Excess pitching. The Rays have it. Other teams want it. Its unlikely James Shields is traded this winter, leaving us with three arms that could be shipped off in return for offense. Let’s break down it down and look at the pros and cons of trading each.
Pros: Arbitration eligible, injury prone.
One of the biggest strikes against Niemann is his dwindling amount of team control; this will be his third year of arbitration. He's getting a bump in salary from the $903,000 he made in 2011. Not that his salary will be an outrageous number, he'll just hit free agency sooner rather than later. Also, the Big Nyquil can't stay healthy. He's officially missed 41 and 20 games over the past two seasons, but there were definitely stretches where he pitched while something was clearly wrong, and his performance suffered.
Cons: Likely better than Davis or Cobb at the moment, remains healthy and sustains his 2011 xFIP.
When healthy he's been a league average pitcher, a valuable asset when you have unproven commodities on the roster. Wade Davis hasn't shown the improvement expected of him and Alex Cobb has thrown less than 60 major league innings. He posted a 3.73 xFIP in 2011, if you believe that is a prelude to future performance then the Rays may not get the value they desire.Wade Davis:
Pros: Weakest piece of current rotation, team-friendly contract.
We were supposed to see a step forward for Davis last season. Instead we were treated to more of the same from the 26-year-old, coupled with one of the worst strikeout rates (5.14) in baseball. He's simply been below league average the past two seasons any way you look at it. Those last sentences could work as cons, too, I suppose. His most appealing feature, at least when it comes to baseball, is his contract that won't pay him more than $4.8 million in any of the next three seasons. There are plenty of pitchers with worse numbers that make more.
Cons: Young, team-friendly contract
The same contract that makes him appealing to other teams is still valuable for the cash strapped Rays. James Shields and David Price are going to get expensive over the next two seasons and it's likely that one, or both, of them are not with the team after the 2013 season. In that instance the team would need to someone to fill in, and remember that Andrew Friedman has never signed a free agent starting pitcher.
Pros: Young, record of minor league success could attract bidders, blocked by two starters
I don't think it's a stretch to say that Cobb could legitimately start for over half the teams in baseball. He has an excellent minor league track record and impressed in his 52 major league innings. The Rays unusual rotation depth has left him in the cold. As it stands right now the Rays don't need him. He provides a great luxury but is not a necessity. His six years of control remaining would also sweeten the pot for a potential suitor.
Cons: Young, cheap, also provides injury depth
Like Davis, the fact that Cobb is young and cheap can also be seen as cons. If one of the other starters is traded to make room for Matt Moore that puts a dent in the Rays' prized minor league pitching depth. Much like this past season Cobb could be used as a spot starter or suitable backup should a member of the staff go down with injury. Prospects in the Rays' system usually have a longer apprenticeship in Triple-A than Cobb's 67 innings. The fact that he was called into duty earlier than expected due to injury last season likely won't change that.
As coincidence would have it, Marc Topkin wrote a similar article for the St. Pete Times today. That's also worth giving a look.