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Tom Jones: Five reasons Rays had to make the trade with the Royals

So the Rays traded pitcher James Shields for some guy none of us have ever seen play, but many say is baseball's next superstar.

We knew this was coming. We'd heard the rumors for weeks. Finally, the deal came down Sunday night when Shields and pitcher Wade Davis were shipped off to the Royals for minor-league player of the year Wil Myers and three other prospects.

No one can sit here today and guarantee that this was a good deal, not even Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman, the man who orchestrated the trade.

But you can't rail against it, either. Sure, you hate to see Shields go, considering all he has meant to the Rays. And, absolutely, it's a considerable risk to trade a top-of-the-rotation starter, as well as another proven pitcher, for a group of kids who haven't done a thing at the major-league level.

However, here are five reasons to get on board with the trade.

The Rays need bats, and this is their best way to get them

Last season, the Rays had one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. They had a Cy Young winner, the majors' best starting rotation, a solid bullpen and a closer who had, arguably, the greatest relief season in MLB history. You could make a case it was among the best pitching staffs ever.

And it still wasn't good enough to make the playoffs in a season when more teams made the playoffs than ever before.

Let's face it: The always offensively challenged Rays need some big bats, especially after losing B.J. Upton. I'm not talking about signing free agents on the cheap, such as Luke Scott and Carlos Peña and Johnny Damon, and hoping they have another okay season squeezed out of them. I'm talking about stars.

They don't have the money to go out and sign an Albert Pujols or a Prince Fielder. The draft over the past five years hasn't produced anything for the Rays.

To get a potential star who is just about major-league ready — and apparently Myers has all the makings of a 30-homer, 100-RBI producer — the Rays have to make trades, and that means giving up something good to get something good.

The Rays had an excess of pitching

With Shields, Davis, Cy Young winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer, the Rays already had more starting pitchers than they had spots in the rotation.

Shields eats up innings, but soon, Hellickson and Moore will evolve to the point where they are better than Shields. On this team, you can't have the No. 3 or No. 4 starter making the kind of money Shields makes.

This is not unlike when the Rays dealt Matt Garza in 2011. Ultimately, they really didn't miss Garza, who, in 2010, went 15-10 — the exact record that Shields had last season.

Price, Hellickson, Moore and some combination of Niemann, Cobb, Archer and Jake Odorizzi, also acquired in the trade with the Royals, will make up a rotation that remains among the best in the majors.

Now is the time to deal Shields

Shields is getting more expensive by the year and, eventually, you were going to have to think about dealing him anyway. You are never going to get more for him than you are right now.

Look, Shields is an absolute bulldog who has a tremendous work ethic and could be an effective starter for years to come. Then again, he's about to turn 31 and has thrown nearly 1,500 major-league innings, including 477 over the past two seasons. That's a lot. So are the 14 complete games he has thrown over that span, and he has thrown enough pitches to strike out 448.

This is in no way to suggest that Shields' arm is about to fall off, but his heavy workload is something to watch.

Myers is worth the risk

Myers was Baseball America's minor-league player of the year in 2012. The past four winners of that award were the Angels' Mike Trout, Hellickson, the Braves' Jason Heyward and the Orioles' Matt Wieters, all outstanding players. Past winners also include Joe Mauer, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones, Paul Konerko, Jose Canseco and Doc Gooden.

Is it a guarantee of success? Of course not. But based on the names, it's a pretty good gauge. Besides, nearly everyone who follows these things says Myers will be a star.

The Rays had no other choice but to make a deal

Are the Rays better today than they were before the trade? Maybe not. Myers might not even start the season with the Rays. But the plan is for this move to pay off in six months, and in a year, and over the next five years.

This is how the small-market Rays must operate. They continue to walk the fine line of trying to win now and keeping an eye on the future.

When you're the Rays, there are no guarantees. You count your pennies. You do your homework. Eventually, you hold your breath and take a risk.

And, make no mistake, this is a risk. But it's a risk the Rays must take if they hope to stay a contender for years to come.

Tom Jones: Five reasons Rays had to make the trade with the Royals 12/10/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 10, 2012 10:47pm]
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