Could (And Should) The Orioles Trade For James Shields?
Throughout the week, PressBox baseball writers will be sharing their thoughts on what the Orioles need to do to sustain their 2012 success for 2013 and beyond. First up, Jim Henneman on why a James Shields trade could make sense for the O's ... and the Rays.
• Matt Palmer: What Do Orioles Need To Do To Sustain 2012 Success?
By Jim Henneman
It hasn't been often during the last 15 mostly dreadful years that the Orioles have had a realistic chance to improve through either the free-agent or trade markets.
Not even the spending foray that brought Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez on board in 2004 proved to be anything more than a temporary morale boost. Flirting with Mark Teixeira made some sense in 2008, but subsequent events would prove that was little more than an exercise in futility and the O's would be better served by keeping -- and making good use of -- their draft choices.
As far as trade possibilities were concerned, the cupboard was so bare that other teams took the bypass route when looking elsewhere to plug holes of their own. The Orioles simply didn't have enough goods to be players.
But gradually, things have changed, and after turning 93 losses into 93 wins during the course of one season, the Orioles may have an opportunity to give their revival another jumpstart. They will not be major players in the top-tier free-agent market, but there's one potential trade out there that is at least worth considering.
James Shields has been the workhorse of the Tampa Bay Rays' staff, with more than 200 innings the last six years. He has a $9 million team option for 2013 and another for $12 million for 2014. At today's market prices, he's probably the best bargain out there -- if a team can make a deal. As a comparison, the Nationals signed Edwin Jackson, who has a 70-71 career record as a pitcher, to a one-year deal for $11 million after he went 12-9 in 2011.
The Rays won't pay Shields $9 million next year for two reasons: they can't afford it, based on their limited budget, and, even more importantly for them, they don't have to. The Rays are so deep in starting pitchers -- David Price, who will be on the market next year at the latest; Jeremy Hellickson; Matt Moore; Alex Cobb; Wade Davis; Jeff Niemann; and Chris Archer are bona fide starters -- they can, and almost certainly will, deal Shields. And they'll do it with an eye as much to the future as in the present.
Assuming trading with a division opponent wouldn't scare off the Rays, how might the O's pursue this possibility? For openers, with the Rays desperately looking for offensive help, especially in the left-handed power department, they could make a bold opening statement by tossing out the name of Chris Davis, who had career numbers with 33 home runs and 85 RBIs, while hitting .270 last year. That would probably get the Rays' attention for two reasons: the offensive potential and the economic impact. And that surely would lead to discussions of a multi-player deal.
As a first-year arbitration-eligible player, Davis will command less than half what the Rays paid Carlos Pena ($7.25 million) or Luke Scott ($5 million with a $6 million option or $1 million buyout for 2013) a year ago. The possibility of Davis and Shields being center pieces of a deal that would undoubtedly include others would be intriguing, but not necessarily the only route available to the Orioles, who almost certainly will break up the home run-strikeout tandem of Davis and Mark Reynolds next year. In fact, the O's might even eliminate it altogether in an effort to improve team on-base percentage at the expense of slugging percentage.
Middle infielder Jonathan Schoop, the 20-year old who displayed Manny Machado-like power for Bowie last year, is probably the Orioles' one untouchable position player, which means he'd be at the top of the Rays' list of potential trade prospects. In Xavier Avery and L.J. Hoes, the Orioles also have a couple of outfield prospects with no place to go in the foreseeable future. Both are top-of-the-order candidates who project as useful major league players down the road, the type of player Tampa Bay generally targets. In addition, if the emphasis is on minor leaguers, first baseman Joe Mahoney, the O's minor league position player of the year in 2010 who has gotten mixed reviews, is another name that could be in the discussion. It also figures that somebody from the Orioles' current mix of starting candidates (Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Tommy Hunter, et al.) could end up in the mix.
The Rays figure to pick up the option on Shields and then trade him (with an option for 2014 as part of the package) rather than let him leave as a free agent. Because the move will be for economic reasons, it's unlikely they will deal him for someone making similar money. That at least leaves the door open for the Orioles to explore the possibility of adding a proven top-of-the-rotation pitcher to their rotation.
Posted Oct. 22, 2012