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James Shields Rumors
Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski addressed reporters yesterday and touched on a number of Hot Stove related topics. Via James Schmehl of MLive.com (All Twitter links), Dombrowski again stated that he’s happy with his current group of starters and rejected the idea of a serious pursuit of James Shields. Dombrowski did say he’s open to adding another arm, but it would come in the form of a non-roster invite, if it happens at all. As for free agents Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain, both of whom posted sub-4.00 ERAs out of the Detroit bullpen last year, there’s been no serious discussions with either of them, and neither is likely to return to the team in 2015.
Here are a few more notes out of the much-improved AL Central as Spring Traning nears…
- The Tigers will be among the teams in attendance to watch righty Matt Albers throw next week, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press tweets. Shoulder problems limited the big righty to 10 innings of work in 2014, but he’s been quite effective dating back to 2012, posting a combined 2.63 ERA in 133 1/3 frames. Albers averaged 5.9 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in that time, registering an exceptional 59.4 percent ground-ball rate as well.
- The Indians have a standing offer to Jason Giambi to work for the team in a non-playing capacity, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted earlier this week. It’s unclear exactly what role Giambi would fill, but he’s beloved in the Cleveland clubhouse and organization after playing there the past two seasons, so it’s likely that the players would be receptive to such an idea. Giambi, 44, has batted a combined .171/.246/.346 with 11 homers in 286 plate appearances for Cleveland since signing there prior to the 2013 campaign.
- Tony Gwynn Jr.’s representatives at John Boggs and Associates are trying to sell the Twins on his defensive prowess in center field, but the team isn’t biting at this time, tweets 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson. Minnesota’s outfield defense does figure to be a problem in 2015, but they’ll go with a mix of Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, Torii Hunter and Jordan Schafer to open the year. I’d imagine Gwynn could be stashed at Triple-A, making him a reasonable add, although Byron Buxton figures to occupy center field at Triple-A sometime in 2015 as well, so the Twins may simply prefer not to bring in an outside veteran. It’s been a quiet offseason for Gwynn, though this is the second time this month we’ve heard some rumblings about the 32-year-old defensive standout.
Reports this evening suggest that the wheels are now turning for free agent righty James Shields. With multiple offers in hand, says Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter), the veteran is expected to sign by the end of the week.
As I wrote yesterday, while Shields and agent Page Odle face a difficult task of maximizing value in the month of February, time remains for his market to re-develop. It appears that could now be taking place, with the list of suitors potentially growing this evening.
The Cardinals have now “shown interest” in Shields, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports on Twitter. While the St. Louis brass has insisted that the club feels good about its rotation depth, there are enough areas of concern that another arm could make good sense — particularly one of Shields’s quality.
Meanwhile, a rival general manager says that he believes the Yankees are “actively pursuing” Shields, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. New York certainly could justify buttressing its starting five: it probably has an even greater need to upgrade at the back end and protect against uncertainty in the projected rotation than do the Cards. On the other hand, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that he hears the team is not changing its decision not to pursue top-of-the-market starters.
It certainly appears that both clubs have the financial wherewithal to make such a move. St. Louis has been judicious with committing future assets and maintains good forward-looking payroll flexibility. And New York can never be counted out from dipping into its coffers when opportunity arises.
As for other possibilities, the Padres are also believed to have engaged in recent discussions with the Shields camp, Morosi tweets. Another busy club, the White Sox, are almost certainly set to enter the spring with their current array of talent, GM Rick Hahn tells Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com (via Twitter).
While both of these clubs have been mentioned as possible landing spots for Shields at various points in the past, it was never entirely clear whether that was based on analysis or real internal consideration. These latest reports appear to push the needle toward the latter. Obviously, the entry of either or both would be excellent news for Shields’s leverage.
Entering February, James Shields remains far and away the most eyebrow-raising name left on the list of open-market players. Shields ranked third on the big board of MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes coming into the hot stove season, but he has yet to sign despite the fact that we are now closer to the start of camp than we are to 2014.
It is somewhat difficult to assess how Shields reached this point and where he might expect to go. We here at MLBTR argued nearly one year ago that he was not likely to reach nine figures given his age, yet not more than a month ago he was reportedly in position to do just that. But momentum has never really seemed to gather towards a signing.
Regardless of the reasons why, surely, having entered the winter with an expectation that he would take home an average annual value approaching $20MM over four or five seasons, Shields should still manage to at least gain admission into that ballpark — right?
I’m not so sure, and recent reports suggest the same. While the still largely-unknown particulars of Shields’s market and the state of negotiations are the most important factors, precedent does suggest that the downside could go lower than merely giving up that fifth year.
This is not the first time in recent memory — or, if you prefer, the qualifying offer era — that the free agent market has been left with an unsigned, top-tier player heading into the month of February. Last year, Ervin Santana (6th) and Ubaldo Jimenez (11th) had to wait until after Valentine’s Day to sign, while 14th-rated Stephen Drew lasted through to the summer. In the 2012-13 class, No. 3 free agent Michael Bourn and No. 10 Kyle Lohse both languished.
Based on the experiences of those players, Shields faces an uphill path. To wit:
- Santana ($15MM) and Drew ($14.1MM, prorated) both ultimately settled for far less in terms of dollars and years than had been expected (see here and here);
- two mid-range arms in Lohse and Jimenez both had different experiences but landed within range of expectations, with the former perhaps earning more toward the lower end of his curve and the latter doing just the opposite;
- the most analogous player to Shields in terms of quality, perhaps, was Bourn, who entered the offseason accompanied by whispers that he might be looking for a deal approaching nine figures before settling for $48MM.
