The A's ruined a lot of things this year. They ruined the Rangers' and Angels' seasons, for example. They ruined the safety net of low expectations that a couple of low-revenue franchises have tried to maintain. For the purposes of this article, though, we'll focus on how they ruined the expectations of the old-fashioned, established-player-for-prospects deal.
It used to be that the poor teams would trade their good veterans for young players who would hopefully become good veterans, whom could then be traded for young players who would hopefully become good veterans one day. Simple.
Billy Beane, though, had a masterful off-season. And it ruined the expectations of veteran-for-prospects deals. He traded his hybrid veteran-youngsters for young players who contributed right away to a division-winning team. There wasn't any wishing upon a star that the young players could one day help the team. Jarrod Parker, Derek Norris, Tommy Milone, Ryan Cook, and Josh Reddick all helped right away. They also got Miles Head, Brad Peacock, and A.J. Cole to stash away for later.
Which is all a long-winded introduction to noting that the Rays just picked up their $10 million option on James Shields for 2013. They did so because Shields is good at pitching. But if they could walk into a Costco and exchange him for a Gio Gonzalez deal, they would. The Gio deal is the new gold standard for a team that wants to have its talent and get younger at the same time. For three seasons of Gonzalez, the A's got six of Milone, Norris, Cook, and Peacock. That's a mid-rotation starter, a starting catcher, a setup man/closer, and a wild-card prospect. That's a heckuva haul.
The Rays probably wouldn't want that exact haul, as they'd be looking for hitting help for the immediate future. But the idea -- trading from a strength and getting younger players who can help right away -- is exactly what the Rays would be looking for with a possible Shields deal.
This brings up two points:
1. Shields should bring back something similar to what the A's got for Gonzalez
Again, Shields is good at this pitching thing. And he's throwing harder and harder these days, if that's something that might interest you, without losing any of his command. He's under contract for $21 million over the next two seasons, which is both a bargain and a minimal risk. Teams in search of a top-of-the-rotation starter should be tripping over themselves to get at Shields.
A reader at DRaysBay suggested a swap with the Cardinals, and while the Cards would be extremely unlikely to move Shelby Miller, they could move one of their youngish corner guys or outfielders -- Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter -- to make room for Oscar Taveras at the same time they're getting an excellent pitcher. That idea makes some sense.
Shields makes sense for a lot of teams, actually. The ones who have a rotation spot open and fancy themselves contenders next season, for example, which is a list of 15 to 20 teams or so. The Royals could really use Shields, as could the the Braves, the Orioles, the Yankees … look, all of them would want Shields.
2. Shields probably won't bring back something similar to what the A's got for Gonzalez
The A's ruined it. They took the only deal like that out there. That was the perfect marriage of teams with a) a need and a crap-ton of prospects, and b) a player locked up for a while and talented enough to pry those prospects away. And the result was a deal that the other team was happy with, too. That never happens.
Shields is locked up for two more years, not three, so his value isn't quite what Gonzalez's was. But even if he were just as valuable as Gonzalez, it's unrealistic to hope for two immediate contributors and two prospects on top. It would be unrealistic to expect that for just about any player. The Gio trade was the exception, not the rule.
So considering where the Rays are in the success cycle (expecting to win), what Shields provides (220 quality innings every year), how expensive he is (not very), and what they'd likely get back (prospects instead of immediate contributors), I'd wager Shields stays right where he is. There's a chance he'll get dealt. But not a good one.
And that's not a bad thing for the Rays. Because James Shields is good at throwing baseballs, and the Rays can use a guy like that, even if they already have a bunch.