It's no secret that the Rays find themselves yet again with an abundance of starting pitching. As of now, all five of the Rays' primary starting pitchers from 2012 (Shields, Price, Moore, Hellickson, and Cobb) are returning, with many familiar names following. Jeff Niemann is expected to be healthy at the start of 2013. Chris Archer appears to be more or less ready for the major leagues, although he isn't quite banging on the door like Moore, Hellickson, and Davis were one, two, and three off-seasons ago respectively. Wade Davis is emerging from a return to dominance in the bullpen, but could find himself in the rotation again if need be. Between all of these names, the Rays have eight capable starting pitchers available.
This is not to say, however, that they have three extra starting pitchers that need to be reallocated. In all likelihood, Wade Davis will remain in the bullpen for another season, given his relative ineffectiveness as a starter in 2011. Chris Archer could easily be kept in AAA to start 2013, at least; in addition to his having an option and this allowing longer cost control, his pitching control also needs work, as last year in AAA he walked nearly a batter every other inning. Although it improved down the stretch, it's not clear how sustainable this improvement may be.
This leaves the Rays effectively with six starting pitchers that can't be reasonably "stashed" elsewhere in the organization. One could make the case that the Rays could keep all of them and start with a six man rotation. This would not only allow greater effectiveness, but also leave an invaluable injury buffer, as an injury to any of our starting pitchers (and particularly the injury-prone Jeff Niemann) would barely impact the existing rotation. This seems an inefficient allocation of resources, however, given that the Rays could acquire much needed offensive talent by trading a starting pitcher, and given that Davis and Archer provide a similar (albeit slightly less reliable) injury buffer. As a result, the most likely outcome seems to be a trade.
Any of the starters (with the exception of Matt Moore) could find themselves realistically traded. Given the number of people looking for starting pitching at any given time and the varying packages that Price, Shields, Hellickson, Cobb, and Niemann would fetch in return, a ridiculous number of possible trade scenarios exist. Ultimately, the trade market is always fickle and a partner must be found, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Rays start with a six man rotation and hope for a climb in value or demand as the season progresses.
Here's what the rest of the staff has to say:
Bradley Woodrum: I personally think Davis is no longer a rotation candidate. He has a 4.22 ERA and 4.55 FIP as a starter, and unless he can develop a legitimate third pitch, the Rays -- and many other teams -- will be leaving Davis in the bullpen, where he is successful now. It would be great if the Rays could find a trade for Niemann, that would be gravy. His injury concerns, well, concern me. Plus, I think the new TV money means the Rays could hold onto Shields a little longer than originally expected. That being said, Big James is the most likely to see the door. Can the Rays get a Matt Garza-type haul? I think, given Shields' Beuhrle-like durability, they should be able to meet or best the Garza trade.
But, with the pitching market rich with free agent talent, I would not be surprised to see the Rays go until mid season before unloading any pitchers. They will not sell for a bad deal, so they may choose to gamble on their own staff's health and wait for injuries/ineffectiveness across the league before again testing the market.
Also, a potential package about which I'd be pleased: Shields to the Angels for Conger, Bourjos, and C.J. Cron. That is similar to the trade discussed near the deadline, except in Ervin Santana's place is top Angels hitting prospect C.J. Cron. That price for Shields is way steeper, yes, but at the time this trade was initially discussed, Shield's had a 3.99 ERA -- and a 4.04 ERA on the precipice of the actual deadline -- and the Angels ended up getting Zack Greinke anyway.
Greinke's a free agent now, Haren and Wilson are full of red flags, and Santana's $13m team option would probably be better spent on Shields and something else. I could see the Angels making a push for a relatively cost-controlled Shields, though they may not be willing to part with Cron or the like until after a month or two into the season where Jerome Williams is starting and Haren or Wilson are struggling.
Jonathan Mitchell: I agree with Brad, for the most part, but do think the Rays will leverage at least one arm to improve the offense. Niemann cannot stay healthy and is making too much through arbitration. I think the Rays would like to move him, but if they cannot, I would like to see him in the pen. I also think Hellickson is the one they trade. Hellickson, thanks to Boras being his agent, is not going to sign an extension. No longterm discount here. And due to his low ERA marks and winning the ROY he is likely to fetch a good payday next off season in arbitration but also fetch a good return via trade. I would not be shocked if Helly is the lone arm dealt.
Steve Kinsella: I disagree with Jon and Woody both. Wade Davis will be in a starting rotation to begin 2013 but not with the Rays. As a matter of fact, I am so confident that he will be in a rotation somewhere that I'll set the original percentage of 80/20 towards it. His 4.22 ERA and 4.55 FIIP in the meaty AL East will look awfully nice to many NL team. His team friendly extension pulls a lot of teams into the mix both AL and NL.
Now, shifting the argument back toward Davis in the bullpen; if the Rays hold on to him over the winter, then I expect him to be in the bullpen in 2013. I'd place that at 80/20 as well. Davis will be traded as a starter (which I believe will happen) or kept as a reliever (which I don't believe will happen).
Jason Collette: Davis does have a legitimate third pitch -- his cutter. He's never going to throw an effective changeup but if he can maintain the velocity he worked with last season, I see no reason why he can't be an effective 3/4 with a FB/CV/CT. Haren, Floyd, Wilson are examples of pitchers that are effective without good changeups. The big question is whether he can work 93-95 in the rotation as he did in the pen or if 89-92 going to be his norm in the rotation. If the latter is it, then leave him in the pen and maximize his potential given who is on the roster now.
Jonathan Mitchell's reply: I would not doubt that a team would try Davis out as a starter again but I do doubt that he will hold his velocity in the 93-95 range. He posted positive run values with his FB, SL, and CB last year but never before with the SL and only once before (his 36 inning rookie year) with the CB. If someone believes it will carry over to the rotation then they will get a bargain if they trade for him but I see less than a 20% chance he can maintain it three times through a lineup. I hope I am wrong, though, because I really like Wade Davis but I expect him to be a key part of the Rays' bullpen next season.
...Continue to Part 2...