Chances Rays trade a top starter -- Shields, Price or Hellickson -- on the rise

Expectations that free agent Zack Greinke will land a major deal have made other quality pitchers attractive. (US Presswire)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The chances the Rays will trade a top starting pither such as James Shields, David Price or Jeremy Hellickson have increased along with the value of big-time starters, sources familiar with the Rays' thinking said.

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With word around here that Zack Greinke, the best free-agent starter available, is going to make a major score, even greater than originally suspected -- one competing agent saying, "I think he might get several years, maybe $185 million" -- Rays people understand that the trade value for their trio of top starters also is rising.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg is a rare owner to attend the winter meetings here. Tampa Bay did well to lock up star third baseman Evan Longoria with a six-year, $100 million extension, but the revenue-challenged team has its limits. It also understands it is a rare team with a stash of starters, including also young left-hander Matt Moore and righties Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb and Wade Davis.

All the losers in the Greinke derby could be in play for one of the Rays starters. Shields and Hellickson have been most prominently mentioned as subjects in trade talks, but Tampa Bay will listen to talks about anyone. Their people conceded their chances to lock up Price beyond his current contract are nil considering he's easily a $25 million-plus pitcher now, even if Greinke doesn't hit the $25 million mark. Tampa can't have one player consuming more than a third of its payroll.

The Dodgers look like a favorite for Greinke -- even their own people seem pretty confident they can seal the deal, considering they seemingly have an unlimited budget -- but they have talked about Shields and the Rays' starters just in case. The Nats and Rangers are known to have to talked to the Rays as well, and presumably any team looking for a starter will engage the Tampa people.

Shields' value is high because he is one of the game's pre-eminent innings eaters (more innings than anyone but Justin Verlander over the past two seasons), and Hellickson's is boosted by the mere fact he isn't arbitration-eligible yet.

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