ST. PETERSBURG -- Shortly after Sunday's blockbuster trade between the Rays and Royals was announced, executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman spoke about James Shields and Wade Davis, the two starting pitchers the club sent to Kansas City.
"[Shields'] departure leaves a void that definitely cannot be filled overnight," Friedman said. "He has been a key part of the success we've had over the last five years, and I'd like to think that his impact is going to have a lasting impression on all of our pitchers and the work ethic he's helped to instill in them."
As for Davis: "Wade is another homegrown pitcher who has a career as a starter ahead of him. He was extremely selfless in moving to the bullpen [in 2012], but his true calling is as a starter."
While the Rays acquired highly-regarded outfielder Wil Myers, right-hander Jake Odorizzi, left-hander Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard, they are left to ponder who will fill the hole in the rotation left by Shields' departure. And remember, this is a hole many felt would be filled by Davis' return to the rotation after a one-year hiatus to the bullpen.
Obviously, David Price will be the No. 1 starter, as the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner is generally regarded as one of the best pitchers in the Majors. Jeremy Hellickson will likely follow Price, but then the water gets murky.
Jeff Niemann, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer will all be candidates to fill the Nos. 3-5 slots.
However, Niemann closed the 2012 season with a shoulder on the mend. After missing most of the year recovering from a fractured right fibula, the 6-foot-9 right-hander returned to make just one more start and lasted just 3 1/3 innings due to inflammation in his rotator cuff. If Niemann is healthy, he will definitely claim one of the spots.
Moore had an up-and-down rookie season, a year that he entered after being anointed as the next Sandy Koufax. While the hard-throwing left-hander did have his share of struggles, he still showed the talent and poise to back the premature adulation he received.
Cobb got recalled from the Minors when Niemann went down early in the season, and he performed admirably. The right-hander has good stuff and just the right amount of feistiness in order to be effective. Archer made four starts and two relief appearance, but he showed enough during his brief tenure with the club to be considered a legitimate candidate to join the rotation. Archer's makeup and stuff are off the charts, but there are questions about his command.
In addition to the previous in-house candidates, Odorizzi and Mongomery have to be considered viable options.
Odorizzi, 22, made his Major League debut in September and went 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in two starts for the Royals. He spent the majority of the season with Triple-A Omaha, where he was named the team's Pitcher of the Year, going 11-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 19 games (18 starts). He began the campaign with Northwest Arkansas and was promoted after going 4-2 with a 3.32 ERA in seven starts. His combined 15 victories tied for third most in the Minors.
Originally selected by the Brewers in the supplemental first round (32nd overall) of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Odorizzi, who is now ranked the Rays' No. 2 propspect by MLB.com, was one of several players traded to the Royals in December 2010 for pitcher Zack Greinke.
"We liked a [Odorizzi] lot in the Draft," Friedman said. "[We] really like his makeup and pitchability, [there] a lot of different pitches he can get Major League hitters out. We feel like he has a chance to be one of five in a really good Major League rotation. And we're excited to get him."
Montgomery made 10 starts for Northwest Arkansas and 17 starts for Omaha, and he went a combined 5-12 with a 6.07 ERA in 27 starts. Over the last two seasons (2011-12), the left-hander, who is ranked as Tampa Bay's No. 7 propspect by MLB.com, has gone 10-23 with a 5.69 ERA and 133 walks. However, from 2008-10, Montgomery combined to go 15-10 with a 2.27 ERA, 220 strikeouts and only 79 walks. The 23-year-old was originally selected in the supplemental first round (36th overall) of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of Hart High School in Newhall, Calif. -- the same alma mater as Shields.
"[Montgomery is] a big left-handed pitcher who we liked a lot out of the Draft," Friedman said. "[He] was the Royals' No. 1 prospect last year, but in 2012, he had a down year in a lot of different ways. There's some things we feel like we can help him with. We feel like he will fit in very well with our development system. [He's] a guy that has a lot of upside -- big left-hander with a lot of good ingredients to get Major League hitters out. [He's a] really good athlete."
Certainly the Rays have candidates to fill the void left by Shields and Davis, but the impact of their departures will likely be felt most by the team's bullpen.
The relief corps might have felt the loss of Davis even if he had not been traded since he was earmarked to leave the bullpen and return to the rotation in 2013. The effect of Shields' departure on the bullpen will be more subtle.
Shields pitched at least 200 innings for six consecutive seasons, so most nights he was always a good bet to pitch at least seven innings, even when he lost. That translated to fewer outs relievers needed to get and fewer innings they had to pitch over the course of the season. A well-rested bullpen that doesn't have to get as many outs is always more effective. In addition, it allows a manager to match bullpen members more effectively against opposing hitters.
In sum, the Rays will miss having Shields and Davis, and they can only hope that the young pitchers knocking on the door can live up to their potential.