The question gets asked often. How could the Tampa Bay Rays still be contenders to make the playoffs after trading James Shields, the veteran leader of their pitching staff?
The answer can be found on the back fields at the Port Charlotte, Fla., training complex where the Rays sent two young pitchers who would be legit contenders for jobs with almost any other team, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi.
And the answer will be found in coming weeks as they open the season with the possibility of Matt Moore, Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona) or Jeff Niemann at the back end of the rotation.
Obviously, the strength of the remaining rotation starts with David Price, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner who will assume the role of staff leader.
However, the Rays feel very good about the depth behind him, starting with Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year, and Alex Cobb, who emerged as a dependable starter last season and was enjoying a tremendous spring through mid-March.
Moore, who is considered a future ace, has had trouble with his mechanics this spring, and with a reputation as a slow starter, he could end up toward the back end of the rotation.
Manager Joe Maddon said that in setting up the order behind Price, he won't be as much concerned about alternating lefties and righties as he would be in protecting the bullpen. That would indicate the Rays could split up Hellickson and Moore, who had some troubles working deep into games.
Maddon also said that whichever pitcher wins the battle between Hernandez and Niemann for the final spot in the rotation wouldn't necessarily be the fifth starter. That suggests, especially if it's Hernandez, an innings-eater, the final addition to the group could be placed between Hellickson and Moore.