Rays must deal a pitcher

James Shields is reliable and affordable, which makes him valuable to Rays or in a trade. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays have more starting pitchers than they can use. Meanwhile, they probably will lose three of the seven players on their team who topped 10 homers in 2012, and even with those guys, the Rays still needed more offense. Furthermore, the upper reaches of their farm system are not overflowing with talent for the first time in what seems like forever. Something's gotta give.

Three pitchers have been consistently bandied about as potential trade bait: Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and James Shields. There are good cases for each. No matter whether you think Hellickson is as good as his career ERA (3.06) or as bad as his career FIP (4.46), it's reasonable to conclude that he is the weakest link of the three. Price is a true ace, and would bring the best package in return.

Moreover, as Dave Cameron noted last week, he's about to get really expensive. He could make up to $10 million next season via arbitration, and another good season could push his salary into the $13 million to $15 million range in 2014.

Shields falls in the middle, as he brings both an expected level of above-average performance as well as a contract that is set in stone for the next two years at a reasonable price.

There also are arguments for keeping each. Hellickson's performance may have a wider range of expected outcomes than that of Price or Shields, but he's also going to make the league minimum next season. Shields has been with the team the longest and has been consistently good during that tenure -- he has posted at least a 2.0 WAR in each of the past six seasons. Price is also consistent, but with the intensity cranked up a few notches. In the past six seasons, just 14 pitchers have posted a 4.0 WAR or better in three straight seasons, and just seven -- Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Price -- have done so in the past three seasons. Expensive or not, Price is a guy who is going to be hard to replace.

So which pitcher should the Rays most aggressively try to move?