James Shields is still available and it’s not looking like he will receive the five-year, $110-plus million contract he was reportedly seeking earlier in the off-season.
Multiple reports suggested in the fall that Shields was one of the back-up options for the Cubs in the event Jon Lester signed elsewhere. As the winter progressed Shields was mentioned in the same manner with several clubs, a second option if a team did not land its primary pitching target.
The connection to the Cubs received more traction when the front office landed Joe Maddon. But Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer stayed focused on Lester. Theo Epstein said the day Lester was introduced and put on a Cubs’ jersey in public for the first time the team would not be adding another nine-figure starting pitcher this winter unless there was a 2-for-1 sale.
And the Cubs continued to be linked to Shields despite Epstein’s comments.
Fast forward to February, and with just over two weeks before pitchers and catchers starting reporting to camps and James Shields is still looking for a job.
As Buster Olney reported, most teams are done spending for the off-season and teams such as the Cubs would likely wait until later in the season or next winter before committing additional payroll to a starting pitcher, especially one tied to draft pick compensation.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been consistent with the 15-18 month timeframe to add two impact starting pitchers from outside of the organization to the roster. And one of the two, Jon Lester, is in the fold and there is a trading deadline and another off-season left in the window the front office gave last fall.
Teams that play home games in a pitcher-friendly park, like the Dodgers, would seem to be a better fit for Shields. Again, there is a connection with Shields to Tampa in Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers could afford him. But this is where Shields is running into an issue according to Buster Olney.
With the starting pitching that is expected to be available next winter, it is hard to see teams such as the Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox spending on Shields when Jordan Zimmermann, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, Rick Porcello and likely Zack Greinke are heading for free agency.
And Cole Hamels remains a better option for a team that is willing to handover the prospect package the Phillies are looking for and take back his contract. The Padres are still talking to Ruben Amaro Jr. and if A.J. Preller cannot acquire Hamels he could turn to Shields.
Buster Olney explored options for Shields that included the Royals, White Sox, Giants, Diamondbacks, Orioles, Blue Jays, Athletics, Padres and Cardinals. Shields is likely out of the price range for the Royals and the Giants “have assumed for weeks that Shields would land someplace else.” The Orioles do not need Shields and the Blue Jays “could have a little payroll flexibility” but he would likely have to “take a deal on Toronto’s terms.”
The Marlins might be the best option remaining for James Shields. And according to Joe Frisaro it would not hurt the Fish to make a run at Shields. Frisaro said “there is no indication” the Marlins are interested in Shields but he thinks a contract in the two-year, $35 million range possibly with a third year option could be enough to land Shields at this point of the off-season.
James Shields is widely considered a middle of the rotation starter on a winning team. And Shields could make a difference for a team with post-season aspirations if the price, and commitment, is right.