and Alex.

    • RedSoxDynasty 4 years ago

      Shields has always been waaaay overrated! Worst nickname in the bigs too. “Big Game” my arse! Garza was the better big-game and overall pitchers for the Rays by a country mile!

  7. chaifetz10 4 years ago

    Problem with the Cardinals is that they don’t have much that TB would want. Miller is pretty much untouchable, and I don’t see where Tampa would play Zack Cox (first or LF maybe?). If they could match up, I’d love to see Shields wearing the Birds on the Bat.

    (Also just stating that Rasmus and Garcia are not trade pieces…trading them would make no sense at all for the Cardinals)

    • Maybe a package of tyrell Jenkins, lance Lynn/Eduardo Sanchez, and two of cleto/Samuel/salas/matt carpenter/chambers.

      • now why would we wanna give up cleto after just acquiring him for brendan ryan someone like that we gotta at least give him a chance to fail before we start shiping guys off

  8. MrSativa 4 years ago

    Shields was a better pitcher when he threw more junk. When he was presented with the current ” get ahead of the hitter” philosophy somehow this translated into more fastballs. In 2007 James threw a lot changeups first pitch. he never does it now and his fastball is a nothing short of a meatball. More junk James. get your 20!

    • kdawg89 4 years ago

      Shields has one of the best change ups in the game…I ABSOLUTELY agree with you. His fastball velocity may be better, but his location on it sucks. He has a hard time recovering from a mistake (hr) which has always been the knock on him, as it was with Garza.

      • NickinIthaca 4 years ago

        The pitch selection could come down to whomever is calling the game, be it Shields’ catcher, Maddon, or one of the other coaches. Lord knows if Shields was doing better by throwing more junk, than he needs to get back to it. He killed me in fantasy last year (and made it tougher on the Rays in real baseball).

        But in all honesty, if he does a better job setting batters up with junk, and then going to the fastball, than they need to get him back on that type of pitch sequence. What he’s been doing recently hasn’t worked nearly as well…

      • I am Urban Legend 4 years ago

        He could be a 15-18 game winner with the Mets. That park is a fly-ball pitchers paradise.

  9. RaysRenegade 4 years ago

    I saw Chris Archer throw on the first day of Pitchers and Catchers reporting and the kid has great mechanics….I put (RHP) Archer above (LHP) Alex Cobb and (LHP)Torres. Matt Moore will do a lot with another big K-season

  10. optionn 4 years ago

    Shields will no longer be in Tampa once he becomes cost prohibitive to keep around. Anyone making over 2 million in Tampa falls into this category. Meanwhile, the rich teams continue to throw 20+ million a year on premium free agents.

  11. Backup_Slider 4 years ago

    I’m not sure whether Shields needs to go but there’s no doubt that that ridiculous looking uniform he’s wearing in the file photo needs to go.

    • j6takish 4 years ago

      That uniform was worn for a turn back the clock game against the Orioles…which I don’t understand because the Rays are a relatively new franchise and they have never had those uniforms ever in their history

    • kevmill21 4 years ago

      interesting, i was going to comment just for the sake of liking that uni

  12. Karsch 4 years ago

    Unrelated to Shields, but that is one ugly uniform!

  13. Cody 4 years ago

    The reason they won it the last two out of three years is because they were god awful for ever and have had a top 5 pick almost every year except for the last 3-4 years.

    • Cody 4 years ago

      That helps when you get the top prospects all most every year in the draft. Let’s see how they do now that they won’t be getting top picks and can’t afford to keep their good plays once they hit FA (Longo being the exception).

    • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

      They are the best run organization.. success is not dependent on having top draft picks… if it was the pirates would be awesome

      • NickinIthaca 4 years ago

        Precisely… They have already proven that they will draft intelligently, and are willing to spend on the draft. And let’s not forget that until they change the draft compensation rules, they will continue to get picks for the players the offer arbitration to – which is why they have 11 picks before the second round this year. And as you guys said, they finished at the top of the division 2 of the last 3 years. (Sorry Lunchbox45 – this is meant more to the two comments ahead of you, you just got the reply)

      • ugen64 4 years ago

        well that’s not quite true, high draft picks have always been a key component of the Rays’ success – early on, the draft picks they got due to bad performances, and more recently the draft picks they got through losing type A and type B free agents.

        • I am Urban Legend 4 years ago

          the rays were getting high draft picks and STILL were terrible. It wasnt until Andrew came in that the ship turned around.

  14. Cody 4 years ago

    So your saying that getting top draft picks every year had nothing to do with them being good the last 3 years, but it was just them being good at drafting. I agree that they are the best run team in baseball when it comes to drafting, but to say they were just good at drafting and having top picks didn’t matter is a little crazy.

    • RahZid 4 years ago

      He’s saying that having top picks helps, but isn’t sufficient for organizational success. Teams could be like the Pirates and waste all of the very high draft picks and fail to have winning seasons in a weaker division than the AL East. I don’t get how this is so difficult for people to understand.

  15. Cody 4 years ago

    Take a look at the Royals they have been getting top draft picks for a long time now and everyone is calling them the next Rays “because” they have been stockpiling top picks for years now. You got some people saying that their going to be great in 1-3 years with all the talent they got. Another team you could say the same thing about is Washington they are getting a lot better with all the top picks they have been getting over the years. Now you got big time players willing to go their because they see it to in Washington.

    • i disagree… the royal have had top picks for the last 15 yrs and only recently have they started drafting smart… the rays started it and i give credit to the royals picking up on in and maybe “copied” it…. draft and smart trades is better then big bucks…

  16. cubfan4life 4 years ago

    One guy that the article doesnt mention at all (surprisingly) is Chris Archer. While there are some that question which role would be better for him, starting or closing, due to his lack of a 3rd pitch right now. If they see him as a starter, which i think they should, if he continues his current trend upward he could possibly be ready in the 2nd half of this year and at the latest the beginning of next year.

    I could see him getting used much in the same way David Price was first brought up. Putting him at the backend of the bullpen and then working him into the rotation the following year.

  17. Regardless of how the Rays as team do this season…if Shields pitches more like he did in 07 and 08 than he did in 09 and 10, he’ll be swapped for prospects by the all-star game. He’s still very young so there is no reason to think he has already peaked. I think if he had a defensive catcher who can call a good game like a Carlos Ruiz or Yadier Molina could make a HUGE difference in his outings.

    • Ya, and from what I heard, Shoppach doesn’t call a real good game, and Jaso still has a lot of work to go on his game-calling. Do we know anything about Chirino’s calling yet, because he might work?

  18. GrayhawkAZ 4 years ago

    The two-time Minor League Pitcher of the Year (last year’s Minor League POY), Jeremy Hellickson, was a 5th round selection.
    Matt Moore, currently one of the top 5 pitching prospects in all of minor league baseball (15th overall by BA), was a 8th round selection.
    Desmond Jennings, a 10th round selection, was one of the highest ranked prospects in all of minor league baseball for the last 3 years.

    Not really even close to the 1st round…

    Next question…..

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