James Shields Rumors

Royals Notes: Moore, Rebuilding, Shields

Here’s the latest on the Royals…

  • The Royals’ inability to develop their minor league talent is the cause of the team’s problems, Rany Jazayerli writes for The Kansas City Star.  Despite several blue chip prospects and GM Dayton Moore’s reputation as a player development expert from his time in the Braves’ front office, the vast majority of young would-be Royals stars have struggled at the Major League level, particularly the hitters.  If K.C. continues to lose, Jazayerli feels a management change is needed given that Moore has had eight years on the job.
  • Jazayerli adds a few more notes to his piece on his personal blog.  While the Royals still have time to turn things around given the parity in the American League, they face a tough upcoming schedule and can’t count on any quality reinforcements from the minors.
  • Part of the Royals’ problem could be that they relied on too much young talent all at once, as Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com writes in an examination of how important veteran players can be in helping mentor and acclimate youngsters to the big leagues.
  • James Shields headlines a list of notable starters that Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan feels could be traded.  Getting a good batch of young talent back for Shields might be the last move Moore could make to improve his team for 2015 and beyond, Passan opines, though Passan also notes that Moore has been known to wait too long to move his own players, such as Joakim Soria and possibly current Royal Billy Butler.

Quick Hits: Wrigley, Blue Jays, Arenado, Iglesias, Opt-Outs

In case you missed it, the Cubs‘ efforts to renovate Wrigley Field have run into some snags that have stirred up controversy in Chicago. That project has frequently been cited by the team as a key factor in future payroll expansion. Club executive Crane Kenney discussed the latest in an interview with David Kaplan on The Game 87.7 FM (audio link). Kaplan also released a copy of the agreement with the neighboring rooftop owners that is at the center of the dispute (on CSNChicago.com). Today, first baseman Anthony Rizzo expressed frustration over the delays, saying that players had been told to expect significant clubhouse renovations, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Here’s the latest from around the league to finish up the night …

  • With the Blue Jays seemingly more interested in adding a short-term rental arm than a player who comes with more control (and a higher price), Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com says that James Shields of the Royals could be a possible target for Toronto. Heyman says that the Jays hope to avoid “gutting” the team’s prospect pool in adding a pitcher, and like that Shields has proven himself in the AL East. Of course, unless Kansas City is well out of the race by the time the trade deadline comes around, Shields may not even be available. And even if he is shopped, he would draw lots of interest from other contenders and should command a substantial prospect haul himself. Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos said earlier today that he is confident the club can take on salary to add an impact pitcher; in discussing that news, MLBTR’s Steve Adams listed several possible free agents-to-be that could become available and attractive to the Jays.
  • Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado will not require surgery on his broken left middle finger, reports Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. That is good news for a suddenly-reeling Colorado club, though Arenado still figures to miss at least six more weeks. It will be interesting to see whether an anticipated mid-to-late July return for Arenado could help encourage the Rockies to buy at the trade deadline, if they can stay afloat in the meantime.
  • The Reds were among the many clubs on hand to watch Cuban righty Raciel Iglesias throw today in Haiti, tweets C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The Cinci pen has struggled to the league’s third-worst ERA through the first third of the season. Iglesias is said to have the potential to be a legitimate big league relief contributor right away.
  • One aspect of the Mariners‘ decision to purchase the contract of outfielder Endy Chavez today was his June 1 opt-out date, tweets Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. The 36-year-old was carrying a .272/.346/.289 triple-slash in 134 plate appearances at Triple-A.
  • Other opt-out situations around the league are coming to a decision point. In addition to attempting to address the clause of rehabbing starter Johan Santana, the Orioles are waiting to find out whether reliever Luis Ayala will opt out of his deal tomorrow, with the expectation that he will, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (Twitter links). The veteran righty has allowed three earned runs (with five strikeouts against two walks) in 5 1/3 innings at Double-A thus far in 2014.
  • Meanwhile, Brewers lefty Brad Mills has been excellent at Triple-A and is nearing a June 15 opt-out date, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. The 29-year-old has a 1.74 ERA in 57 innings (including nine starts), with 9.0 K/9 against just 1.9 BB/9.

What Might James Shields Earn In Free Agency?

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).

Recent $60MM pitchers over 31

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.

Comparison

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.



Royals Appear Unlikely To Extend James Shields

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.


AL Central Notes: Scherzer, Shields, Indians

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 BournPaul 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 Notes: Chen, Shields

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 DavisDanny 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]." 

Gammons On Top Starters, Shields, Blue Jays, Drew, Polanco

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." 

Central Notes: Twins, Scherzer, Shields, Samardzija

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."

Royals Exercise Club Option On James Shields

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.


AL East Links: A-Rod, Jeter, Ellsbury, Myers, Jones

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).