James Shields deal the latest of many clever Rays trades

One of the teams the Orioles had to outlast to make the playoffs last season was the Tampa Bay Rays, and on Sunday night, the Rays made one of the biggest trades of the offseason.

The Rays dealt right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Wil Myers, arguably the top hitting prospect in the game, and three other prospects – right-hander Jake Odorizzi, left-hander Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard.

Rays manager Joe Maddon expressed his mixed reactions to losing Shields, the club’s all-time leader in wins and strikeouts, and Davis, a reliever who would have been a back-end rotation starter on most teams, on Twitter, saying: “Hate … HATE to lose James and Wade. But this who we are. This is how we have to operate. Excited about the guys we are getting.”

I saw Shields’ final game in a Tampa Bay uniform. On the second-to-last game of the regular season, he lost a heart-breaking 1-0 decision to the Orioles at Tropicana Field, throwing a complete-game two-hitter and striking out a club-record 15 Orioles.

It was the most dominating pitching performance I had seen all season long. Had Chris Davis not hit a solo homer, Shields might still be mowing down Orioles.

Shields was one of the best right-handers in the game over the past two seasons, and alongside David Price he gave the Rays one of the best righty-lefty starting duos in the game. Shields’ change-up might be the best in the game, and he’s established it as an out pitch better than any other pitcher in baseball. He’s thrown 200 innings the last six seasons and has 14 complete games and six shutouts over the past two seasons.

He will give the Royals an automatic ace, something I’m not convinced they had despite trading for Ervin Santana and resigning former Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. Davis will also get the opportunity to start in Kansas City.

On the other hand, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman doesn’t miss often when it comes to trades. He was groomed on Wall Street, so he knows how to buy low and sell high, and his resume or trades shows he knows the exact time to deal.

He traded left-hander Scott Kazmir at the right time, same with right-hander Matt Garza, which has allowed the Rays to remain competitive despite constant overhaul, free-agent defections and payroll limitations. One of his first trades was dealing Aubrey Huff to the Astros at the trade deadline in a deal that brought Tampa Bay Ben Zobrist, who is one of the top WAR players in the game.

We won’t mention Friedman’s signing of Pat Burrell. That didn’t work out very well.

With Shields set to make $9 million in 2013 (he also has a $12 million club option for 2014) and Cy Young winner Price looking at a hefty raise in arbitration, the Rays chose to deal Shields and get the top crop of the Royals rich farm system.

Myers is the key. He hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 homers and 109 RBIs last year between Double-A and Triple-A.

One Orioles official told me that he believes the Rays got a steal – mainly because getting a 22-year-old right-handed power hitter under control for six full years is a godsend. He added that the other three prospects will be contributors.

The Rays need it. Their .240 team batting average was 12th out of 14 AL teams last season. They won games with their pitching. And Sunday’s trade makes Tampa Bay’s rotation a little less intimidating.

But again, the Rays don’t miss often when it comes to trades. Friedman isn’t afraid to make a shrewd move. This might be his best yet.

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