Is Big Game James A Padres Target?

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A.J. Mass at ESPN appears to be trying to start a rumor about the Padres potentially being interested in free agent pitcher James Shields. Based on the Padres’ interest in 39-year old Hiroki Kuroda, which indicated a focus on trying to win this year, according to Mass, and their failure to land the veteran hurler, Mass asks:

"Could this mean that James Shields is now front and center on the team’s radar? There have been rumors over the past few weeks that the Padres were having discussions about trading for Cole Hamels, offering up outfielder Wil Myers in return. If the team was serious about being willing to add Hamels’ $23 million salary through at least 2018, why wouldn’t they be willing to keep Myers and sign Shields for a few million less per year?"

This is simply a question Mass is asking; he doesn’t seem to indicate that this idea came from any outside source. But it is an intriguing question. Would Big Game James be a good signing for the Padres?

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A few facts about Shields:

  • He’s going to be expensive. Shields is pretty much a lock to get four years, and could end up with a five-year deal. You can bet his salary is going to be up in the $18-20 million per year range. That’s an awful lot for a guy who’s already celebrated his 33rd birthday.
  • He’s an absolute workhorse. The fewest innings he’s thrown in his career is 203. He’s topped 227 each of the last four years.
  • He strikes out a lot of guys, but not a huge amount. And he doesn’t walk many. While he’s topped 180 strikeouts each of the last five years, he isn’t quite elite as a strikeout guy, and he’s getting worse. His Ks per 9 innings have fallen each of the last two years, to 7.1 in 2014, a significant drop from his career high of 8.8, and only 22nd among 39 qualified starters.  He is elite, however with regard to not allowing walks, and has averaged only 2.1 walks per nine innings over his career, 7th-best among active starters.
  • He’s kind of hittable. Shields is not one of those Clayton Kershaw / Madison Bumgarner-type aces who allows only 7 or so hits per nine innings. He’s allowed nearly a hit an inning over his career. In fact, among qualified active pitchers, he’s only 38th in H/9, behind such pitchers as Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, and Erik Bedard.
  • He hasn’t really lived up to his nickname. The original “Big Game James,” James Worthy of the Lakers, earned the nickname by consistently excelling in the Lakers’ championship series in the mid-80s. Shields got the nickname while in high school, and then solidified it with 5.2 shutout innings in Game 2 of the 2008 World Series. But his postseason numbers since that game show a 1-4 record with an ERA of 7.34.

It’s intriguing thinking about the Padres adding another solid starter into the Cashner / Ross / Kennedy mix. But Shields is not Cole Hamels. And he’s not Hiroki Kuroda.

Hamels is two years younger, and is signed for four more years, through age 34. He has a career 3.09 ERA in the postseason, and would come into San Diego as the obvious number one starter. Kuroda is an extremely consistent pitcher who would come in as a number 4 or 5 starter, and would require no more than a one-year deal. Shields will cost as much as Hamels over the course of their contracts (although you’d get Shields for an additional year for the same overall cost), is already showing some signs of decline, and would likely be the most expensive player on the Padres at age 37, virtually untradeable at somewhere around $20 million per year. And he’s not even the obvious ace. He could slot as low as the number 3 position in the rotation.

Mass’ idea is interesting. I just don’t think it’s going to fly.