I was prepared to have quite a long, complicated amount of information to use to make a valid argument regarding what the Royals should be willing to part with in order to acquire James Shields from the Rays. The truth is, it really isn't that difficult: The Royals should send Billy Butler to the Rays for James Shields.
Why it makes sense for the Royals:
- If we assume that Dayton Moore is honest in stating that the Royals can not afford to add additional payroll to improve the rotation, then a trade is the only avenue available.
- A Butler-for-Shields trade costs them only $4m more than what Butler would have cost over the next two seasons ($3m, if you include his buyout for 2015).
- While Shields and Guthrie would combine to cost the Royals $23m in 2014, their only other substantial payroll obligations would be Alex Gordon ($10m), Alcides Escobar ($3m), and a handful of newly arbitration-eligible players (Hosmer, Holland, Collins, et al).
- Trading for Shields should almost assure us that the Royals non-tender Luke Hochevar, given a plethora of cheaper options available (Odorizzi, Moscoso, Mendoza, Smith, etc.). This is an estimated savings of $4.5-$5m, money that can be rolled into a signing to fill Butler's spot in the lineup, which happens to be the easiest spot to replace. Despite the fact that you can not expect to match Butler's offensive output, the combination of Shields and a free agent hitter should provide surplus value (assuming that it isn't Yuniesky Betancourt) over just Butler.
- Shields does not come with a caveat emptor sticker on his forehead.
- Two years and $21m is relatively low-risk, particularly given the upside.
- The Royals would be committed to only one starting pitcher beyond the 2014 season, and none beyond the 2015 season.
Why it makes sense for the Rays:
- With B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena hitting free agency, combined with a series of unfortunate ineffectiveness from other players on the roster, the Rays need to upgrade their lineup.
- While not overwhelming from a salary relief standpoint, it sheds salary from a position of depth and refocuses it to a position of need while saving money over the next two seasons.
- The Rays have no in-house replacement to fill holes at first or at DH, while they do have several options to fill Shields' rotation spot. This would be a rare instance wherein a trade provides surplus value to both sides in kind.
Given the Royals' current situation, this deal makes the most sense. They can trade Butler and platoon Francoeur (or not) at DH with whomever they give Hochevar's money to (I'm looking at you, Eric Chavez) while playing Dyson and Cain in RF and CF until the Super Two deadline passes and Myers comes up. Their opening day rotation would be Shields, Santana, Guthrie, Chen, and Odorizzi, with Paulino and Duffy set to return sometime around mid-season.
Meanwhile, the Rays would be able to build their lineup around Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Billy Butler. They could re-sign Jeff Keppinger and look to bring in an outfielder (maybe they'd find Angel Pagan to their liking). Their rotation would consist of Price, Moore, Cobb, Hellickson, and a cabal of Jeff Niemann and Chris Archer.
There might be a bit of fine tuning to make this trade happen. A PTBNL here, some cash there, etc. But the genesis of the proposal works in favor of both teams. Hopefully, the Royals and Rays can get something worked out along these lines.