Deadline Deals – A Case for Trading James Shields


JB spoke briefly about potential deals that could include James Shields and Kyle Farnsworth.  At first, like most Rays fans, I thought what a terrible idea that would be, at least as far as Shields goes.

But it got me thinking.

While it seems almost heinous to consider trading James Shields. He’s been one of the Rays most solid pitcher’s for years. An innings eater with flashes of brilliance, Shields has really come into his own this season, flashing the best K/9 of his career along with an incredible 2.59 ERA and 1.011 WHIP through the first 3/5’s of the season. If he continues on his current pace, he’d set career records of K’s in a season as well as his best ERA, and has already thrown more Shutouts (3) and Complete Games (7) than his previous five seasons.

If you look at what he accomplished in 2010, you’d have been right to wonder if the wheels had finally fallen off for him. However, digging deeper, the numbers supported a rebound this year.

He still tossed over 200 innings. He struck out 187 while compiling a career-best 8.3 K/9. A solid Fielding Independant Pitching (FIP) stat of 4.14 was masked by a high BABIP of .354 and a strand rate of 68.4%. To put that in perspective, his strand rate (based on runners who got on base but didn’t score) is currently at 80% and his BABIB is an unmaintainable .258. Simple math will tell you that just as his numbers were off last year, he is due for a major correction. It could well be that this season is an outlier and he finishes close to his underlying stats. The reality is that the correction will come, and with it a significant reduction in his trade value.

And that is the basis of the argument for trading him. The Rays have club options of $7 million (2012), $9 million (2013) and $12 million (2014) over the next three years. Even if the Rays payroll jumped to $70 million next year, Shields would account for 10% of that. While his salaries over the next few years are more palatable to teams with bigger bankrolls, signing him to any of those club options could severely hamstring a team that has a ton of pitching talent waiting in the wings. He also stands to cost the team even more this year depending on where he ends up in the Cy Young vote.

As the trade deadline looms, there are a number of teams with the financial wherewithal to make a deal for Complete Game James. And, while it would hurt the already damaged Rays fan psyche to see him leave via trade, the Rays have built this low-budget success story by being deft in dealing players. Shields is the best trading chip they have on the table right now, as one of those teams, gunning for a shot at the playoffs, will certainly blink, coughing up prized prospects to garner a quality starting pitcher.

While I find it hard to believe the Rays would agree to any deal with the Yankees or the Red Sox, there are certainly other teams in dire need. The Mets and Reds have been mentioned frequently, and an oft-discussed swap of Shields for someone like Jose Reyes or Carlos Beltran could make some sense for a team desperate for an offensive spark, I’d hazard to guess however that, if traded…as it isn’t a foregone conclusion at this point, teams like Cleveland Pittsburgh would be more likely trade partners. Pittsburgh especially has a ton of young players who could slot in nicely. Both have eager fan bases hungry for a taste of the post-season. Washington would be high on my personal list, simply because they have power hitting Michael Morse, who could play 1B.

In the end, if a deal is indeed made, expect the Rays to capitalize on Shields now value and gloss over any statisitical anomalies that would make him look more like…well…Matt Garza.