Contract Status: $4.25 million in 2011, plus three club options worth a total of $28 million from 2012-2014.
Rest of Season Projection: 4.09 ERA, 3.41 FIP
Trade Value: $26-34 million, one top #1-25 hitting prospect.
Dave Cameron recently rated James Shields as the 39th most valuable trade chip in all of baseball. Even if you disagree with his rankings, it still says a lot that Shields made the list; he's definitely one of the 50 most valuable players in all of baseball, and he's the fourth Ray to make the final list (spoiler alert: Price, Zobrist, and Longoria are all in the Top 50 too). But while many of the players on Cameron's Top 50 list aren't actually available via trade, Shields is conceivably on the market - that is, assuming the Rays can get enough value for him.
Remember how much the Rays got back when they traded Matt Garza? Shields should bring back a similar package, if not an even larger one. While PGP rated Garza's trade value as around $21 million (same methodology), I'm estimating Shields as being worth anywhere from $26-34 million; he's simply that good of a pitcher, and his contract is exceptionally team-friendly.
While Shields' value right now is sky high - seven complete games and a 2.33 ERA will do that - I don't see the Rays trading him at the deadline this season. I'm sure there will be plenty of teams looking to add an ace starter down the stretch, but the Rays' rotation looks surprisingly brittle at the moment; Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann are both giant question marks, and the Rays only have one pitcher in the minors that's conceivably ready to step in full-time in the majors (Alex Cobb). Trading Shields would leave some big question marks about the club for the remainder of the season, and it would make the 2012 pitching staff weaker as well.
I'm sure the Rays will trade Shields once prospects like Matt Moore and Alex Torres start knocking on the door, but until that time, it's not like Shields is going to be that expensive next season. What's $7 million for a top of the rotation starter? Unless the Rays get offered some downright insane package, I hope they pass on trading Big Game James.