As we race closer to the deadline, another Padres pitcher James Shields has popped up on the Cubs radar. The front office showed interest in signing RHP James Shields prior to the season and reportedly finished in second place for his services. With San Diego looking to deal some of their more expensive talent to replenish a depleted farm system, Shields would be quite a coup. Let’s take a look at what it may take to obtain him.
James Shields has been a model of consistency over the past 10 years averaging over 200 innings and over 30 starts since 2007. He owns a career 3.73 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 1763 strikeouts in 2032 innings. At 33, you think all that use would have caught up with him by now, but Shields has continued to click along this year to the tune of an 8-3 record in 20 starts with a 3.92 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 137 strikeouts in 121.2 innings. Although his 4.20 FIP suggests that he has been somewhat lucky and his 5.01 ERA on the road is a little disconcerting for an acquiring team.
Despite the potential negatives, Shields would be very comfortable pitching for long time manager Joe Maddon and any issues could be ironed out by pitching coach Chris Bosio. Shields is fresh off signing a four- year, $75 million heavily backloaded contract he signed in the off-season. This season he earns $10 million, but will receive $21 million per year for the last three of his deal and either a $16 million team option in 2019 or a $2 million buyout. He also has the ability to opt out after the 2016 season and the Padres have offered to include cash to gain a better return.
The Cubs could go either way in this regard especially considering their interest in Cole Hamels and his large contract, so they may be willing to take on more of his salary for a lesser prospect return. Of course it depends on what’s more important to San Diego, jettisoning Shields contract or restocking the farm system.
We first analyzed the James Shields’ trade from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Kansas City Royals in our Cole Hamels profile. At the time of the trade, Shields was 31 and had two years of control remaining, but his numbers weren’t much different than they are now. His contract could become essentially a two-year deal due to the opt-out date, but at his age and the length of time he took to sign, he’s more likely to stay locked in for the full term.
In this trade he was sent along with RHP Wade Davis and INF Elliot Johnson for 3B/1B Patrick Leonard, RHP Mike Montgomery, RHP Jake Odorizzi and OF Wil Myers. Shields helped the Royals to the World Series last year and gave their rotation a solid veteran arm to pair with their young pitching. Davis ended up being one of their many dominant relievers and Johnson played one season for the team as utility infielder. Myers was the Royals top prospect, an outfielder who could play all three positions, hit for average and hit for power. Odorizzi and Montgomery were both top five prospects, although Odorizzi was a little closer to the majors as a near finished product with quality stuff and the ability to miss bats. Montgomery was a pitcher with above average control, but a forearm injury had him struggling some to re-ignite his former glory at the lower levels. Leonard was a throw in to the deal as a corner infielder/platoon player with some 10-15 home run power and the ability to play multiple positions.
The next deal to consider is the one that included John Lackey of the Boston Red Sox who was sent to the St. Louis Cardinals along with LHP Corey Littrel for OF Allen Craig and RHP Joe Kelly. At the time of the deal last deadline, Lackey was 34 and had an extra year of control remaining. It also had an interesting clause in his contract that made his salary for this year $500,000 due to time spent on the DL with Tommy John surgery. Littrel was not a ranked prospect in the Red Sox organization but scouts suggested he could rise quickly due to polish and some decent pitches with movement. Craig had just signed a long term extension worth $31 million the year prior, but has not been the same player since seeing his average and power numbers plummet unexpectedly. The Red Sox took on the entirety of that extension in the deal hoping to recoup his former glory. Kelly was a top 20 prospect back in 2012 and the Red Sox gained four years of team control of a starter who can generate groundballs and pitch to contact.
The last deal we will analyze includes a deal made in the 2010 offseason that sent Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays to the Philadelphia Phillies for RHP Kyle Drabek, C Travis D’Arnaud and OF Michael Taylor. Halladay had a year of control remaining, but signed a three-year extension upon completion of the deal. Halladay was arguably the top pitcher in baseball at the time of the trade, but like Shields was a workhorse throwing over 220 innings per year over the previous four seasons. At 32, there was some concern how much longer he was going to hold up, but his acquisition added legitimacy to a young rotation that included Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick. Taylor and D’Arnaud were both considered top three prospects. Taylor was a toolsy outfielder with a good combination of power, speed and a solid hitter while D’Arnaud was a very good defensive catcher with good projection towards improving his offensive skills. Drabek was a top 10 prospect with the potential for more, but Tommy John surgery wore off some of his luster. When healthy, Drabek had four pitches with the potential to be above average and had the ability to be a good Major League starter.
As shown by all three deals, there’s a lot of value for a veteran pitcher who has proven himself over a stretch of many years. Even with some amount of injury concerns, the acquiring team has generated a fair amount of value. Depending on if San Diego chooses to include cash or not, the Cubs would have to pony up for Shields.
Padres’ GM A.J. Preller will need to save face if he deals Shields and high impact talent will be necessary. A top five prospect and a couple of top 10’s may be what it takes. Names like Carl Edwards Jr., Albert Almora Jr., Billy McKinney, Javier Baez, Pierce Johnson and Dan Vogelbach have the potential to be included. Also, Starlin Castro could be in play despite poor numbers this season as the Padres are without a talented shortstop at any level.
As always, a deal for Shields really comes down to how far along the Cubs feel they are in the rebuild process. If they feel like this year is the time, a rotation of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and James Shields would make a solid top three to be reckoned with while moving Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks down to the back-end where they likely belong. The real question is if Shields can hold up for three more years pitching at the level he has been or if he will break down like Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay did towards the end of their deals. If he can, a deal could be more cost effective than signing David Price or Jordan Zimmermann in free agency next year. If not, it could be a very costly gamble.
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Player Acquisition Cost Reports:
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- INF/OF Ben Zobrist
- RHP Jonathan Papelbon
- LHP Cole Hamels
- LHP Oliver Perez
- LHP Scott Kazmir
- RHP Sonny Gray
- LHP Steven Matz
- RHP Tom Koehler
- OF Gerardo Parra
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- OF Will Venable
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