Market Fresh: James Shields


Talk about putting the cart before the horse.  The season isn’t even over and it’s time to start stirring the pot over the hot stove.

The Royals need starting pitching.  That’s obvious to anyone who’s watched this team.  With the way the offense has performed, the opportunity to contend could be as early as next year with the right additions.

On many teams, Luke Hochevar might be – at best – a #3 starter.  Felipe Paulino is in the same boat, and Danny Duffy, who showed promise in them majors, could perhaps hold down a #2 spot in a rotation.  That leaves a glaring hole at the top of the hill.

Matt Moore debuted on Thursday and struck out 11 in five innings.  With David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Wade Davis along with prospects Jesus Colome, Chris Archer (among others) waiting, the Rays can move a starter.  Right now, the early buzz is on James Sheilds being a trade target.

Why the Rays might deal James Shields:

As you can tell, the Rays have a lot of young pitching talent to make room for.  Shields is their oldest starter.  He’s also their highest-paid starter.  Trading Shields clears payroll, creates opportunity for young talent and would return more prospects.

Why the Royals might deal for James Shields:

Rays fans call him “Big Game James” and in 2011, he’s been bigger than ever.  In 240.1 innings, Shields has kept his ERA under 3.00 while striking out more than eight batters per nine innings and walking 2.3 per nine.  He’s thrown 11 complete games.

In 2010, Shields improved his K/9 to 8.3 after a 7.1 K/9 mark to that point in his career.  He’s always had very good control (2.1 career BB/9).  It may have been a fluke, if not for the same strikeout rate in 2011.  His changeup is filthy and he mixes his pitches well.

Even better, he throws a lot of innings, but not a lot of pitches, relative to the workload.  In his 11 complete games, he’s thrown 110 or less pitches in six of them.  He’s thrown at least seven innings in 27 of his 32 starts.

At 6’4″ and 220 pounds, he’s a workhorse and his rookie season was the only year when he didn’t reach 200 innings. He’s more than just an innings eater.  His career ERA is 3.97.

Shields had a rough 2010.  A .344 BABIP led to his leading the league in hits and earned runs allowed and a 5.18 ERA.  But again, his strikeout rate rose and his walkrate remained the same.  As a result, his xFIP was 3.55.  He was Bad Luck James last year.

He can be the front-end starter the Royals need.

Shields turns 30 in December, so no, he’s not the youngest player, but he’s just reaching his prime.  Those prime years could cover three seasons where the Royals are in contention with a very good chance for seven (or more) innings every fifth day. Think of how that could also benefit the bullpen, which was overworked over a few stretches this year.

What it would take to get James Shields

The Rays have leverage here.  Shields has three team options remaining on his contract:

  • 2012: $7 million with $2 million buyout
  • 2013: $9 million with $1.5 million buyout
  • 2014: $12 million with $1 million buyout

$28 million for a #1 starter* over three years is pretty good value, especially when that pitcher’s track record shows he should cover a lot of quality innings.

*Please don’t confuse “ace” and “#1 starter” – there are 30 #1 starters in the big leagues. There might be ten aces.

The Royals have prospects they could move for the right pieces, but would it cost three top five picks? Top ten picks?

How about some context?

In July 2008, 28-year-old C.C. Sabathia was traded to Milwaukee for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley (a player to be named later), and Zach Jackson.  LaPorta was the Brewers #1 prospect going into that year and Baseball America’s 23rd overall prospect.  In the years following the trade, Brantley became the Indians #9 and #5 prospect in 2009 and 2010.

The next year’s trading deadline saw Cliff Lee load the Indians with more prospects, landing Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson from the Phillies.  Carrasco was the Phillies #2 prospect entering that year and their #8 prospect in 2010.  Donald started 2009 at #4 in the Phillies rankings and Marson was the Indians #11 prospect after being acquired by the Indians.

Lee was on the move that winter, heading to Seattle for Phillipe Aumont (#3 in 2009, #4 entering 2010), J.C. Ramirez (#5 in 2009, #18 entering 2010) and Tyson Gillies (#20 in 2009, #8 entering 2010).  Lee was 31 and coming off a solid post-Cy Young season.

