By Eric Schmidt

James Shields and the Tampa Bay Rays dropped another contest this afternoon after dealing with a rainout Friday night. The Rays and Phillies will play a twin bill on Sunday. Shields took to the bump this afternoon for a Rays team which has been decimated by injury in recent weeks, but that is only a fraction of what has become the start of a season which is seeing much less production than he had in his career season in 2011.

Shields has always been a dependable starter for the Rays, an innings eater. Last season he posted a career year, leading the league with complete games. I believed at that time that Shields’ trade value would never be higher and based on the start of this season, perhaps that assessment was correct. Again, the Rays have dealt with a litany of injuries this season and the team has had players playing out of position for most of the last two months. However, that fact can’t address the fact that James Shields has not been the same pitcher he was last season either.

Shields has been his usual workhorse self in his recent starts. Since May 8th, the Rays have only won three of his starts though. He has allowed four or more earned runs in five of his nine starts. He allowed another five runs this afternoon, only lasting five innings. Very un-James Shields characteristic.

Tampa Bay is a team which always needs to work around salary issues. Those issues will be front and center for the Rays after this season. Shields is poised to earn $9 million in 2013. SP David Price is eligible for arbitration and CF B.J. Upton will be a free agent.

Given the depth of the Rays farm system in regards to their pitching staff, I totally believed that a James Shields trade value would never be higher than it was last season. The Rays are deep in pitching in their farm system, a luxury in the majors these days. However, positional players are lacking. The positional player lack of depth is showing now as the Rays try to recover from the wave of injuries which have hit the club. The illustration of that fact needs to go no further than the team’s moves to acquire Sutton , then send him back to the minors in exchange for Brooks Conrad. The Rays have made some very shrewd moves in the last few seasons, but are really scraping the bottom of the moneyball barrel early on this season.

David Price is tied for wins in the American League with 9. He is 9th in ERA with an 3.08 average. Price is a left-hander which will turn 27 next August, and Shields is a right hander which will turn 31 next season. If the Rays are going to plunk down $9 million a year for a pitcher, it will be for Price, not Shields. Price has a much more significant upside potential. Shields is a solid pitcher, yet unspectacular. He will give you 200+ innings a year, as he has in the last five seasons and will likely post again this season. However, he is not dominant. He had 11 complete games last season but that number has to be considered an anomaly. In the previous five seasons, he only recorded five complete games.

Tampa Bay needs to start thinking about 2013 and beyond. I’m not ready to throw this season out the window, but James Shields is a commodity which could reap some serious rewards for the Rays. Trade Shields and retain David Price. Put Price in a rotation with Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Chris Archer, and the team still fields a formidable pitching rotation from 2013 and beyond.

The Rays have serious deficiencies at 1B and CF. The club will be unlikely to pay B.J. Upton next year and Carlos Pena is playing under a 1-year deal this season. Pena is his usual self, batting around the Mendoza line .200 and Upton is having a successful season at the plate.  Take James Shields, trade him to a team in the National League which is in a heated pennant race, and acquire a young, AAA talent at 1B or CF which is ready to enter the majors as well as a player or two not so prepared. It’s the Rays way.



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