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Rays suddenly holding hot commodity with pitching depth

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, file photo, Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Shelby Miller sits in the dugout in the eighth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Atlanta. The Arizona Diamondbacks have agreed to acquire Miller from the Braves for overall No. 1 draft pick Dansby Swanson, outfielder Ender Inciarte and pitching prospect Aaron Blair, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/John Amis, File) NYKM301
FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, file photo, Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Shelby Miller sits in the dugout in the eighth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Atlanta. The Arizona Diamondbacks have agreed to acquire Miller from the Braves for overall No. 1 draft pick Dansby Swanson, outfielder Ender Inciarte and pitching prospect Aaron Blair, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/John Amis, File) NYKM301
Published Dec. 10, 2015

NASHVILLE — The specific adjective can't be repeated here, but the intent is easy to ascertain given its placement between "Shelby" and "Miller" in the late-night text from a major-league team executive.

The Rays, barring a wild honky-tonk of a late Wednesday night, won't leave the winter meetings with Cubs infielder Javier Baez or any other young impact bat that can significantly transform their lineup.

But they won't head home today completely empty-handed, either. Given the increase in value of the mound of talented pitchers they could trade based on the latest market shift, evidenced by the head-shaking, curse-inducing haul the Braves got in dealing Miller to Arizona, they may have come out way ahead this week even without doing anything.

"Pitching is valuable," Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "It's difficult for teams to get their hands on talented pitchers, especially ones who are younger or under team control or who don't cost an extra zero in terms of their contracts."

Which — check, check, check — is exactly what the Rays have.

Not even counting All-Star ace Chris Archer, who isn't going anywhere, they can consider trading from a stable of starters who, in some evaluations, can be viewed similar or better than Miller: Drew Smyly and Matt Moore, who looked to have put injury questions behind them; Jake Odorizzi; or even Alex Cobb, an ace before the elbow injury and Tommy John surgery that will keep him out until August. Beyond the starters, relievers Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee have increased value, too.

"It's all pitching," Arizona GM Dave Stewart said after making the Miller deal. "Things are definitely taking a different turn."

Consider the Diamondbacks, the Rays' old expansion twin, who first shockingly signed ace Zack Greinke to a $206.5 million, six-year deal to lead their rotation. Then to add Miller, a 25-year-old with a career 32-35, 3.22 record who they acknowledge is only a No. 2 starter, they handed over exciting outfielder Ender Inciarte and two promising advanced prospects, Aaron Blair, a midrotation starter, and shortstop Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Stewart said. "What would you do to win? And that's the way I look at it."

Or consider the Cubs, who altered their plans to add a couple of frontline starters after surveying the market, including some talks with the Rays.

"Years and dollars for starters of note in free agency that came with a significant amount of risk, frankly, that we weren't comfortable with," team president Theo Epstein said.

"In the trade market, we felt like in a lot of cases, we would have had to pay for two dollars on the dollar almost in return."

Silverman makes the obligatory comments about how the Rays are reluctant to take the risk of stripping away depth.

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But he also knows better than to not take advantage of the market inflation as teams are willing to overpay, the challenge finding the balance between max value and missing out by getting too greedy.

"I think we're sitting on very talented players, and they offer the possibility to bring back significant value," Silverman said.

"We've had lofty expectations, and we hold out a high standard for the deals. These past couple days haven't changed that, but it does show that in some instance if a team really wants a player, they may be willing to part with talent."

"We knew we were really good in that department," manager Kevin Cash said. "And after the interest from basically every team at the winter meetings on one of them, or a handful of our starters and relievers, it shows they're a wanted commodity. And we're lucky to have them."

To have. Maybe not to hold.