Ranking the pitchers the Tampa Bay Rays are most likely to trade

The Rays have one of those good kinds of problems, with an excess of starting pitching. They insist they're not seeking to trade one and would be fine going to spring training with all eight. But with several holes elsewhere in their lineup, the expectation around the game is that they are looking to make a deal. And with Matt Moore set to join the rotation, thanks to a new contract that removes any financial incentive to have him open the season in the minors, they are positioned to discuss just about anything. Based on conversations with executives, scouts and others, plus performance and financial matters, here is a ranking of whom the Rays are most likely to trade.

1. WADE DAVIS

>> Age: 26

>> Stats: 25-22, 4.22, 388.1 IP, 1.355 WHIP

>> Contract: Under control for six years for $34.1 million; guaranteed $9.1M through 2014, options through '17 totaling $25M.

>> The pitch: Davis is exactly what most teams want: a young, strong starter who can log innings with the stuff to be a steady winner. And, as important, with an affordable long-term contract. The Rays like that, too, of course, but they have other, and potentially better, pitchers, which makes Davis the most likely to go. Other teams seem to prefer Davis over Jeff Niemann based on his age and upside, though he has been on the DL the past two seasons. The Rays, though, have to consider that he might be the best of the starters to move to the bullpen. The key will be whether Davis has enough value alone (or with some toss-ins) to bring the Rays the impact bat they need.

2. JEFF NIEMANN

>> Age: 28

>> Stats: 38-23, 4.16, 506.1 IP, 1.300 WHIP

>> Contract: Arbitration eligible for next three years; potential to make $2.5M in '12, $15M through '14.

>> The pitch: When healthy and mechanically sound, Niemann can be a dominant winner, which makes him more of a gamble — either to trade or to keep. Some scouts are intrigued enough to rank him higher than Davis on their lists, but he's not likely to bring as much in return, especially since he could become very expensive quickly if he has that big year. The Rays have invested more than $7 million to get to this point, so they may prefer another year to see what they have if he can stay healthy.

3. JAMES SHIELDS

>> Age: 29

>> Stats: 72-63, 3.96, 1227 IP, 1.233 WHIP

>> Contract: Team options for three years for $29M.

>> The pitch: Of the top three, there's no doubt Shields, coming off his spectacular 2011 season, would bring the largest return, at least the one big bat they need plus more. While his options are reasonable for most teams, salaries of $8 million (2012), $9 million ('13) and $12 million ('14) are a bit hefty by Rays standards. And given the Rays' defining buy-low/sell-high philosophy, it would seem — unless they are sure last season (16-12, 2.82) is more representative than 2010 (13-15, 5.18) — they have to trade Shields now. But there is also considerable value to keeping him around: tangibly, given the 200-plus innings they can bank on; and intrinsically, given the leadership, competitiveness and example-setting he provides. Especially with what they view as a real chance to win again in 2012.

4. David Price

>> Age: 26

>> Stats: 41-26, 3.38, 575.1 IP, 1.199 WHIP

>> Contract: Arbitration eligible for next four years; potential to make $4-5M in '12; $35M through '15.

>> The pitch: Price is the wild card in this discussion. Why would the Rays even consider trading a talented young left-handed ace with a brilliant future? Because he's going to quickly become very expensive. And because in between flashes of brilliance he has been frustratingly inconsistent. And because he could bring a staggering haul in return. Sure, it's unlikely. Improbable, even. But the Rays have to at least think about it, especially if another team wants to make it incredibly worth their while with a blockbuster package.

5. Alex Torres

>> Age: 24

>> Stats: 1-1, 3.38; 8 IP, 1.875 WHIP

>> Contract: Under control for six years; '12-14 at close to MLB minimum, then arbitration.

>> The pitch: Torres has yet to show the command necessary to be in the rotation, but the tools are intriguing. He has the lowest current value of the eight starters, which means he would be available but also wouldn't bring much in return. He needs more time at Triple A and the Rays need depth there.

6. Alex Cobb

>> Age: 24

>> Stats: 3-2, 3.42, 52.2 IP, 1.329 WHIP

>> Contract: Under control for six years; '12-14 at close to MLB minimum, then arbitration.

>> The pitch: Cobb was making an impressive rookie run until needing season-ending August surgery to remove part of a rib. He's supposed to be ready to go by spring training, but teams are going to want to see him first. The Rays do, too, and value the future upside and 2012 depth he can provide too much to trade him at any kind of discount.

7. Jeremy Hellickson

>> Age: 24

>> Stats: 17-10, 3.04, 225.1 IP, 1.145 WHIP

>> Contract: Under control for five years; '12-13 at close to MLB minimum, then arbitration.

>> The pitch: There is some quibbling over Hellickson's stats, specifically his increased walks and decreased strikeouts, but the results have been impressive. Though the likelihood of a long-term deal is diminished since he's repped by Scott Boras, Hellickson's high upside and low salary at least the next two years make him way too much of a good deal to consider moving.

8. Matt Moore

>> Age: 22

>> Stats: 1-0, 2.89, 9.1 IP, 1.286 WHIP

>> Contract: Under control for eight years for $40M; guaranteed $14M through '16, options through '19 totaling $26M.

>> The pitch: Moore was already projected as a long-term piece of the rotation based on his potential, and his new team-friendly contract makes him and 3B Evan Longoria two of the best deals in the game, as close to untouchable as there is.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Ranking the pitchers the Tampa Bay Rays are most likely to trade 12/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 12:55am]

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