Where Will James Shields Sign?


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When the 2014 season ended, James Shields became a free agent. It’s now 2015, and James Shields is still a free agent. Despite many other top players on the market already finding new homes, Shields remains unsigned.

Following his 4th consecutive great year, he was one of the top 3 starters available, along with Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. Lester is now a well-paid member of the Cubs, and Scherzer is a Scott Boras client, which means he waits for his agent to squeeze every last dollar out of the market. There were rumors that many teams were interested in Shields, but several of those teams have found other starters.

The Red Sox acquired 4 different pitchers. The Giants re-signed Jake Peavy. The Marlins traded for Mat Latos. The Yankees traded for Nathan Eovaldi. And so on. Shields’ market seems to be shrinking, which makes one wonder how much money he’ll ultimately receive. Perhaps the veteran righty overestimated his value on the free agent market?

Then again, maybe not.

According to Ken Rosenthal, many executives think Shields will sign a deal in the five-year, $100 million range, and a couple of team executives were led to believe he already has a $110 million offer in his hand.

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This Chicago White Sox trade has aged horribly
This Chicago White Sox trade has aged horribly /


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  • If that’s surprising to you, it’s probably because we haven’t heard as much about Shields’ negotiations with teams, since his camp has kept things very quiet. But if you’ve paid attention to Shields’ career, and what players of his caliber are being paid, a nine-figure deal sounds about right.

    Lester was guaranteed $155 million, and he had a 4.28 ERA between 2012 and 2013. Homer Bailey had a career ERA of 4.25 before signing his pre-free agency extension of $105 million. Granted, both pitchers are younger than Shields (significantly younger in Bailey’s case) but the point still stands: Good pitchers get paid. That’s just how this whole thing works.

    So if Shields does have $100 million coming his way, from whom might it be coming? Could it be the Royals? And which team should Royals fans want to sign Shields?

    First, the teams who have a need for a frontline starter are plentiful, but those who could likely afford one are less so. The Red Sox, Yankees, Giants, Marlins, Angels, Tigers, and Blue Jays appear to be the best fits, although the Dodgers clearly have the resources to make a run at him if they so choose.

    If I had to guess, I’d say the Giants or Red Sox would be the most interested in adding Shields to their rotation, despite their earlier moves. Boston doesn’t have a true number 1 starter at the moment, and while they may not “need” a guy like Shields, it would give them an even greater advantage over the rest of the division.

    As for San Francisco, Shields could slot in perfectly behind He Who Shall Not Be Named and ahead of Matt Cain, which would keep the Giants right in the thick of things in the NL West.

    I could see the other teams mentioned above also pushing for Shields, especially teams who don’t have $200 million sitting around for Scherzer. The odds may be lower for those other teams, but crazy things happen in the offseason, so it’s anyone’s guess.

    That leads me to how this could affect the Royals. While some may speculate the Royals still could sign Shields, it would take a few other moves to get to that point. They would need to trade a guy like Jeremy Guthrie and probably Omar Infante as well, just to get the payroll numbers for next year to work, and moving their combined contracts without eating any money likely won’t be easy.

    I also don’t think the Royals want to commit 5 years to a 33-year old pitcher, despite his durability. Shields is a very hard worker and could age well, but he’s also a pitcher with a lot of innings on his arm, and giving him so much money is a risk the team may not want to take.

    Plus, if the Royals sign Shields, they won’t receive a compensatory draft pick – or the associated slot money – which is a valuable commodity as well. The organization would have to weigh the benefits of having a 36- and 37-year old Shields against the possibility of getting another Sean Manaea in the system.

    More than likely, the Royals will let their former ace sign elsewhere, and collect the pick and the cash.

    From a competitive standpoint, Royals fans should want Shields to sign with a National League club, so he isn’t pitching against the Royals regularly. Personally, that wouldn’t bother me much, since 1 pitcher isn’t going to make such an enormous difference, and the team that signs Shields won’t sign Scherzer, and I’d prefer avoiding Scherzer as much as possible for the next 6 or 7 years.

    So I’m hoping that Shields signs with a team who could help the Royals the most in the draft. The compensatory pick will be slotted between the first and second rounds regardless of who surrenders the pick (since teams no longer collect the actual slot of the team forfeiting it), but they could move up if the signing team is above the Royals in the draft order.

    Right now, the Royals are going to pick 22nd overall, since the Mets, Blue Jays, and Mariners have already surrendered their first round picks. If a team picking ahead of the Royals signs Shields (or another qualifying offer free agent), they’ll move up a spot, and increase their spending pool.

    The top 11 picks are protected, so if the Red Sox sign Shields, nothing changes. However, the Yankees, Giants, and Marlins are all above the Royals in the draft order, and have unprotected first round picks. Those are the teams Royals fans should want to sign Shields, because they would likely provide the biggest benefit to the Royals.

    I think he would be a great fit with either of the NL clubs, especially because both play in big parks with very good defenses, so he could remain extremely productive for the next several years. Pitching against pitchers might not hurt, either.

    If he doesn’t sign with one of those 3 teams, Shields should still find a home – and a lot of money – somewhere. He’s too good of a pitcher to not receive a massive contract. The Royals would probably love to have him back in blue next season, but they’re still going to get some value from Shields, regardless of where he signs.