The run of James Shields on the free agent has begun to reach a marathon-like duration at this point. The durable righty sits as the last of the premiere open air options from a winter that is quickly turning towards spring. He has watched the other top shelf pitchers that joined him in this year’s free agent party take home a combined haul of over $360 million over the past few months, while he has remained the question without a clear answer now into February.
At this point he is all but assured that he will not get that same caliber of contract for himself, but as Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse and Ervin Santana have proved in recent years, a late stay on the market does not mean that a worthwhile check and home cannot await still.
But at this point, the favor is in the hands of the teams that get serious in pursuit. Shields has proven that he is not a true staff ace, in form of one that carries the weight of a creating a win every fifth day in the form of a Kershaw, Hernandez or Wainwright. But he still is a very good second option for any number of rotations or being a de facto #1 in a deep rotation, such as he has in Kansas City and Tampa over the course of his career.
The 33-year-old has averaged 14 wins a year with a 3.17 ERA and just a hair over 200 strikeouts per season over the past four years. But his calling card has been his incredible durability. He has made at least 31 starts over the past eight years and has logged an average of 223 innings person, while totaling 22 complete games and nine shutouts along the way. In a world where high-volume pitcher health is a constant source of worry, Shields has proven to be a high-volume exception to that source of worry.
So for whatever the reason may be for Shields still being homeless for the time being, whether it is a refusal on his side to drop his price to an intriguing level for his suitors, or there not being any teams left that want to cut a substantial commitment at this point in the offseason, he remains a potentially pivotal acquisition for many teams.
With the clock counting down on the offseason, here are a few intriguing options that should look into Shields working out a pact to acquire one of the game’s top workhorses for the immediate future.
Boston Red Sox: Boston has been aggressive this offseason, making nine acquisitions over the winter to pull themselves out of the cellar of the American League East. Three of those additions have been Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson to their starting rotation, which is a substantial commitment to a win-now team’s shot at getting back to October, but still feels a bit short. Shields is the type of top half of the rotation presence that would pull up the potential of their current ensemble significantly, and affirm their buzzing status as a fifth-to-first candidate team.
Chicago Cubs: They are the team that is carrying the most expectations out of the offseason into the spring, and while they have done exceptional work, signing Shields would be resoundingly loud finish to their shopping spree. A Lester-Shields one-two punch gives them one of the most formidable rotation in the National League and an invaluable weapon against the deep NL Central lineups.
Chicago White Sox: The Sox have been just as active as their National League neighbors to the North, but in many ways, their moves could have a more immediate impact in the weaker AL Central. Adding Shields to a rotation with Chris Sale, Jeff Samardijiza and Jose Quintana pushes them from players to perhaps favorites in their division.
Miami Marlins: The Fish have been long tied to having interest in Shields this winter, and have even had on and off again discussions with his camp. Considering their push to get immediately competitive in the wake of the Giancarlo Stanton mega-deal, as well as Shields’ asking price potentially coming down significantly enough to meet their measured payroll range, there could be a very healthy match made between the two party’s interests.
New York Yankees: Anytime the Yankees say they are going to sit out the big name market in any given year, it is immediately disregarded as posturing simply because, well, they are the Yankees. They can have anything they want. But Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner have been men of their frugal (by Yankee standards) word this year thus far, passing on more than a few high dollar, solid fit free agents. But if Shields price and contract length demands drop, he becomes nothing short of a must-have for a Yankee team that is short on dependable options in its starting rotation, but carrying its usual high expectations.
San Diego Padres: The Padres have been rumored to be in on checking on Shields, which is not surprising considering they have been the hungriest team in the league all winter. But despite having a very talented pitching staff as is, they still lack a pure top talent that can match wits with the likes of Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner, both of whom their tightest division rivals wield. An addition of Shields would solve a big problem, although it could present a problem in bidding for the cost conscious Pads if Shields is still in position to demand $16MM+ per year.
Seattle Mariners: The M’s have been aggressive in the open market over the past two years, and it paid off last year with them pushing for a postseason spot until the season’s final day. While they have a strong pitching staff already in tow, adding Shields gives them a clear cut powerhouse staff. Plus, they would not have to surrender a first round pick as compensation, as they have already sent that to Baltimore for Nelson Cruz earlier this offseason.
Toronto Blue Jays: Toronto has made some smart moves in attempting to close the elusive postseason they have been aimed on for the past two years. However their pitching staff overall leaves much to be imagined in making that a reality. The addition of Shields to anchor the staff perhaps overplays his potential impact as a top of the rotation presence, but he adds a much need talent to a team that is still a few pieces away.
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