Could James Shields Come to San Diego?
By Tim Richer
With Max Scherzer signing with the Washington Nationals, the top of the rotation pitching market has been reduced to one, James Shields. Shields always was the black sheep of the group being the oldest, but at the start of free agency he was expected to be aggressively pursued by those who missed on Jon Lester and Scherzer. Unfortunately for him, Scherzer waiting so long to sign has set him back. We’re a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting, and many teams are already comfortable with their rotations and don’t feel the need to give a five-year deal worth north of $100 million and forfeit a draft pick for a 33-year old.
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So who will be the one to cough up the dough and the draft pick? ESPN’s Jayson Stark looked at each individual team and tried to find the best fit. Here are his thoughts on the prospect of Shields bringing his talents to San Diego:
"Finally, here’s a team that’s impossible to dismiss, after a winter in which the Padres have made seven trades involving 30 players, plus some buy-low free-agent shopping (Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow, Clint Barmes). But they’ve conspicuously steered away from dabbling in free agents who would force them to lose a No. 1 pick. And if they do add a starter, they’re “all over Cole Hamels,” said one exec who has talked with them. But while Shields would cost them a pick, he wouldn’t require them to further strip-mine their system. So we’d file them under “Possible But Unlikely.”"
“Possible But Unlikely” doesn’t sound like the most positive prognosis, but based on the fact in the article Starks dismisses more than half the of the teams in the league, it makes the Padres practically one of the front runners. So now that we know there’s a chance we’ll see Shields in a Padre uniform in 2015, the question is, is it a good idea?
The Padres rotation at the moment is fine as currently constituted. Last season Padres’ starters combined to have the 9th lowest ERA and FIP and the 8th lowest xFIP. The team is returning it’s top three starters with only Eric Stults, who was far and away the Padres worst starter, and Jesse Hahn departing. One glaring hole in the rotation though is postseason pitching. Even with the bevy of pitchers competing for a spot in the rotation, there’s only two postseason starts combined between all of them.
Shields alone has eleven postseason starts under his belt, with many of them up against the opposing team’s ace. While his 5.46 ERA in those starts is nothing to write home about, the fact of the matter is he’s pitched on the game’s biggest stage, the rest of the Padres staff hasn’t. Shields may not have gotten the job done in the postseason, but we can’t be anymore confident in the Padres current options than we can in him.
That isn’t his only selling point either. He’s also just an all around good pitcher. He has a career ERA of 3.72, a FIP of 3.77 and a xFIP of 3.61. He’s also never posted an xFIP over 4.00 while only going over that mark twice in ERA and FIP in a full season and he hasn’t done that since 2010.
Not only is he good though, he’s the most reliable pitcher in the game. Since his first full season back in 2007, he’s led the majors in innings pitched and has thrown over 200 innings in each one of those seasons. Last year was he lowest inning total since 2010 at 227 innings, good for 6th most in the league. As you can imagine he always makes at least 30 starts, with at least 33 in the past 6 seasons.
With all those innings pitched and his age, there should be concerns about him holding up. Shields is still likely to get a long term deal and the Padres need to know if he’ll be effective for the length of the deal. One encouraging sign is his velocity. He has never been one to get by on his velocity, with a fastball averaging 91.4 MPH, he’s been more of a command pitcher than a power one. That means when his velocity starts to drop off he won’t have to rethink how to pitch. Speaking of velocity dropping off, I don’t know if Shields’ ever will. This past season his average velocity for his fastball and change-up were the highest of his career. In his age-32 season, you’d expect to see some sort of decline, yet he improved. That has to be an encouraging sign, and should make teams feel at least a little better about giving him a long term contract.
What we have here is a guy who is a free agent, whose consistently been one the better pitchers in the game over an eight-year span and won’t cost the Padres to further sell off their top minor leaguers. All he costs is money and the 13th overall draft pick. That last part is what causes me to pause. The 13th overall pick. A.J. Preller essentially took a wrecking ball to the minor league system this off-season to rebuild the major league roster, including shipping away the Padres number one selection in last year’s draft. This pick is a chance for Preller to start to build the minor league system with the kind of players he wants. At 13th overall they’ll have a chance to get a high-level talent too, which is important considering the state of the system. It is just one pick, but it’s the most important one.
At the end of the day, Shields is an unnecessary luxury. The Padres are already on track to have one of their largest payrolls ever and could make very good use of the pick they’d lose to sign him. He’d undoubtedly make the Padres a better team for the next few seasons, but he likely isn’t worth the price. Maybe if he remains unsigned by the time Spring Training rolls around, and he’s willing to give team’s a discount he might make it worth, but even then it’s a tough sell.