Last ace standing: Examining the market for James Shields
Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart told reporters Thursday that his team was out on James Shields – a seemingly significant development, considering that the D-backs were the one team that had publicly confirmed interest in the free-agent right-hander.
As the Max Scherzer negotiations demonstrated, all it takes is one team to form a market. But Shields’ agent, Page Odle, is not nearly as experienced at identifying willing owners as Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras.
Odle has avoided reporters throughout free agency, so he cannot be accused of publicly setting his sights too high, the way Ervin Santana’s former agents did last off-season when they said they were looking for $100 million.
Still, some executives believe that Shields and Odle are trying to make up for the below-market extension that the pitcher signed with the Rays in Jan. 2008 – a deal that ended up paying Shields about $40.5 million over seven years.
Others in the industry, without knowing specifics of the negotiations, wonder if Shields should have started with a more realistic approach, selling himself as a No. 2 or 3 starter rather than as alternative to Scherzer and Jon Lester.
Then again, it’s difficult to criticize the strategy without knowing the strategy, or what Shields’ final terms will be.
In early January, a number of execs told FOX Sports that they expected Shields to land a contract of at least five years, $100 million. Two execs said it was their understanding that Shields had a five-year, $110 million offer.
Shields, 33, either never received such a proposal or did not want to sign with the team that offered it. Some execs now believe he is headed for a four-year deal, perhaps in the $70 million to $80 million range.
But really, who knows?
Shields, who lives in San Diego, prefers to join a team in the West, sources say. Here is a revised look at his market, or what appears to be his market. No one should be surprised if the team that ultimately signs the pitcher is not on the list below.
*D-backs: Money was always an issue with second baseman Aaron Hill still on the books for $24 million and outfielder Cody Ross for $9.5 million. The recent signing of Cuban pitcher Yoan Lopez – who will require an investment of about $16.5 million – only added to the squeeze.
Stewart, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, said that the market changed, as he expected it to, after Scherzer signed for $210 million. But Stewart, when contacted on Thursday night, said that Odle never actually told him that; it was merely Stewart’s assessment as a former agent.
*Giants: The expected signing of right-hander Ryan Vogelsong likely will end the talk of the Giants signing Shields for good. Vogelsong essentially will become the sixth starter, Yusmeiro Petit the seventh.
The Giants took a run at Lester, but their chances of signing Shields likely diminished once they re-signed free-agent righty Jake Peavy to a two-year, $24 million deal. They might prefer to pursue one of the many top-of-the-rotation types who will hit the open market next offseason; they will shed $30 million if they allow righties Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum to become free agents.
*Tigers: Multiple sources say they have had contact with Odle. They could give up a draft pick for Shields after gaining one for the loss of Scherzer. But general manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters Monday that he has no intention of adding to his rotation before Opening Day, seemingly ending the discussion.
The Tigers, like the Giants, will need a top-of-the-rotation starter next off-season; perhaps they will re-sign David Price, perhaps they will pursue Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, et al. Shields is perhaps the wrong pitcher at the wrong time — as opposed to, ahem, Scherzer.
*Royals: GM Dayton Moore, asked about a possible Shields return, said Thursday on MLB Network Radio, "I can’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind." But he added, "At this point in time, though, it’s doubtful we bring back James."
Money is the problem, but ownership might want to reconsider; the Tigers are more vulnerable after losing Scherzer. But the Royals signed right-hander Edinson Volquez to take Shields’ spot, and left-hander Brandon Finnegan is another option. Club officials also anticipate the returns of righty Kyle Zimmer (shoulder) in May and righty Kris Medlen (Tommy John surgery) in June.
*Marlins: Shields would be an ideal fit for the Fish, whose only starting pitcher older than 28, righty Dan Haren, might be traded before Opening Day. Marlins GM Dan Jennings drafted Shields for the Rays in 2000, and pitching coach Chuck Hernandez was with the Rays when Shields was in the minors.
The possible departure of righty Mat Latos as a free agent after this season should only increase Shields’ appeal, but Marlins ownership doesn’t seem especially interested. One Marlins exec, asked repeatedly about the chances of the team signing Shields in recent weeks, consistently said, "Zero percent." Asked again Thursday night, he said, "Zero!!!!"
If the front office does want Shields, it will need to convince owner Jeffrey Loria to make the necessary investment — a discussion that is ongoing, sources said.
*Blue Jays: Club officials have done extensive background work on Shields and recently discussed him internally, trying to determine a price at which they would be comfortable signing him, sources say.
The Jays, though, are still looking for bullpen help, and they only have about $6 million to $7 million left to spend. One executive with knowledge of the team’s thinking said the club would need a "massive backload" to make a Shields contract work.
*Red Sox: The Sox need an ace, but almost certainly do not view Shields as such a pitcher. Their final offer to Lester was six years, $135 million, and that was an exception for one of their own. Shields, with his age and backlog of innings, is precisely the kind of veteran the Sox want to avoid long-term.
GM Ben Cherington seemed to dismiss Shields on Thursday, telling reporters, "All I can say right now is as far as the starters are concerned, we’re really focused on the guys we have. We’re pursuing some opportunities maybe on some depth in certain area, but there’s nothing on the front burner that would grab headlines."
*Brewers: GM Doug Melvin repeatedly has said that he has not spoken with Odle; the Brewers are content to use right-hander Jimmy Nelson in their rotation after trading righty Yovani Gallardo.
Owner Mark Attanasio occasionally negotiates deals on his own – Ryan Braun, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza were examples. But the Brewers need a reliever and maybe a spot starter. Attanasio, according to sources, is not pushing for Shields.
*Padres: Shields’ hometown team — and also the hometown team of Phillies lefty Cole Hamels, whom the Padres have discussed acquiring in a trade.
The Pads, though, might not have enough quality prospects to entice the Phillies, and they seemingly lack the desire to push for Shields. A source with knowledge of their position described them as only a "peripheral" player for Shields, "not a likely contender."