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Rays might shake up starting rotation

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif.

After much talk the past few years, the Tampa Bay Rays finally appear ready to trade a starting pitcher. In fact, they could even trade two, considering that they’ve got eight to choose from.

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When it comes to predicting division winners, Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi only agree on one thing.

So, is there a scenario in which the Rays could move both left-hander David Price and righty James Shields? Of course, if the respective prices are right. The Rays, though, are more likely to deal just one starter. And industry sources are skeptical that they will trade Price or Shields, given the weakened state of the AL East.

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox surely will make improvements, but rarely in recent times have the two superpowers appeared this vulnerable in November. The Rays control Shields for two more seasons and Price for three. They could trade righty Jeremy Hellickson or even lefty Matt Moore for a big bat and be a serious contender again next season.

One rival executive says there is “no chance” the Rays will move Price, but next off-season could be a different story. The team likely will be unable to sign Price long-term, and his trade value – with two years of control remaining - still will be high.

DICKEY: WHAT ARE THE METS THINKING?

Many in the industry believe that the Mets, by talking about trading right-hander R.A. Dickey, are trying to leverage the knuckleballer into accepting a club-friendly contract extension.

There are three problems with that strategy:

•Dickey might not bring back much in a trade, even if he wins the NL Cy Young Award. True, he is a bargain next season at $5 million, but players entering their free-agent years generally do not yield strong returns.

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A number of executives believe that Dickey needs to be in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, limiting the number of teams that could have interest. The fact that Dickey is 38 also could lessen the Mets’ return.

•Dickey might not be hellbent on staying with the Mets. Sure, his profile is greater in New York, but he already has written a book and soon may win the Cy. How much more attention does he actually need?

If Dickey is like most players, he wants to win a World Series. He isn’t a career Met like third baseman David Wright, and the team doesn’t figure to contend anytime soon. Viewed from that perspective, there isn’t much reason for him to stay, much less give the Mets a discount.

•Dickey actually deserves a good contract. Yes, his age is a concern. Yes, he throws a “trick” pitch. But Dickey’s performance the past three seasons is nearly as good as Johan Santana’s was in his last three years with the Minnesota Twins before he joined the Mets.

Dickey, 2010-12: 616 2/3 innings, 2.95 ERA, .663 opponents’ OPS.

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Santana, 2005-07: 684 1/3 innings, 2.99 ERA, .630 opponents’ OPS.

No one would suggest that Dickey merits a deal anywhere close to Santana’s six-year, $137.5 million contract with the Mets; Santana was nine years younger than Dickey when he signed the deal and a left-handed ace. But if the game is about performance, then what exactly is the case against Dickey, other than age?

NAKAJIMA: HE’S BACK!

Remember shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, who stayed in Japan last off-season rather than accept a part-time role with the Yankees after they won his bidding rights with a $2 million posting fee?

Well, now Nakajima is a free agent coming off another strong season with the Seibu Lions, trying to choose between major-league teams and Japanese clubs.

The Oakland Athletics and Arizona Diamondbacks are among the teams that are at least mildly intrigued, given the shortage of quality shortstops in both the trade and free-agent markets.

Nakajima, who will play next season at 30, also could be an option at second base for the San Francisco Giants, who are trying to re-sign free agent Marco Scutaro.

The problem for Nakajima is that few Japanese infielders have succeeded in the majors, making teams skeptical. Still, he has been a remarkably consistent performer in Japan, winning Gold Gloves the past two seasons and batting .312 with an .867 OPS during the past five years.

DEMPSTER: MILWAUKEE-BOUND?

Count the Milwaukee Brewers among the teams interested in free-agent right-hander Ryan Dempster, particularly now that the Los Angeles Dodgers are showing greater interest in other pitchers.

The Dodgers tried to acquire Dempster before the non-waiver deadline, but they’re reluctant to award a multi-year contract to a pitcher who will turn 36 on May 3.

Dempster, while pitching in the NL, had a 2.66 ERA in 101 1/3 innings at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

Tagged: Rangers, Mets, Rays, Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Ryan Dempster, James Shields, David Price

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