Tampa Bay Rays Should Trade "Complete Game" James Shields Now

Kevin WeissContributor IJune 30, 2011

Shields' is having a terrific season, but it may be the best time to trade him.
Shields' is having a terrific season, but it may be the best time to trade him.J. Meric/Getty Images

After reading this headline, you are probably thinking to yourself, "This guy is an idiot." That's debatable, but bear with me here. At the halfway point of the ultra-marathon MLB season, the Tampa Bay Rays are very much in the hunt for the devilish AL East race.

And that is the point.

The Rays (45-36) are arguably one of the top teams in baseball, thanks to their pitching, defense, Joe Maddon and the VP of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman. However, the Yankees and Red Sox are also up there in the power rankings and happen to reside in the same division. 

If realignment had already occurred and there was a salary-cap in baseball, we would not be having this conversation. But this is not a perfect world. If it were, the Rays would be selling-out games in downtown Tampa in a gleaming $500 million stadium instead of clanking around in the "Fruit Dome."

Despite having great young players and a fun team to watch (if you like low-scoring games or are a baseball purist), Tampa Bay is 29th in attendance and currently has the second-lowest payroll in baseball at $42 million.

There has been much speculation that the Rays are looking to make a deal as the trade deadline approaches. Some names that have frequently popped up include B.J. Upton, Kyle Farnsworth and even Johnny Biceps (Johnny Damon). 

I am not sure how much truth there is to those rumors, but if I had to guess, Bossman Junior would be the first one to jump on a plane and head to our nation's capital (most likely) to play for Davy Johnson.

Anyway, most of the rumors involve the Rays dumping one of their players like a high school prom date, instead of adding a middle-of-the-order bat or a nice lefty specialist. If the Rays are going to be the ones doing the selling, why not sell as high as they can and get the most optimal return possible?

This is where Mr. Shields comes into the picture. So far, he has been one of the best starters in baseball with an 8-5 record, 2.45 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Not only that, but he also has six complete games to his name and leads the MLB in strikeouts. It's funny how fans were calling for him to be dealt last year for his proclivity to give up a home run (or 35). 

For most any other team in baseball, it would be absurd to trade an ace of his caliber. The Rays are not like most teams. They use saber metrics extensively, have dress-up parties and move talent when that talent gets to be a tad too expensive.

James Shields is in the final year of his guaranteed contract, making $4.25 million. Pretty cheap for an ace, huh? After that, there are three years with team options for $7 million, $9 million and $12 million, respectively.

Look, for most other teams an ace can cost upwards of $15 million. So, the Rays obviously have a heck of a deal on their hands. However, with the aforementioned attendance, some of the lowest ticket prices in baseball and relatively unprofitable radio and TV deals, the Rays are strapped for cash in relation to other franchises.

This is the best time to trade Big-Game James. His numbers will probably not remain this spectacular and contenders at this time of year are willing to grossly overpay and give up loads of prospects for a player of Shields' caliber. 

If GM Andrew Friedman was able to get as much as he got in the Matt Garza trade with the Cubs this past offseason, think about what return he could get if he dangled Shields at the trade deadline.

Not only that, but the Rays would still be able to continue their great run with starting pitching by dipping into their golden-rich farm system in the near future and bringing up the likes of Alex Cobb, Alex Torres, Chris Archer and the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, Matt Moore. 

The Rays may be discussing what to do at the trade deadline with B.J. Upton and the others, but if they really want to maximize their farm system and team in the next few years, James Shields may be the place to start.

Hey, you were calling for Shields' departure not too long ago, so why not now?