Again, he was swapped in July 2010, this time to Texas for Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and the Rangers #2 prospect Justin Smoak.

Another Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay, was dealt in December 2009 and returned a nice batch of prospects from the Blue Jays.  Kyle Drabek, who would go on to be the #2 prospect in the Jays system after the trade, was the centerpiece, but Toronto also got Michael Taylor and Travis d’Arnaud.  It was an impressive return as all three were top ten prospects for the Phillies in the season before the trade, then remained top ten prospects once joining the Blue Jays system.

As Royals fans, we know the haul we got for Zack Grienke.  For the 2009 Cy Young Award winner, the Royals received the Brewers two-time #1 prospect Alcides Escobar, 2011 #1 prospect Jake Odorizzi and Lorenzo Cain (#6 entering 2009, #8 entering 2010) and Jeremy Jeffress (#4 entering 2009, #21 in 2010 after a suspension cost him most of the season and #3 entering 2011).

In that group, you have four Cy Young Award winners.  Shields has not won a Cy Young Award, and was an All-Star for the first time in 2011.

So how does that effect his pricetag?  Dan Haren was traded at the deadline from Arizona to the Los Angeles Angels in 2010 for Joe Saunders, Rafael Rodriguez and Patrick Corbin. Saunders is a former first round pick but hasn’t done much consistently to live up to that spot. Corbin ranked 12th in Baseball America’s rankings of Angels prospects before 2010.  He was #9 for the Diamondbacks in 2011’s prospect handbook.

The Rays are shrewd, though, and I expect them to get a better return than Haren’s if they do move Shields, either to Kansas City or anyone else.  But expecting them to get a Halladay-type deal is stretching it.

What I notice in these deals is the difference in the time of year.  The December deals seem to be juicier for the team dealing the big name pitcher, while the deadline deals seem a bit lighter in their return.

With that in mind, what would the Royals have to surrender?

Last winter, the Rays traded 27-year-old Matt Garza (he of the 3.97 career ERA) and their #15 prospect in 2010’s rankings Fernando Perez with Zach Rosscup to the Cubs for what Baseball America ranked as a very strong package of players:

The Royals top prospects entering 2011:

With the exception of Hosmer, I wouldn’t see an issue with that kind of deal, but then, Shields is a better pitcher than Garza (though older).  Garza had three years of arbitration eligibility – and team control – remaining, and the Rays hold three options on Shields’s contract now.

As for what the Royals now would have to give up, I wouldn’t leave Mike Montgomery off the table.  I wouldn’t be thrilled to pass him along, but over the next three years, the Royals have a chance to do some damage in the AL Central.  James Shields would help that.

The Rays don’t have a big time first base prospect near the majors and have gotten by with Casey Kotchman this year.  Perhaps blocked prospect Clint Robinson could find a home in Tampa.  Christian Colon could play either middle infield position and while he’s struggled in the minors, he’s also barely a year out of college and has a sense for the game.  Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez have been up the middle for much of the year to supplement Ben Zobrist.

Of course, the Rays may also call for Wil Myers.

That’s the tough call.  Myers, 20, had a rough year in Double A, but then, nearly any 20-year-old will struggle with the jump to Double A.  After winter at bats and more time at the level, he should acclimate to the competition and be on his way, but could the Royals trade him?

If their window is over the next handful of years, it’s possible they might.  Jeff Francoeur is extended for the next two, and Melky Cabrera and Alex Gordon could be candidates for long-term outfield deals.  Lorenzo Cain is out there too if Melky doesn’t stick around.

Would I move Montgomery, Myers, Colon and Robinson for Shields? Probably not.  A player like Myers either needs to be part of a deal for a legitimate ace (a Verlander, Hernandez, Lee).  Leave him out and sure, I’d go for it.  The Royals could supplement with other minor leaguers at the lower levels if necessary.

According to Buster Olney, the Royals have the Rays “on speed dial” with James Shields as the main talking point.

Once again, it could be an interesting winter for the Royals.

Who would you give up for Shields? Who would you make untouchable?

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