Should Rays trade their No. 3 starter?

Roger Mooney on what might be the Rays' biggest move this winter:

    See those trade rumors involving James Shields? Not sure I'm buying them.

    Yes, he was far from "Big Game James" down the stretch and in the ALDS. And yes, Jeremy Hellickson gives the Rays six starters, perhaps making one expendable. But that doesn't mean it's time to trade one, especially one like Shields.

    Shields is the workhorse every team craves.


    Besides, what would you offer if you were trading for Shields? Would you give up a left fielder with major-league experience for a pitcher whose numbers have declined during the past two seasons?

    The Rays were impressed with how well Niemann pitched in relief during the regular-season finale and Game 2 of the ALDS. Maybe that's a solution to an overcrowded rotation, especially since the Rays bullpen could be nearly emptied by free agency.

The best reason to trade Shields?

You (probably) have to trade somebody.

It's not a matter of money. Three years ago, Shields signed a long-term contract that's exceptionally team-friendly; he'll earn $4.25 million in 2011, followed by reasonably priced club options in 2012 and '13. Matt Garza's the only Tampa Bay starter who's going to be looking for gobs of money anytime soon.

It's just that you probably have to trade something to get something. The Rays need relievers, they need a first baseman, and I'm still not quite sold on Desmond Jennings as Carl Crawford's replacement. As things stand now, the Rays have just one big bat (Evan Longoria, naturally) and one just isn't enough. Not in the American League East, especially.

There are workarounds. You find a catcher who gets on base. You put together a strong platoon in right field. You find a guy who can play five positions and hit some, too. But there's really no substitute for someone who bats in the middle of the order every day and creates runs.

Yes, it's wonderful to have six starting pitchers. But in the absence of Crawford and Carlos Pena, it just seems like a luxury the Rays can no longer afford.