I hope you’ve had a moment to read one or two of the player profiles we published this week. It’s something we’ve done in the past to help us get through the winter, usually on Mondays through Thursdays. Since today is Friday, I thought I’d take a little break and look at a former Royal.
If you haven’t noticed, we are now down to a single, Big-Name free agent. The guy who led the Royals rotation the last two years and culminated his tenure in Kansas City as an integral part of a pennant winner, can’t find work.
It’s difficult being James Shields.
We are less than 30 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting and Big Game James is still looking for a team. I’m pretty certain this wasn’t supposed to happen. We knew the market for starting pitching would be slow to develop, but when Jon Lester signed with the Cubs, I figured Shields would be the next to go. It just seemed like smart business to get his money while Max Scherzer (and Scott Boras) took his time. To hell with Scherzer setting the market. Let Lester get paid and then Shields could jump on the same train.
Not happening that way.
For those thinking of a short-term impact, at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan ran some numbers and figured out how much Shields would improve each team. Dan Szymborski did the same at ESPN. I urge you to visit both sites (although you’ll need Insider for Dan’s post at ESPN) because the results are interesting.
Sullivan has Shields improving the Royals rotation by about 2.1 fWAR which places the Royals in the lower third of teams who would benefit from signing Shields. Szymborski says ZiPS has the Royals as currently constructed in the low 80s for wins and figures adding Shields would throw them back into contention for the Wild Card.
Looking at the Royals payroll – which will be around $112 million – it’s difficult to find the wiggle room to add Shields. Especially when you figure the arm he would be pushing out of the rotation in Jeremy Guthrie, is due to earn $9 million next year, making him the highest paid pitcher on the roster. Kind of difficult to shove a guy making that much cabbage into a long-relief role. (Obviously the $9 million Guthrie will earn isn’t enough to land Shields. It’s not a straight-up proposition. But we are talking about a payroll structured so a number five starter is the top earner. That was always going to cause budgetary issues. Remember things like this when GMDM signs his next mediocre player to a three or four year deal.)
Moore was on MLB Network radio on Thursday and the subject of Shields naturally was discussed.
ICYMI Dayton Moore: Can’t say bringing back Shields “hasn’t crossed my mind”, but negotiations are “doubtful” – https://t.co/hN3S2Ob7Oa
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) January 22, 2015
We can parse this several different ways. I would assume that if Shields is open to returning to Kansas City, his agent and the Royals have been in touch at various times throughout his free agent process. But still… I would put the Royals chances at less than 10 percent at this point. Although we can dream, can’t we? A couple of weeks ago, it was mentioned that Shields had received an offer of five years at $110 million, but turned it down. What? Maybe it’s not always about the money.
If you’re going to turn down $110 million for a team you don’t want to play for, you are still feeling confident you can at least come within $10 million of that offer. Right?
If you read the articles at Fangraphs and ESPN, the teams that would benefit the most from adding Shields are teams that aren’t in the best shape to contend. Although the Tigers could get a significant bounce now they’ve lost Scherzer. The consensus is the White Sox, Giants and Marlins would all benefit from a Shields signing in that it would solidify their October aspirations. Those are teams who are close to contention and Shields would seemingly put them right in the pack.
Shields isn’t an ace, but he is good enough that he can make a positive difference for a team looking for postseason baseball. Let’s look at some of the teams Shields has been linked with during the winter:
— He was considered a “fall-back option” in October if the Cubs failed to land their top target Lester.
— In early November, Joel Sherman of the New York Post speculated Shields was a fit for the White Sox, who were lurking under the radar and ready to spend. Instead, they signed Jeff Smardjia.
— Don’t forget the Fish.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 19, 2014
The Diamondbacks denied their interest. The Red Sox acquired Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson for their rotation. The Marlins got Mat Latos. And the Dodgers paid big bucks for the high risk of Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. The Rangers rumor just kind of fizzled.
— By the new year, the Giants were out of the Shields market.
— Oh, hey… The Rockies have his agent’s phone number.
— Boston checks back early in the new year, but they’re playing the waiting game.
— Marlins. Again.
— The Padres have been busy on the trade front and have upped their payroll, so the chances they could spend on Shields is “very remote.”
— Maybe the Marlins could do something, but they would have to trade Dan Haren. Who wants to be traded anyway.
— As late as last week, Diamondbacks were still “in the mix.”
— The Tigers popped up on the Shields radar around the same time Scherzer jumped to the Nationals.
— Once the Brewers unloaded Yovani Gallardo, they emerged as a potential candidate.
— There have also been random rumblings the Astros and the Cardinals have interest.
By my count, 16 teams (including the Royals) have been linked to Shields in varying degrees of interest. Over half of baseball. And we are still no closer to resolution that we were when you began reading this post.
So what happened? Were teams scared off at a price tag of $100 million. Was it a 33 year old pitcher asking for five years. Was it all the innings he’s pitched in his career? Was it his less than stellar postseason performance? Was it all of the above?
At any rate, I don’t think anyone expected we would be late in January without Shields on a team. That hurts his market as a number of clubs have budgeted for their arbitration players and have pretty much set their payrolls going forward. That’s not to say someone who thought (or said) they were done can’t jump in at this point. As time ticks, the price drops which has the effect of allowing more teams to enter. But supply and demand has its limits. He’s not going to get $100 million. And he’s not going to get five years.
I’ll take a stab and guess Shields ends up with a four-year deal around $80 million. And I’ll go one step further and say it’s the Tigers who land Shields, with the Red Sox lurking around the periphery should they get wind of the negotiations that could take him north of the border. You don’t want to hear that (hell, I don’t want to write that) but it just makes too much sense for Detroit. They have Price for one more year. Shields gives them extended depth with Verlander and Sanchez. Plus, the Tigers have been known to make the stealth free agent signing. They have the means and it appears adding Shields would make them the prohibitive favorites in the Central once again.
Although at this point, it’s anyone’s guess. Which is what makes this kind of fun.