It’s been a very long and – undoubtedly – very disappointing offseason for James Shields, but it appears as though it is finally reaching a conclusion.
Jon Morosi of FoxSports is reporting that Shields has a number of offers in hand and is expected to make a final decision about where he’ll sign by the end of the week.
Despite being the number three free agent starter available, the market for Shields has been incredibly slow to develop this offseason. When fellow free agent studs Jon Lester and Max Scherzer signed for big-time money, it was believed Shields would cash-in himself.
In fact, it was just a month ago that he was rumored to have a five-year, $110 million deal in hand, obviously that pact never materialized or I wouldn’t be writing about Shields’ pursuit of a contract two weeks before pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
It’s understandable that teams would be cautious about giving big money to the right-hander. Shields is 33-years-old and has a lot of miles on his right arm.
He’s thrown 200+ innings eight seasons in a row, including 227 innings or more in each of the last four years. That’s good enough for more than 1,900 total innings in his career.
While it could be argued that he’s simply shown incredible durability, he’s also seen his K/9 rate decrease in each of the past two seasons and his H/9 increase over the last four years. He’s shown improved command to make up for his diminishing ability to overpower hitters, but there are warning signs of a major regression in production and teams rarely want to pay top dollar or commit to multiple years in those situations.
If Shields and his agents are willing to re-adjust their expectations and settle for fewer years and dollars, it’s safe to assume that a number of teams could jump back into the mix for his services.
With that thought in mind, we’ve ranked the top seven destinations for Shields – assuming a contract in the four-year, $80 million range is what he’ll land – and three potential dark horse candidates to swoop in for Shields.
San Diego Padres
It’s been a very busy offseason for general manager A.J. Preller and he’s been rumored to be in the mix for a front-of-the-rotation starter for much of the winter. Shields would fit the bill and would seemingly thrive moving to the National League and pitching half of his games at Petco Park.
The Padres have reportedly been in talks with the Phillies about trading for Cole Hamels throughout much of the offseason. If Shields – who makes his home in San Diego – could be signed for something similar to or even below what Hamels has left on his deal, it’d be hard to imagine San Diego would balk at the opportunity.
The Diamondbacks were rumored to have “in the mix” for Shields earlier this offseason before reportedly backing off when it seemed as though his price was sky-rocketing. In reality, it’s done just the opposite and Shields still makes a lot of sense for a club that’s desperately in need of an ace – sorry Josh Collmenter, you don’t count – to lead the club and gobble up innings.
The club has a protected first-round pick and will gain significant financial flexibility with the contracts of Trevor Cahill, Bronson Arroyo, and Aaron Hill all coming off the books in the next two seasons. If his price has dropped, he’s a perfect fit for Arizona.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox retooled their rotation in a big way this offseason adding Justin Masterson, Wade Miley, and Rick Porcello to build a groundball heavy staff. The two incumbents to the rotation: Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly are both solid, but the rotation lacks a bona fide ace.
Shields might not be an ace in most clubhouses, but in Boston, he’d be the reliable, innings-eater that the club could use. He’d also be the only real power pitcher on the roster. The Red Sox spent a ton of money to upgrade the offense, adding a big arm – at a discount – could be a huge win for Boston.
The Brewers have money to spend and are in need of an ace after trading away Yovani Gallardo in January. Trade talks to acquire Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon and his bulky salary appear to have cooled, so there is still plenty of room in Milwaukee for Shields. He would join veterans Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse at the front of the rotation. His addition would, however, push one of Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta, or Jimmy Nelson to the bullpen.
The Brewers are notorious for making big splashes late in the winter – they did the same with both Lohse and Garza in each of the past two winters – and the presence of Shields in the rotation could help Milwaukee contend for a pennant in the highly-competitive National League Central.
The Cubs have been busy this offseason and appear primed to become contenders in the near future. The rotation behind recent signee Jon Lester is good, but not great. The addition of Shields would give the club arguably the top one-two punch of any rotation in National League Central.
Shields to Chicago might be a long shot with a slew of much younger free agent starters slated to hit the market next winter, but if the Cubs are serious about turning themselves into legitimate contenders this season, adding Shields to the rotation would go a long way toward making that happen.
The Marlins showed interest in Shields last month and would rank higher if Dan Haren’s “will he or won’t he” saga had ended with him hanging up the spikes. Instead, Haren will show up at spring training and the Marlins have a lot of money tied up in their roster as currently comprised.
Shields would give the Marlins a cushion until Jose Fernandez recovers from Tommy John surgery and he’d be around as a stabilizing presence in the rotation if/when Haren and Mat Latos leave via free agency at the end of the season, but similar to the Cubs above, it might be better for the club to wait and buy into next year’s younger crop of free agent starters instead.
Chicago White Sox
Much like their crosstown counterparts, the White Sox have been very active this offseason adding Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Jesse Crain, and Emilio Bonifacio. Despite those additions, the club is still far from a lock for a postseason berth this season. The addition of Shields would help their cause in a major way.
Samardzija is a free-agent after the 2015 campaign and signing him to an extension figures to be the club’s primary concern, but luring him into a long-term deal could be much easier if Chris Sale and James Shields are already anchoring the top of the rotation for the foreseeable future.
New York Yankees
The Yankees went on record numerous times this offseason saying that they were not interested in Shields (or any other high-profile free agent for that matter). That was before Shields was still a free agent in February. It’s hard to imagine the Bronx Bombers passing up a chance to land the very familiar right-hander at a significant discount.
Shields has had plenty of success in the American League East in the past and his durability would do wonders for a club that’s got a slew of injury risk tied up in the rotation’s front three of CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda. They’re a long-shot, but they’ve got deep enough pockets to never be out of the conversation.
Billy Beane is total a wild card. He always has been and he always will be, period.
When the offseason started, it appeared as though he was tearing apart his roster for a rebuild. It didn’t take long for it to become abundantly clear that he was just moving pieces to keep the club in contention, provide some financial flexibility, and reload a minor league system that was weakened with some “going for it all” trades over the summer.
Money is always the issue with Oakland, but two Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin both still working their way back from Tommy John surgery and Scott Kazmir due to hit free agency after the season, it might be worth opening the checkbook for a legitimate innings-eating machine to stabilize the rotation.
St. Louis Cardinals
On the surface, the club seems set with a rotation of Adam Wainwright, John Lackey, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez. That having been said; Wainwright is still working his way back from injury, Wacha was hurt much of last season, and Lackey was mediocre in his St. Louis debut late last summer. Should Wainwright or any of the others falter, the club would turn to oft-injured right-hander Jaime Garcia or young lefty Marco Gonzales.
While Shields isn’t an obvious fit, he would improve and stabilize the rotation in a big way. The club likely won’t spend the money, but if there are any lingering injury concerns about the rotation as it stands, Shields – at a discount and reduced years – seems like a good fit.
So there you have it, our top seven destinations for Shields and three potential dark horse candidates.
Do you think we were close? Did we miss wildly? Do you think he’s headed somewhere else?
Let us know what you think in the comments.