James Shields Rumors
We heard earlier today that the Royals have no intentions of making a run at extending ace hurler James Shields. That would seem to confirm what has long been expected: namely, barring a surprising change of circumstances, Shields will hit the market next year looking to sell his services for age-33 and beyond.
As Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star noted earlier today, Shields and his camp have rejected rumors that he is seeking to land a deal in the realm of Zack Greinke's six-year, $147MM pact. (Note that Greinke did not require draft compensation to sign, as Shields almost certainly will unless he too is dealt mid-season.)
But, as McCullough notes, Shields compares well to Greinke -- indeed, he compares well to just about anyone not named Clayton Kershaw -- in terms of recent production. He has pitched at least 200 innings (and often quite a bit more) for each of the last seven seasons, and has logged ERA totals of between 2.82 and 3.52 over the last three. Shields has been among the 20 or so most valuable pitchers since he cracked the league, and has looked more like a top-ten guy more recently.
So, can Shields earn Greinke money? Though his numbers make that contract look like a solid comp, another major factor speaks firmly against it: namely, age. At the time Greinke inked with the Dodgers, he was just over 29 years old, and threw at that age for the entire season in the first year of his deal. Shields will be four years older when he faces the open market for the first time.
This series of observations led MLBTR's Tim Dierkes to suggest that, perhaps, it would be worthwhile to look at the historical results of top-level, slightly older hurlers. The results of that research, and my discussions on the topic with both Tim and fellow MLBTR writer Steve Adams, make up what you'll read below.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that slightly older pitchers have not readily landed huge contracts. That makes sense, for at least two major reasons. First is simply the factor of selection bias. Most really good pitchers accrue service time early in their careers and thus hit the open market slightly earlier than will Shields, who did not crack the bigs until age 24 and then gave up two years of free agency in an early-career extension. Likewise, as age increases, the likelihood of significant injury goes up, further attriting the possibly worthy arms. The second reason is even easier: older pitchers have less near-peak years left to sell.
Let's take a look at all pitchers to have signed deals with at least a $60MM guarantee at a $15MM or greater average annual value -- after having turned 31 years of age. (The last column represents the player's age at Opening Day of the first season of their deal).
Among these potential comps, we can reject several out of hand. First, Brown and Lowe were both significantly older and signed deals in quite a different market. (Frankly, I only kept them on the chart to show how remarkable their contracts were.) Wainwright signed an under-market extension, while Halladay was also probably on a different performance/perception level and signed his own deal under somewhat odd circumstances.
That leaves us with four potential free agent comps, all of whom are near in age to where Shields will be when he hits the market. All signed five-year deals in early-to-mid-March of their free agent year. (If Shields signs before his birthday on December 20th, he'd be just shy of 33 years of age, making him slightly older than the other four were.)
How does Shields stack up to that quartet? Let's look at both three-year averages and walk-year performances to get an idea, and look at the salary numbers through the lens of inflation (present dollar value estimated via US Inflation Calculator). I have used ERA and fWAR not to suggest that those are the proper means by which to value pitchers, but to represent two sides of the overall picture: the former captures pure results, while the latter incorporates FIP as its baseline and thereby captures some of the underlying talent and rate-based results that teams surely examine closely when signing deals of this magnitude.
Needless to say, Lee paced the grouping -- at least in the eyes of advanced metrics and in dollars achieved. He still fell well short of Greinke's guarantee, though of course he inked his deal a few years back and reportedly could have signed for seven years and $148MM.
As for Shields, his current three-year and last-year ERA both stand at 3.15. He has been worth 12.9 fWAR over the last three seasons, and earned 4.5 wins in 2013. Assuming he hits the market with approximately the same profile -- i.e., he logs another 200+ innings of pitching in the low-to-mid-3.00 ERA range and has underlying metrics to support a 4-5 fWAR season -- where might he land?
The answer, probably, is not in the realm of Greinke's contract (or the commensurate offer that Lee could have signed). Even accepting that baseball inflation has outpaced that of the general economy -- or, at least, understanding that MLB salary levels are subject to wide variation due to the league's comparatively tiny player market, small sample of transactions, and range of non-market-based influences -- the Wilson-Lackey-Burnett line of arms equate at most to a five-year, $100MM present-day value.
