Rays should trade James Shields to fill holes

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That the Rays will trade a starter this winter seems like a given. With David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann and Chris Archer all under contract, the Rays possess both quality and quantity in the rotation.

What they don’t have are bats and a lot of money, so with holes at first base, catcher, one middle infield spot and one outfield spot, dealing a starter for a hitter or two makes all of the sense in the world.

In terms of return, Moore and Price undoubtedly have the most trade value in the group, with Hellickson not too far behind. That’s why it might be tempting to deal from that trio.

Shields, though, has plenty of value himself. His two club options call for him about $24 million the next two years. That’s pretty expensive for the Rays — in fact, his $10.25 million salary in 2013 will be the highest in club history — but it’s palatable compared to what inferior free agents will command this winter. If Shields were a free agent, he’d probably be in line for $16 million-$18 million per year in a five-year deal.

And I just don’t trust Shields to keep this up. He’s been one of baseball’s best starters the last two years, but he’s also thrown 477 innings between those two seasons. He’s reached 215 innings five of the last six years, missing only when he finished at 203 in 2010.

That durability has given him a ton of value in Tampa Bay, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 now. Dan Haren had a very similar streak to Shields from ages 25-30 before suddenly taking a dive last season. It was probably different back in the 1970s, but in the last 30 years, the list of the pitchers who have been most durable before age 30 doesn’t match up very well with the list of pitchers durable after age 30.

There’s talk about the Rays perhaps dealing Hellickson to Arizona for Justin Upton, and I don’t think that’d be a bad idea at all. But if they’re looking at lesser names to fill the gaps, they might as well save as much money as they can in the process. They still have Price for three more years, and while he’s going to get expensive in a hurry — he could command more than Shields in 2014 — he’ll still have plenty of trade value in a year or two if they want to go that route. Hellickson is four years away from free agency.

If the Rays trade Shields for a young regular, they’ll suddenly free up $10 million they can spend on one of the other holes. It’d be like trading for an extra player. Shields might bring back a Josh Reddick from Oakland, a Travis d’Arnaud from Toronto or a Wil Myers from Kansas City.  Then the Rays could use the salary to sign Mike Napoli to play first and catch or Stephen Drew to start at short. They’d have plenty of options.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).