James Shields’ agent, Page Odle, has been in recent contact with the Detroit Tigers, according to a source, and it’s easy to understand why both parties would benefit from that conversation.
Shields is the No. 2 pitcher available on the free-agent market, and the full extent of industry interest in him is unclear. Detroit has appeal to him for three reasons: The Tigers have won four straight American League Central titles, their owner (Mike Ilitch) has a history of big investments in free agents, and Shields’ best friend in baseball (David Price) is on the team.
Despite underwhelming performances in the postseason – 3-6 record and 5.46 ERA in 11 career starts — Shields has been reliable and durable during the regular season. He’s thrown more than 200 innings in each of the last eight years, with an ERA+ of 113.
The Tigers need a pitcher who does that — if not immediately, then certainly by this time next year.
At present, the Tigers’ 2015 rotation consists of David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski could leave the roster untouched for the remainder of the offseason and believe – justifiably – that the Tigers have one of the best starting staffs in the AL, particularly if Verlander improves upon his career-worst 2014.
But the future is another matter. Price and Simon are eligible for free agency at the end of this year, and it doesn’t appear the Tigers are close to signing either to a long-term deal. That would leave an apparently declining Verlander and Sanchez (who pitched only twice last season after Aug. 8 due to a pectoral injury) as the only starters under contract. (Greene, who is years away from major-league free agency, doesn’t have a guaranteed contract.)
While the Tigers are a win-now organization, they can’t ignore how their depth chart will look one year from now. And although next winter’s free-agent pitching class could be one of the best in recent memory, Shields’ friendship with Price and familiarity with the AL Central give the Tigers a couple advantages they wouldn’t have with the likes of Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann one year from now. (Former Tiger Doug Fister is on track to hit the market next winter, too.)
One added bonus of signing Shields: Simon could move into the bullpen, strengthening what has been a weak area of the team for the past several years.
The Tigers haven’t completely closed off the possibility of re-signing Max Scherzer, either, for many of the same reasons. Sources say Scott Boras has remained in contact with the team, although there’s no evidence – yet – that negotiations have become serious. This much is clear: The Tigers need to add a pitcher like Scherzer or Shields in the next 12 months. It wouldn’t be the worst idea to take care of that now.