Importantly, Dierkes noted, those three were clearly the best available arms in their free agent years. While it is still conceivable that Shields will ultimately be the most attractive starter available when the market opens, odds are he will slot in behind Max Scherzer and possibly Jon Lester. (Of course, if Scherzer repeats his 2013 season, he might be on another plane altogether.) And if Justin Masterson hits the market, he might be more appealing to some clubs because of his significantly younger age. Regardless, unless each of those arms is extended off the market or takes a large value hit, Shields will not be the sole target for clubs looking to add an impact starter.
Moreover, as I recently noted in discussing extensions, teams have evinced an increasing willingness to value age. That attention to the aging curve probably also implies a corresponding unwillingness to roll the dice on continued production on its downside. Still-excellent pitchers Hiroki Kuroda (age 39) and A.J. Burnett (age 37) just signed one-year deals that will pay them $16MM. Can Shields really beat that AAV on a five-year pact that would buy out his age 33-37 campaigns, especially if there are alternative arms on the market? As Adams noted, Shields' slightly more advanced age means that a fifth year would push his guarantee into somewhat uncharted territory as compared with his most direct comps. It is worth wondering whether clubs would be willing to guarantee another year at such an elevated rate.
In the aggregate, it looks as though Shields could reasonably expect to top out at five years, with a $20MM AAV a seeming longshot at that term. On a four-year deal, Shields might land in the $75MM to $80MM range, perhaps with a vesting/club option of some kind attached on the end. But barring a massive jolt to the market that leaves Shields as the unquestioned prize with multiple suitors, it is somewhat difficult to imagine him reaching the $100MM threshold -- if he is able to get a guaranteed fifth year at all.
One possible twist would be the inclusion of an opt-out clause. As Dierkes notes on Twitter, Lee actually had one offer that included an opt-out before he signed on with the Phillies. In his excellent piece on the use of opt-out clauses, Dierkes wrote that such provisions may not be that onerous to the team since, if exercised, the club is able to re-assess whether to take on further obligations (and, I would note, can do so with the advantage of insider knowledge on that pitcher). If clubs are unwilling to guarantee as much cash as Shields hopes for, he could potentially press instead for a deal that includes an opt-out, allowing him to re-enter the market if he carries his production into his mid-30's. And at that point, perhaps the Lowe contract would take on increasing relevance.
The Royals are not engaged in extension negotiations with top starter James Shields and have no plans to do so at present, reports ESPN.com's Jim Bowden (Twitter links). Meanwhile, Shields himself is not interested in holding talks during the season.
In the aggregate, then, it appears quite likely that Shields will reach free agency when his deal expires after the 2014 season. As Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star opines, Shields could cost the Royals more to lock up now than he might ultimately achieve on the open market. Though his current deal proved quite favorable to his employers, he has earned nearly $40MM in his career and is not under financial pressure to settle for less this time around. And Shields is nearly certain to come with draft pick compensation attached; while the effect on his market figures to be small relative to his overall value, that could change with a down year. While the team is not ruling out an eventual re-signing, says McCullough, it appears that any such attempt would come after the current season.
Entering his age-32 campaign, Shields has continued to be a top-level workhorse since joining the Royals last year. Though Kansas City paid a dear price to bring him in -- shipping out top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi in the deal -- the club appears content to let him reach the open market. Part of that fact relates to Shields' cost, of course. KC may also prefer both to see how Shields ages and how its own young arms mature.
Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer reiterates that he won't negotiate an extension once the season starts, George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press writes. "This can be a major distraction," Scherzer says. "I understand I have a chance to secure my future here with the team. I want that to happen. But at the same time, I’m not going to drag negotiations out into the season." Scherzer would not say whether he and his agent, Scott Boras, are currently negotiating a deal with the Tigers. Here are more notes from the AL Central.
- James Shields of the Royals is heading into his last season before what should be a hefty free-agent payday, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports. "I’d definitely say he’s a $20 million (per season) guy," says one AL executive. Along with Scherzer and Homer Bailey, Shields will headline the 2014-2015 class of starting pitching. The Royals aren't ruling out extending Shields, but it will be tricky for them to retain him. "If they keep him, it’ll be a bit of a revelation over there," says the executive.
- After a quiet offseason, the Indians seem to be hoping the team can take a step forward with newcomer David Murphy and with better performances from returning players like Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. Hoynes also notes that the Indians have not had contact with Ubaldo Jimenez's agent since last month.
