Pitching the Shields-Davis Trade: A look ahead at the Rays pitching depth

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Despite trading two valuable pitchers, the Rays are in a better position for short-term success than ever before.

Andrew Friedman has pulled off the unthinkable, prying the No. 1 prospect in baseball out of the hands of the Kansas City Royals. The Rays gain Wil Myers, a 22-year old corner outfielder that swings like a power hitter, and prospects Jake Odorizzi (AAA-RHP), Mike Montgomery (AA-LHP), and Patrick Leonard (A-3B).

But as excited as I am about Wil Myers and the haul, let's talk about the cost.

Tampa Bay is now without two very valuable pitchers. James Shields was the war horse of the pitching staff, leading the Rays in completed games, innings pitched, and strikeouts. However, it is his contract that will take the spotlight in the coming days: two years of options remaining on his contract for $9M and $12M. The other pitcher, Wade Davis, had two affordable guaranteed years ($2.8M, $4.8M) and three expensive options ($7M/$8M/$10M) remaining on his contract. His transition to the bullpen had led Davis to develop a cutter and increase his velocity to levels he had previously lost.

The obvious benefit in trading Davis and Shields are the contract savings, freeing $12M in payroll this season, and $17M in 2014. There was speculation that the front office could have traded David Price or Jeremy Hellickson instead of Shields, but - with all things equal, and short of any contract extensions - Shields had the fewest years remaining (an advantage over trading Price) and is perceived as an Ace for the Royals (as opposed to Hellickson).

Additionally, trading Wade Davis was in the best interest of everyone involved. WD40's velocity concerns are a legitimate risk, while a change of scenery is his best chance to re-join a starting rotation. Furthermore, the Rays may not even notice either pitcher's absence.

Thanks to Friedman's bartering skills, the Rays are not without their glut of starting pitching. David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer are now joined by Jake Odorizzi - the centerpiece of the Brewers-Royals trade for Zack Greinke - who started two games for the Royals last September. The Odor has been a top-5 prospect since 2010, has a ceiling as a No. 3 starter, is cost-controlled through 2018, and should be major-league ready by mid-season. Odorizzi was a key factor to this trade becoming a success.

In terms of the bullpen, Tampa Bay also has Alex Torres and Cesar Ramos on hand, either of whom could easily take over the long relief role from Davis.

Right now, the Rays potential pitching options look something like this:

SP: David Price
SP: Jeremy Hellickson
SP: Matt Moore
SP: Jeff Niemann
SP: Alex Cobb/Chris Archer/Jake Odorizzi

RP: Fernando Rodney
RP: Joel Peralta
RP: Jake McGee
RP: Cesar Ramos
RP: Alex Torres
RP: Brandon Gomes
RP: Josh Lueke

Compared with the Rays depth beforehand, this does feel a little... thin. The Rays still have insurance in case of injuries, but their depth chart feels a lot more shallow than it was before. David Price could be traded in a few years, and what happens then? The Rays have very few pitching prospects coming up the pipeline immediately after this crop, and the rotation already feels noticeably more shaky for 2013: It's not hard to imagine a scenario where Niemann gets injured, Hellickson has his FIP finally catch up with him, and Archer has some struggles adjusting to the majors. It's easy to see how this was, in Andrew Friedman's words, "...the most difficult trade we've made to date."

That said, Odorizzi was the game changer. Without him, the depth chart is meager, compared to what it once was. With him, this was a trade the Rays could not refuse. With limited financial resources, the front office has put excellent emphasis on building pitching from within, and spending their free agent dollars elsewhere. The Rays should continue to be in such a position for the next few years. Beyond that, who knows what another trade could bring (re: Ben Revere).

While the Rays may be without two more years of James Shields, they are still in a position to continue excelling on the pitching mound - after all, shaky depth for the Rays is still incredible depth - as well as succeed in the free-agent/trade market. Consider all of this in addition to Wil Myers manning the outfield, and the Rays are in for a wild ride.

James. Wade. I'm sorry to see you go, but it's easy to see how a Myers-Odorizzi offering was too much for the front office to pass up.

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