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Rays keep trade options close to vest

NASHVILLE — In all corners, courtyards, nooks, gazebos, porticos and river boat docks around the vast Opryland hotel this week, there seemed to be a consensus that the Rays have to trade one of their starters.

Except in the Rays' sixth-floor meeting room suite.

They head home from the winter meetings with all eight potential starters intact, though with a better idea of what the return would be if they do make a deal.

"At the very least we have more clarity," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Thursday afternoon. "I wouldn't say anything is imminent."

The possibility that got the most buzz during the meetings was sending veteran James Shields to the Royals for outfielder Wil Myers, one of the game's top prospects.

Word from the Kansas City media was that the Royals would make that deal, but that the Rays wanted more than Myers. (Friedman, of course, wouldn't say.)

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-handed masher was the consensus minor-league player of the year after hitting a combined .314 with 37 homers, 109 RBIs and a .987 on-base plus slugging percentage between Double A and Triple A.

The Royals plan to spend a few days, or even weeks, assessing possibilities, whether with Shields, other Rays pitchers such as Jeremy Hellickson or Wade Davis, or elsewhere.

The Rays may be wise to wait, too. Not only to see what else the Royals have to say, but to hear from other teams that failed to find a starter elsewhere. Specifically, the teams that miss out on top free agent Zack Greinke. Both acknowledged frontrunners, the Rangers (who could offer promising young hitter Mike Olt) and Dodgers, have expressed interest in Shields.

Also, teams such as the D'backs, who the Rays were talking to, potentially as part of larger and thus far not consummated deal centering on Justin Upton.

While Shields, 30, likely would bring the Rays the biggest return and have the biggest impact on the roster, given his $10.25 million salary, the team has other, though lesser, trade options:

Hellickson: Only 25, with two seasons of double-digit wins and a career 2.96 ERA as a starter, he could be a future ace, and he's cheap, making about $500,000 this coming season before becoming arbitration eligible.

But there may be questions, as he didn't get through six innings in 14 of 31 starts, and another issue is agent Scott Boras, meaning it's unlikely he'd do a long-term deal before hitting free agency in 2017.

"I don't think anyone would trade Helly based on his future and abilities," Boras said. "I think they may be looking at it as a team component rather. And certainly he's the kind of player that's attractive and will bring a lot of things. I think you have to be in the position of a club official in determining what's best for them. He's certainly a guy that I'd like to have on my team."

Davis: After spending 2012 in the bullpen, Davis, 27, seems to be ticketed for a return to the rotation. So either the Rays would have to trade one of the others to make room or just deal Davis, who is signed for this season ($2.8 million) and next ($4.8 million), with options at $7 million, $8 million and $10 million over the next three.

"Wade's desire is to stay in Tampa and be in the starting rotation," agent B.B. Abbott said. "That being said, he actually learned from being in the bullpen last year, and he believes it will make him a better pitcher in the future. Whatever happens, Wade will be the consummate professional and work hard in whatever role he has with the club, as he always has."

Jeff Niemann: Had Niemann not a) broken his leg in May and b) hurt his shoulder upon his September return, he may well have been the pitcher they were most looking to trade. Especially as arbitration pushes his salary toward $3 million.

Niemann, 29, says he is feeling good and will be ready for spring training. So the Rays could decide to wait, hope he pitches well in the spring, and deal him then.

"Things," Friedman said, "have definitely narrowed down for us."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Rays keep trade options close to vest 12/06/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 11:31pm]
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