Royals blogger Rany Jazayerli likes the one-year, $4.25MM deal for Bruce Chen, but writes that it makes this winter's Jason Vargas contract puzzling. Vargas received a much larger guarantee in years and dollars despite being a rougly equivalent pitcher to Chen in recent seasons. Jazayerli also notes that the concurrent decision to designate Emilio Bonifacio for assignment just weeks after reaching a one-year deal to avoid arbitration signals that the club's payroll is at its limit. Here's more Saturday night Royals notes:
- Chen is likely headed for the rotation, Manager Ned Yost tells Blair Kerkhoff of The Kansas City Star. "Unless something dramatically happens between now and then, Bruce will probably be slotted in one of those five slots," Yost said. The comments position candidates such as Wade Davis, Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura to battle for the fifth and final spot.
- Within the same article, ace James Shields disputes a recent report that he informed the Royals he's looking for a Zack Greinke-sized deal with just a year to go before free agency. "That’s absolutely not true," Shields said. "I definitely would be open-minded to [an extension]."
In two pieces today for GammonsDaily.com, Peter Gammons discusses a variety of hot stove topics. In particular, even before Clayton Kershaw's market-busting extension earlier today, Gammons noted that the price of starting pitching has been a hot topic among baseball GMs.
- The two key situations driving market pricing, he writes, are the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes and how the Rays handle David Price. Tanaka could command $120MM or more from the Yankees or Dodgers, says Gammons. As for Price, Tampa is increasingly inclined to hold onto their ace at least until the trade deadline, when they can try to extract a higher price or hold onto him for a postseason run.
- These situations could have a substantial impact on several other high-end starters that are set to become free agents next year. James Shields has let the Royals know that he is looking to score a contract on the magnitude of Zach Greinke's six-year, $147MM deal.
- Meanwhile, the Red Sox and Reds do not plan on approaching key extension candidates Jon Lester and Homer Bailey, respectively, until Spring Training.
- After disappointing returns on some of their major pitching acquisitions last year, the Blue Jays are not going to engage in any bidding wars for starting pitching, Gammons says. The club will instead "build on youth and rehabs," and will only jump into the mix for arms like Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez if they "fall down to [Toronto]."
- Agent Scott Boras has increasingly given indication that free agent Stephen Drew is willing to play positions other than shortstop, says Gammons, which may increase his appeal to both the Yankees and Red Sox. As Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes in a separate piece, Boras says that Drew has suitors other than the Sox and Mets, though he declined to name them.
- Already considered one of the game's top prospects, Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco has raised his stock even further with big numbers (including a .428 OBP) in he Dominican winter league. Polanco, 22, could have an impact by the mid-season of 2014. More importantly for the Bucs' long-term plans, one National League GM tells Gammons that the prospective Pittsburgh outfield of Polanco, Andrew McCutchen, and Starling Marte "will be the best outfield in the game."
We've heard a lot today on the Twins' interest in acquiring starting pitching, with two of the market's top arms -- Ricky Nolasco and Matt Garza -- both being mentioned as realistic targets. The club is willing to hand out as many as five years in a deal with a starter, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports via Twitter. Minnesota is definitely interested in both Nolasco and Garza, he adds, though that isn't to say it would necessarily go to five years on either or both. Here's more on the starting pitching in baseball's central divisions:
- Though he says he understands the business logic that could force him to be traded, Tigers ace (and newly-minted Cy Young winner) Max Scherzer told MLB Network's Jim Bowden (on SiriusXM) that he hopes that does not occur. Scherzer said that he and agent Scott Boras had indicated to Detroit that he was "open to" an extension, but acknowledged that "no actual dialogue has been talked or anything like that." Ultimately, said Scherzer, he will "see how the business game works out and whether or not we go down that path."
- Meanwhile, Boras acknowledged that GM Dave Dombrowski would likely "invite a number of people to come in and look at all of his diamonds," referring to Detroit's most attractive trade assets. "But in the end I don't think Dave is in the business of anything other than what Mr. Illitch's goal is, and that is to win a world championship," Boras continued. As he further explained, Dombrowski could be discussing Scherzer with other clubs in part to guage his value and to see how those teams value their own players.
- Royals starter James Shields says that he has not had any talks with his club about an extension, ESPN.com's Jim Bowden reports via Twitter. Shields, who is in the last year of his deal, did say that he is open to exploring a new contract that would keep him in Kansas City. Having dealt recently-anointed AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers to get Shields, one would think that GM Dayton Moore will at least make an attempt to secure his services beyond 2014.
