July 3, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields (33) during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Tigers' Anibal Sanchez Trade Makes James Shields Trade Picture Clearer

The rumors have been that the Tigers and Angels are interested in acquiring James Shields from the Rays. Now, there is just one known suitor for Shields still in play. The Tigers made a trade with the Rays’ in-state rival Miami Marlins, giving up top pitching prospect Jacob Turner, lefty BRyan Flynn, and catching prospect Rob Brantly in exchange for RHP Anibal Sanchez, who has gone 5-7 with a 3.94 ERA and a 3.49 FIP for the Marlins this season in 19 starts and 121 IP. The Rays couldn’t care less about the Tigers and the Marlins have gone downhill in a hurry, but this trade had to be a little annoying for the Rays to find out about as Brantly was a prospect they would have liked to acquire. But what that trade does do is make it seemingly clear what the Rays options are in terms of a potential James Shields trade. At this point, it seems that they’re either going to trade him to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or hold on to him for the remainder of the season.

What type of package could the Angels offer? In a potential James Shields trade, the Rays hope to get a promising young catcher or catching prospect, and the rest of the deal would likely be composed of high-upside prospects. Could the Angels put together a package along those lines?

Conger was once a promising prospect, but not anymore. (Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE)

The closest thing the Angels have to a promising young catching prospect is Hank Conger. Conger, 24, was the Angels’ first round pick in 2006 and was a promising prospect for a while, but his stock has bottomed out at this point. Conger has posted just a .205/.286/.338 line in 77 games and 248 platea appearances for the Angels the past three seasons with 9 doubles, 6 homers, and 25 RBI, striking out 46 times versus 23 walks. He has also thrown out just 20% of attempted basestealers thanks erratic throws that have given him a .979 fielding percentage compared to the .992 league average. In 177 career Triple-A games, Conger has a .298/.360/.463 line with 39 doubles, 20 homers, and 105 RBI in 748 plate appearances, so that’s nice (even in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League), but his inconsistency in the major league defensively is also present in his minor league numbers as he has managed just a .980 fielding percentage and a 27% CS%. Conger has the ability to be a good-hitting catcher with some power and plate discipline, but his defense remains questionable and he doesn’t have the bat to profile anywhere else. Conger is not the player that the Rays are looking for.

Could the deal still get done? Yes, but the Angels are going to have to float an elite or at least very good prospect. That player could be Angels top middle infield prospect Jean Segura, who is currently blocked in the major leagues by Erick Aybar at shortstop and Howie Kendrick at second base. Segura, 22, will have to move off shortstop long-term, but he is a topflight second base prospect thanks to incredible bat speed and hand-eye coordination that leads to the ball jumping of his bat. Segura features some power and is an above-average runner as well, but he does get in trouble thanks to a lack of patience at the plate. So far in 2012, Segura has posted a .294/.346/.404 line at Double-A with 10 doubles, 5 triples, 7 homers, 40 RBI, 33 of 46 stolen bases, and 57 strikeouts versus 23 walks in 94 games and 414 plate appearances.

Segura is a great prospect, but I don’t think the Rays are exactly wowed enough by him to give up Shields without a good catching prospect featuring prominently in the deal. That being said, let’s look at the type of package the Angels could offer the Rays.

Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP James Shields to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for SS Jean Segura, 1B C.J. Cron, C Hank Conger, and RHP Ariel Pena

This may be the best offer the Angels would actually offer the Rays, but you still can’t be sure that the Rays would take it. Cron, 22, is a first base prospect at High-A with big-time power but sub-par plate discipline that could hold him back severely if it isn’t improved. Pena, 23, is another one of these enigmatic pitching prospects that the Rays seem to stockpile, featuring a sinker-slider combination that’s nasty at its best but his command is still extremely far from big league ready even though he’s at Double-A. Let’s compare this with the last major Rays-Angels trade, the Scott Kazmir deal back in 2009.

Tampa Bay Rays trade LHP Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for LHP Alex Torres, SS Sean Rodriguez, and 3B Matthew Sweeney.

In that trade, Torres was a high-upside but enigmatic young lefty, Rodriguez was a Quad-A utility type player, and Sweeney was a player with nice power but tons of questions surrounding his game, most notably his bat speed. This offer from the Angels that I suggested above parallels the Kazmir deal with Pena being in the vein of Torres and Cron being similar to Sweeney, and you could even lump Conger in with Rodriguez as Quad-A type players. Segura sticks out, but Shields, even as he has struggled this season, has been a lot better than Kazmir was in 2009 with the Rays and warrants a player like that being part of the deal.

The potential trade of Shields for Segura, Cron, Conger, and Pena gives the Rays the type of prospects with upside that they always love to acquire, but this trade doesn’t give them any level of certainty regarding their team’s biggest question, the catcher position. You can’t be anywhere near sure that Conger is even going to improve enough defensively to be a legitimate big league catching option, and the other players in the deal are promising but not exciting enough to make the Rays forget their priorities.

How desperate are the Angels to get Shields? Would they dangle major league players? No, Mike Trout isn’t going anywhere for an extremely long time, but what they be willing to deal players like Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, and Kendrys Morales? Here’s some rapid-fire trade scenarios.

Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP James Shields to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for UTIL Mark Trumbo and C Hank Conger.

Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP James Shields to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for OF Peter Bourjos, 2B Jean Segura, and C Hank Conger. 

Tampa Bay Rays trade RHP James Shields to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for 1B Kendrys Morales, 2B Jean Segura, and C Hank Conger.

The Rays would love to get Trumbo, 26, a versatile player who can play all four corner positions while hitting for enormous power. His lack of plate discipline is a concern moving forward, but the Rays would be elated to acquire him, especially since four more years of team control following 2012. But if the Angels were even willing to trade Trumbo, they would only do a pretty much straight-up deal with Conger being a throw-in. Would the Rays do that trade? I’ll say yes, but you can’t be sure at any level that the Angels would.

Bourjos, 25, is a speedy, excellent-defending centerfielder, but his trade value is at all-time low thanks to the horrific 2012 he’s having. The Rays would love to acquire him hoping he can rebound, but he doesn’t make this deal much easier for the Angels as they still would have to give up a top prospect like Segura to make the trade happen.

Same story with Morales, 29, because he isn’t the same player that he was prior to his horrific injury celebrating after a walk-off grand slam. Oh, and by the way, he’s a free agent after 2013. His trade value is pretty low right now also, and the Rays would have to stick him at DH like the Angels have done this season because they have Carlos Pena at first base. I don’t think the Rays would do this deal.

Looking at several realistic possibilities, it seems unlikely that a deal will get done. The Angels don’t have the catching prospect that the Rays are looking for, and unless they dangle a player like Mark Trumbo, they can’t feasibly give the Rays a deal that they won’t refuse. If the Angels are truly the only team in the discussions for Shields, it seems unlikely that he will be traded.

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Tags: Anibal Sanchez Detroit Tigers Hank Conger James Shields Jean Segura Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim Mark Trumbo Miami Marlins

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