It took him the entire offseason to find the right deal, but James Shields finally landed a new contract.
Shields and the San Diego Padres have agreed on a four-year, $75 million pact that will allow him to pitch close to his home and should immediately improve the Padres rotation.
The deal reportedly includes a $16 million club option for a fifth year.
This deal is the largest free agent contract in San Diego’s team history, eclipsing the $15.5 million the club gave Joaquin Benoit last offseason. Shields also becomes the first free agent pitcher to sign a contract in excess of $50 million after February 1, a time when most free agents will take any offer they can get.
We’ve touched on Shields a handful of times this offseason, often with confusion about how his market never really seemed to come together the way it did for fellow free agent starters Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, both of whom signed mega-deals earlier this winter.
There was obviously some concern about Shields’ age – he turned 33 in December – and the many, many miles he’s put on his right arm over the years, having racked up nearly 2,000 innings in his big league career.
To pile up that many innings, one can pretty quickly deduce that Shields has been one of the most durable pitchers in the game since breaking into the league with Tampa Bay in 2006.
The right-hander made 31 starts and tossed 215 innings in his first full-season in 2007 and never looked back. He’s now posted eight consecutive seasons of 200+ innings and 31+ starts; including his current run of four consecutive years with 227+ innings pitched.
In recent years, Shields stepped up his game and transitioned from just an innings-eater to a reliable, front-of-the-rotation starter for both Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
He really came into his own in 2011 while still with Tampa Bay.
That season Shields won 16 games – including 11 complete games and four shutouts – with a 2.82 ERA, 134 ERA+, 1.04 WHIP, and a 225/65 K/BB ratio in 249.1 innings. Those numbers earned him a trip to the All-Star game and a third place finish in the American League Cy Young award voting.
Despite all of those innings and markedly improved results over the past four years, Shields is still far from an ace; which likely explains why it took him until two weeks before spring training to find a new contract.
Here is where Shields ranks among all qualified starters in a number of categories since his breakout campaign in 2011:
Don’t get me wrong, those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, and he certainly makes San Diego a better team than they were yesterday, but he’s not an ace. He will, however, be a very solid front of the rotation starter.
At the price they’re paying Shields and having avoided the type of long-term commitment that free agent hurlers generally require, I think the Padres will be very happy with their return on investment.
San Diego general manager A.J. Preller spent the first part of this offseason improving the offense by bringing in Justin Upton, Wil Myers, and Matt Kemp to anchor the lineup and Will Middlebrooks and Derek Norris to serve as complimentary pieces.
Now he’s added Shields to a rotation that already includes Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, Brandon Morrow, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Robbie Erlin. The club also has Cory Luebke and Josh Johnson working their way back from Tommy John surgeries as well.
That’s a lot of potential firepower for a club that routinely ranks near the top of the pack in pitching categories.
The Padres indicated earlier this week that they were expecting their payroll to climb to new heights and that they still had room for another big move, it looks like Shields was the target in all of that talk.
Now the club can prepare for spring training with a loaded rotation, a revamped offense, and a very real chance of making the postseason for the first time since 2006 and just the sixth time in franchise history.
As for Shields, while he didn’t quite land the five-year, $100+ million deal everyone was expecting when the offseason began, he does get the comfort of pitching close to home and It’s safe to say that he won’t be hard up for cash any time soon either.