- Cubs GM Jed Hoyer indicated that the club has talked about an extension with starter Jeff Samardzija, David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com reports via Twitter. "We've had discussions with Samardzija because we like him and want to keep him," said Hoyer. "We'll see where things go. We like hearing he wants to be here." Hoyer's comments seem to make an extension for the 28-year-old seem more plausible than we've recently heard. Absent a new deal, Samardzija will hit the open market before the 2016 season.
- The Cubbies' GM also emphasized that the front office was not going to change its approach to placate anxious fans Kaplan also tweets. "We will not hit the fast forward button on our plan simply because people are impatient," Hoyer said. "It will make it worth it in the end."
The Royals have exercised their $13.5MM club option on ace James Shields, the team announced on Twitter. Shields' option was one of the easiest calls among the many contract options that are facing Major League teams.
Shields, 32 in December, was acquired along with Wade Davis last offseason in a blockbuster trade that sent top prospect (and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year front-runner) Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard to the Rays.
In his first season in Kansas City, Shields racked up a league-leading 228 2/3 innings, posting a 3.15 ERA with 7.7 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 41.6 percent ground-ball rate. Baseball-Reference pegged his value at 4.1 wins above replacement, while Fangraphs was even more of a fan at 4.5 WAR.
Shields will return to the rotation alongside Jeremy Guthrie, but the Royals will need to offer up some serious coin to keep fellow front-line starter Ervin Santana in the fold. Other internal candidates for their rotation include Davis and top prospects Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. Barring an extension, Shields will be eligible for free agency following the 2014 campaign.
According to a "60 Minutes" report, members of Alex Rodriguez's inner circle obtained unredacted Biogenesis documents in February and leaked the names of Ryan Braun, Francisco Cervelli and Danny Valencia (who was later cleared) to Yahoo Sports. Michael Radutzky of CBS News writes. Rodriguez talked to the media (including Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York) today and denied leaking the names of any fellow player, particularly his Yankee teammate Cervelli. The third baseman also warned that more details in the case would be made public in the coming days:
"You know, I've been a member of this union for 20 years, and it is important for all the guys to understand that my loyalty is to this union and it would never happen, it would never occur and it didn't happen. Let's make one thing clear: For the next seven weeks, it is going to be a very bumpy road. Every day expect a story like this, if not bigger."
Here are some more items from around the AL East...
- Given the uncertainty of Rodriguez's situation and Derek Jeter's health, the Yankees will need to explore alternatives at third base and shortstop this winter, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. Under Sherman's scenario, Jeter would play half his games at shortstop and the rest at first base or as the Yankees' primary DH against right-handers.
- As least 12 teams project to be suitors for Jacoby Ellsbury this winter, Fangraphs' Paul Swydan writes. The Red Sox are one of those teams, as "GM Ben Cherington isn’t letting Ellsbury go without a fight," though Swydan notes that the Sox could be in a position crunch in left field (with Jackie Bradley, Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes) if they re-sign both Ellsbury and Mike Napoli.
- The Rays still look like the winners of the Wil Myers/James Shields trade, despite the Royals' recent hot streak, Grantland's Rany Jazayerli opines.
- The hiring of Buck Showalter was the key move that turned the Orioles from also-rans into contenders, outfielder Adam Jones writes in a guest piece for Buster Olney's column (ESPN Insider subscription required).
Here are some notes from around the American League:
- The Athletics have released minor league third baseman Tommy Mendonca, tweets Melissa Lockard of OaklandClubhouse.com (hat tip to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser). Originally a 2009 second-round pick of the Rangers, Mendonca was selected by Oakland in this year's minor league Rule 5 draft. Mendonca, who turns 25 tomorrow, struggled in his first Triple-A action last season, when he hit .208/.249/.329 in 251 plate appearances at the upper level of the minors.
- Meanwhile, the A's seem more inclined to hang onto another Rule 5 pick, Nate Freiman, who the club picked up off of waivers from Houston, writes Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown. Manager Bob Melvin likes Freiman's power and patience. The 6'8", 26-year-old first baseman hit safely in his first two big league at-bats, though he has failed to register a base knock in his eleven subsequent plate appearances.
