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.

J.D. Martinez tells teams he prefers an outfield role

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Free agent outfielder/slugger J.D. Martinez is reportedly seeking an outfield gig, says Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. According to Silverman’s sources, Martinez’s suitors have been informed that the veteran slugger would give preference to teams that can offer a corner outfield spot, rather than a DH-only role.

That could spell trouble for the Red Sox, who appear to be Martinez’s biggest suitors so far this offseason. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are firmly established at the corners, and prior reports from club president Dave Dombrowski suggest that center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is not going anywhere anytime soon (thereby eliminating the possibility of reshuffling the outfield). The DH spot is still wide open for Martinez, who doesn’t seem to be totally closed off to the idea, but any full-time or part-time role on the field is likely off the table at this point.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t the only ones pursuing Martinez’s services this winter. The 30-year-old slugger has been linked to both the Diamondbacks and Giants in weeks past, and while they have the roster flexibility to accommodate his preferences, they’ll need to clear another massive hurdle: the seven-year, $250 million contract he’s said to be seeking. Both clubs will need to get creative to make such a deal work. The Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping right-hander Zack Greinke in an attempt to free up some room on their payroll for Martinez, while the Giants appear more inclined to scour the trade market for outfield help than shell out cash for another hefty contract in free agency.