Last Friday we took a look at which one of the Rays pending free agents and players with club options was most likely to be in Spring Training with the club in 2013. The list of candidates included Carlos Pena, Luke Scott, B.J. Upton, Jose Molina, Jeff Keppinger, Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth, and J.P. Howell and the DRB readers felt that J.P. Howell was the most likely to return as he received 34% (120 of 355) of the votes.
This week I'd like to ask which of the starting pitchers will return to the Rays rotation in 2013. There are many factors that may ultimately determine who is back and who may be traded, sent or remain in the bullpen, or sent to the minors.
The Rays have eight candidates for the 2013 rotation: David Price, Matt Moore, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Wade Davis. I will assume the Rays rotation in 2013 has David Price and Matt Moore set in stone but beyond that the Rays will be making a move with 1 or 2 of their starting pitching candidates.
Today's poll question asks which pitcher you feel will be dealt over the winter not which pitcher you would trade if you were in GM.
James Shields - 14-9, 3.77ERA/3.65 FIP - Rays hold 2-club options 2013 ($9M), 2014($12M)
Shields is arguably the Rays biggest trade chip and would most likely be used to acquire the one commodity the Rays don't have in the upper level in their system which is major league ready bats.
There was some chatter at the trade deadline surrounding Shields but entering his July 31st start against the A's he had not been the sharpest pitcher in the AL with a record of 8-7 with a 4.52 ERA; therefore, the Rays would be selling him and his 2+ years of service remaining low. Since July 31st Shields has improved his trade value and once again proved that he is a solid top of the rotation pitcher compiling a record of 4-2 with a 2.25 ERA.
Overall in 2012 he has a record of 14-9 with an ERA of 3.77 and a FIP of 3.65 and this marks the 6th straight season he has delivered 30 starts and at least 200 innings pitched. Shields could certainly be used to obtain the bats to balance the Rays anemic offense.
Jeff Niemann - 2-3 3.08/3.10 (ERA/FIP) 8 Starts - Arb 2 Eligible/FA After 2014
Niemann won the battle for the fifth starters job in spring training and was pitching well prior to taking a line drive to his lower leg on May 14th resulting in a broken leg which kept him out of action until September 1st. When he finally returned, again against the Blue Jays, he had to leave the game due to stiffness in his rotator cuff. Niemann went off to see Dr. Andrews and came away with a rare bit of good news. Andrews said there was no physical damage to the shoulder and rest should allow the inflammation to subside and he should be good to go.
In 2012 he lost his arbitration case with the Rays and was awarded 2.75 million. Despite being injured all season he will be eligible for a 20% raise (assuming the Rays offer him arbitration which they will) and he will make a minimum of 3.3 million in 2013. The team could also work out a pre-arbitration deal with Niemann as they did most recently with J.P. Howell.
Other organizations may be leery of him based on his injury history in the minor leagues and since the number of starts he's made each of the last 4 years has declined (2009 - 30 starts, 2010 - 29 starts, 2011 - 23, and 2012 - 8). To counter this risk a team acquiring him would have 2 years of club control at a reasonable cost. It may be a better idea for the Rays to hold onto Niemann until the trade deadline in 2013.
Jeremy Hellickson - 8-10 3.31/4.78 ERA/FIP - Pre-Arb; Free Agent following 2016
Hellickson may be the most valuable asset on this list given his contract status and his success at the major league level in 2+ seasons. He will only be 26 years old come April 2013 and has already made 61 starts while pitching in the toughest division in baseball going 25-20 with a 3.15 ERA (4.53 FIP) during that time.
The Rays may be more willing to trade Hellickson because of his representation by Scott Boras and with his age, contract status, and success may yield the most in return. Andrew Friedman certainly doesn't have to trade Hellickson so he can ask a kings ransom and should he get it I'd make the move in a heartbeat.
Alex Cobb - 9-9 4.27/3.70 (ERA/FIP) - Pre-Arb ; Free Agent following 2017
Cobb was pressed into duty following the Niemann injury in early May. His season was cut short in 2011 due to a rib injury which required surgery and he wasn't all the way back when he returned to the Rays in May 2012. He did get stronger as the year moved on and has proven to be a more than capable major league starting pitcher. He only turns 25 this October and has already made 30 big league starts compiling a record of 12-11 4.02/3.67. Like Hellickson, Andrew Friedman doesn't have to trade Cobb so he can ask for a high return. Additionally, Cobb has an option remaining and can begin the season in AAA if needed.
Wade Davis - 0 Games Started - 3-0 2.60/2.89 - signed through 2014 with Rays holding 2015-2017 club options -
Davis is possibly the most intriguing pitcher on the list. He made 29 starts for the Rays in 2010 and 2011 before moving to the bullpen in 2012. The transition has been a smooth one and Davis has an impressive 30% K-rate and a swinging strike percent of 11.8%. His last year as a starter he had a K% of 13.2% and a SwST% of only 5.9%. His contract calls for him to make $2.8 million in 2013, $4.8 in 2014, club option for $7 million in 2015,club option of $8 million for 2016, and $10 million club option for 2016 (2.5 million buyout).
While Davis was a solid pitcher out of the bullpen for the Rays in 2012 he didn't work the high leverage situations in the 8th and 9th innings so his role can be replaced rather easily. The question with Davis over the winter becomes whether another team will trade for him with a package equal to what a starting pitcher would net? Like Cobb, Davis has an option remaining and can be moved to AAA to begin the year but at $2.8 million that is highly unlikely. If a team comes to the Rays and makes that offer that values Davis as a starting pitcher I'd make the deal.
Chris Archer - 1-3 3.62/2.89 - Contract Status - Pre-Arbitration; Free Agent after 2018 season
There is very little to no chance that Archer gets moved this coming off-season. I would hedge more on the Rays trying to get him into a Matt Moore/Wade Davis type extension but he is included in this list in the event someone feels that his trade value would net the Rays a huge return. Like Cobb and Davis, Archer has an option and could begin the year in Durham but I believe it is more likely that he begins the year in the Rays rotation and has a contract extension in hand by the time he makes his 2013 debut.
In my mind the Rays will work to move James Shields and Wade Davis over the winter. They will get the bats that they need and at least a young arm or two will also be involved.