- The Royals' trade for James Shields was not just about acquiring a rotation anchor, writes Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. The club was also hoping to import some of the Rays' clubhouse culture, which Shields has brought to Kansas City along with his solid start on the hill. Meanwhile, MLB.com's Dick Kaegel writes that the club is confident that it has plenty of talent in the pipeline in spite of the haul it gave up in the Shields trade.
by Chuck Myron for MLBTR
In December, the Rays parted with their all-time leader in wins, strikeouts and games started when they sent James Shields to the Royals in a blockbuster trade that brought back a package headlined by touted prospect Wil Myers. Shields, the only pitcher ever to notch a win in the World Series for Tampa Bay, was coming off the best two-season stretch of his seven-year Major League career, compiling a 3.15 ERA and 448 strikeouts in 477 innings across 66 starts. Myers is the jewel of the Rays’ haul, which includes two more minor leaguers who have won Baseball America and MLB.com top-100 billing within the past 18 months. Still, the four players heading to Tampa Bay as part of the deal have a total of two games of Major League experience.
The result is an obvious hole in the Rays rotation, as well as in the clubhouse. But many of the Rays who spoke to MLBTR during Spring Training believe the move wasn’t nearly as jarring as it could have been.
"I think it’s an easier pill to swallow when it happens in the winter, and you get to spring training and you have what you believe is your team," outfielder Sam Fuld said. "And ultimately that group of 25 guys is going to change, obviously, throughout the season, but when you lose a guy of that significance, it helps to do it before the season starts."
Many of Fuld’s teammates concurred, including righty Jeff Niemann, who was battling to inherit the open spot in the rotation that wound up going to Roberto Hernandez. Compared to a midseason trade, "it’s kind of almost like it never happened," Niemann said.
Left-hander Matt Moore, one of the starters who’ll be asked to step up in Shields’ absence, offered a dissenting view. He isn’t so sure the timing of the move made any difference.
"It’s just a part of what happens," Moore said. "Teams trade guys every year, so you know it’s going to happen."
Still, Ben Zobrist believes the players in the Rays clubhouse aren’t the only ones better off because of when the move occurred, pointing to Shields and fellow pitching staff mainstay Wade Davis, who also went to Kansas City in the trade.
"I guess it’s probably easier for them to transition to a different team," Zobrist said. "Every team coming in is going to be new and different, because there’s going to be new guys. So yeah, it’s probably easier on us and them, just knowing that that transition was happening in the offseason instead of right in the middle of the season."
Talk of a Shields trade wasn’t confined to the hot stove period. The Cardinals, Braves, Dodgers, Indians, Rangers, Diamondbacks and Angels all showed interest in acquiring Shields in the days leading up to last year’s trade deadline. There were rumors about his availability before the 2011 deadline as well. Right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb, who acknowledged the team wouldn’t have won as many games the past two seasons if Shields weren’t around, is glad the team held off on a trade. Cobb, 25, is nonetheless confident that he and the rest of the team’s young players are ready to compete this year without their one-time ace.
"We’ve got Chris Archer on the verge from the Garza trade, (and) multiple prospects in the minor leagues on the verge of getting ready to help the big league club," Cobb said. "That’s just the way we operate around here. It’s obviously tough to let go of not only James, (but also) Wade, who’s been a great arm for us, both starting and relieving. But it’s one of the things that we have to do to keep competing in the AL East. We have to get rid of the older, more veteran-type guys and bring a new crop of young guys to do the job that they’ve done in the past."
Jeremy Hellickson, another 25-year-old right-handed starter, sees Cobb’s development as a key part of the club’s reloading effort.
"(Shields) was a big part of our rotation last year, but you know, Cobb’s going to step in this year, and he’s going to throw a lot of innings for us, so as good as (Shields) was, and as much as he saved the bullpen and all that, I like the guys we have," Hellickson said.
Of course, the effectiveness of the trade, regardless of its timing, will ultimately be judged by how the newly acquired prospects perform at the big-league level. In particular, Myers, who put up a .286/.333/.429 slash line in 35 spring at-bats before getting sent down to Triple-A, has his Major League teammates anxious to see him return.
"I know he swings it really well," Moore said. "I’ve seen a lot of solid contact and good plate appearances, so I’m excited for him."
"He was impressive," infielder Sean Rodriguez said. "Time will tell with him. He’s definitely got tools, he’s definitely got a good head on his shoulders, so we’ll see."