James Shields wanted to come to San Diego and the Padres wanted him. Unfortunately, they wanted James Shields to repeat his 2010-2014 vintage, which probably wasn’t going to happen. Now, he has been shipped to the south side of Chicago, and I hope he packed a flak jacket.
Not only does Chicago have a hitter friendly ballpark but it boasts 13 times as many murders as San Diego in 2014, the last year I have data from. (Did you know there were only 32 murders in San Diego in 2014? Way to stay classy San Diego!)
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So, Shields, after receiving 22 runs in run support from the Padres this year, yes, 22 in 11 games, or 2 runs a game, will take his 2-7 record to US Cellular Field on the south side of apparently very dangerous Chicago and hopefully not give up 10 runs a game, for his sake!
In return the Padres get to send the White Sox $31 million, which wouldn’t be a big deal if they weren’t sending it to Jerry Reinsdorf, who is worth a reported $1.2 Billion according to Forbes. Ouch. They also get a couple of players, one Fernando Tatis Jr., who was the 27th rated prospect in the international class of 2015 and is said to possess a powerful arm and raw power. He’s also only 17 and not even in A ball, so there is a high risk to him, but he has strong roots, being the son of former major leaguer Fernando Tatis. They also received Erik Johnson in the deal, who was the 2015 International League (AAA) MVP and was once the #3 rated prospect in the White Sox organization.
Let’s examine Erik Johnson and see why the Padres felt it prudent to send a starting pitcher and a LOT of cash to the White Sox to acquire his talents. He is listed as 6’3”/230 and throws a slider and a curve to go with his fastball and changeup, so a four pitch pitcher, and it looks like he distributes them fairly evenly, maybe somewhat favoring his slider over the other two off speed pitches. The slider does generally put more strain on the arm though so that could be a red flag for future wear and tear.
His fastball averaged 91.1 MPH over the course of his 98 major league innings so far, so nothing spectacular there. In 2013 across AA/AAA he was 12-3 with a .196 BAA and a WHIP of 0.99, all spectacular numbers. But he has struggled in the majors with an 11.1% BB% and a K% that is about 30% lower than his minor league numbers.
However, I do have to point out that his primary catcher with the White Sox was Tyler Flowers, who the Sox didn’t even tender a contract to this past offseason, essentially releasing him. The other catcher was Geovany Soto, who is also not a highly rated catcher, so maybe some of the blame is there with below average tandems. This does bode well for Johnson as he is moving into the hands of Darren Balsley, who absolutely resuscitated Tyson Ross’ career using his slider more, coupled with better catchers in Bethancourt and Norris, maybe Johnson can recover some of the magic from last year where he was the best pitcher in a good AAA circuit.
In the end, Johnson has a chance to refine his slider, which is already good from what I hear, and if he can cut down the walk rate he could be a mid-rotation starter for the Padres, and if Tatis pans out in about 4-6 years then this could be a win of a trade for the Padres, but as I detailed before, there are virtually no free agent options this coming offseason, and with little in-house help readily available, the Padres need to look for polished college pitching in the draft or make trades for pitching if they want the starting pitching to get better any time soon.
Just remember, James Shields got 2 runs per game in offensive support from the Padres, never missed a start (made all 44 of them) and save for one game where he got shelled, he was generally very reliable. His home run rate this year was back in line with his career norms, so please don’t use that argument. Good luck Erik Johnson, we need you to be good.