The Cubs have made no secret of the fact they are looking to add one, ideally two starting pitchers this off-season. While a report from Nick Cafardo indicated the Cubs would possibly go after both Jon Lester and Max Scherzer this winter, realistically if the front office signs two starters, one would be a top of the rotation-type arm and the other would slot into the middle of the rotation.
The front office’s primary off-season target is believed to be Jon Lester and reportedly Lester has Cubs near the top of his list. But if the bidding for Lester surpasses the value the Cubs have placed on him, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer reportedly view James Shields as an option.
According to a report from the Sun-Times, James Shields “could be the first fallback option.”
When asked about the possibility of signing with the Cubs and maybe reuniting with Joe Maddon, Shields admitted he was “aware of the plan on the North Side,” smiled when it was “suggested the Cubs liked him” and said he enjoyed playing for Maddon in Tampa.
James Shields is not expected to sign for what Jon Lester and Max Scherzer will get this winter, but his AAV should still be around $20 million with reports suggesting he could be looking at a minimum deal of five years and $90 million. Plus, the Royals will make a qualifying offer and attach draft pick compensation to him which would cost the Cubs a second round pick and the allotted slot money in June’s draft.
As the Sun-Times pointed out, not only would Shields pitch at the top of the rotation, but he would give the Cubs what they lack, a starting pitcher that has annually completed at least 200 innings. The Cubs have options for the rotation behind Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, but of the starters currently on the 40-man roster, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood are the only two pitchers that have completed at least 200 innings at the big league level.
Shields was 14-8 in 34 starts with a 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a 3.59 FIP in 2014. Shields gave up 224 hits with 44 walks and 180 strikeouts in 227 innings. Shields has completed at least 200 innings in each of his last eight seasons.
And in the clubhouse, James Shields has an excellent reputation as a leader, a teammate and a willingness to work with young players.
The Sun-Times addressed the concerns over signing the soon-to-be 33-year old to a long term contract. Shields has “the kind of fastball-changeup repertoire that suggests his durability has lasting power.”
There are questions as to why James Shields moved away from his change-up and has replaced it with more of a cutter. Nick Cafardo reported, “Scouts who have seen Shields over his career feel he’s changed from a fastball/change-up pitcher to a fastball/cutter pitcher. Scouts remember the changeup being unhittable and now the cutter has taken over, and at time it is hittable. Shields is still effective, but there is some bewilderment over Shields’ repertoire and where he goes from here after a poor postseason.”
If the Cubs are able to add a second-tier starting pitcher for the middle of the rotation those options could include Jake Peavy, Jason Hammel and Justin Masterson. All three free agents have been connected to the Cubs by the mainstream media and have said they would be interested in signing with the Cubs. There are two other free agent starters the Cubs reportedly had interest in two years ago the front office could revisit this off-season in Francisco Liriano and Brandon McCarthy.
As previously reported on numerous occasions, the Cubs will be linked to a majority of the starters on the free agent market this winter. And it will be interesting to see how Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer allocate the available payroll this off-season to put the 2015 team in the best position to achieve its goal.