The Jimenez example shows that the market can still pay out at full price in February, perhaps especially for a starting pitcher who would upgrade virtually any team’s rotation. But all the other situations are less than inspiring, even when acknowledging their innumerable independent quirks and small aggregate sample size.
Let’s look back a bit further, using MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker (with filters applied). The tracker is admittedly sporadic before the 2006-07 signing year, but is solid to that point and dips back even earlier on more significant deals.
The results are actually somewhat startling: beyond Jimenez, only one single player — J.D. Drew, Valentine’s Day 2007, five years and $70MM with the Red Sox — cleared even the $50MM barrier. Indeed, only three other players — Max Scherzer (7/$210MM, 1/19/15), Matt Garza (4/$50MM, 1/26/14), and Prince Fielder (9/$214MM, 1/24/12) — signed for over $50MM in the second half of January. The bottom line is that it is late to find big money.
While it would be foolhardy to suggest that these highly context-specific data points tell us something immutable about how much Shields can earn, they do support the intuitive idea that Shields faces a greater possibility of a slide in earning capacity. That is all the more true, perhaps, given that he apparently values non-monetary elements enough to have already rejected a $110MM offer (though that reported figure has yet to be lined up with a plausible offeror).
What we do know (or think we know) about this specific market does not paint a rosier picture. Earlier today, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney cited (Insider link) rival agents who feel that Shields may need to jump if he gets three guaranteed years at a reasonable price tag. Truly interested teams are somewhat scarce, and all have reasons not to plunk down anything approaching $100MM, as Olney’s colleague Jayson Stark recently wrote.
To be sure, plenty of time remains for the market to re-develop and the cost to go back up, to say nothing of a (perhaps unlikely) scenario in which Shields waits to see if injuries or other issues crop up this spring. But if Shields’s AAV does indeed fall below the expected $18MM to $19MM range, a three year pact could well land at or below the $50MM mark. Of course, as the above discussion shows, even reaching that threshold at this point in the offseason timeline would actually represent a rather unusual achievement.
James Shields, the top free agent still available, has lost his leverage and is in the worst possible spot as most teams have exhausted their payroll space and are more willing to identify reasons to dismiss an available player, opines ESPN’s Buster Olney in an Insider piece (subscription required). The longer a premium free agent like Shields remains unsigned, Olney notes, the more his negotiating strategy and leverage position are picked apart. Along those lines, a National League GM tells Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, “It’s hard to project a team would go five years.”
In today’s news and notes from the American League:
- Agent Mark Rodgers told MLB Network Radio’s Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette (audio link) he will listen to any overtures from the White Sox to extend Jeff Samardzija, but his client will most likely find out what his “ultimate value is in the open market, which is what free agency is all about.“
- The Tigers hosted a private workout for Yoan Moncada, reports Lynn Henning of the Detroit News. MLB.com’s Jason Beck adds the workout was held last week at the team’s facility in Lakeland. Both Henning and Beck believe this was simply due diligence on the Tigers’ part because of the signing bonus Moncada will command.
- In today’s mailbag, a reader asks Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer why the Indians allowed J.D. Martinez to slip through their fingers and join their divisional rivals last year. The Tigers, he explained, needed depth in the outfield late in Spring Training. The Tribe, on the other hand, had more than enough with David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and Michael Brantley. At the time, they didn’t know Raburn would struggle and both Swisher and Bourn would be hindered by injuries.
- Matt Harrison told reporters, including Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News, he expects the Rangers to place him on the 60-day disabled list to open the season. Harrison also acknowleged a minor setback in his rehab, but the issue had to do with his mechanics rather than his health.
- Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar told reporters, including FOX Sports Southwest’s Anthony Andro, he is pleased with the results his throwing program has had on his right shoulder. Profar, who is slated to take some dry swings from the right side this week, said his goal is to play in all of Texas’ Spring Training games.
- In a nod that today is Super Bowl Sunday, Rangers GM Jon Daniels confirmed Russell Wilson will participate in the club’s Spring Training camp, Andro tweets. To illustrate the quarterback’s love of baseball, Rodgers, who also represents Wilson, told MLB Network Radio (audio link), if Wilson could figure out a way to play both sports, he would.
With the Braves in the throes of a rapid rebuilding effort, first baseman Freddie Freeman has now played more games with the Braves than anyone else on the roster, writes Mark Bowman of MLB.com. While Freeman is optimistic about the 2015 season, it’s worth noting that Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Evan Gattis represented 51 percent of the club’s home runs in 2014. Losing the three biggest bashers from an otherwise moribund offense could be seen as a major issue. Freeman hopes a greater emphasis on contact will help to counteract the loss of power.
- The Braves held a private workout for Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera, reports Ben Badler of Baseball America. In attendance to watch the 29-year-old were manager Fredi Gonzalez and assistant GM John Coppolella. Olivera is likely to sign as a second or third baseman – both positions the Braves could improve upon. Current candidates for both positions include Chris Johnson, Alberto Callaspo, Kelly Johnson, Jace Peterson, and Phil Gosselin. The Padres and Giants have also been tied to Olivera per Baseball America.
- The Marlins should consider a “Hail Mary” offer for free agent pitcher James Shields, suggests Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. A two-year, $35MM proposal might represent the limit for what the club can afford. Since Shields rejected a qualifying offer, he’ll cost a draft pick to sign in addition to the financial considerations. Such an offer represents a long shot for both sides. The Marlins are thought to be up against their payroll limit, so an addition would require the approval of owner Jeffrey Loria. From Shields perspective, he’s thought to be seeking at least four years and $70MM.
In his latest piece on the market for James Shields, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports looks at the most recent significant contracts for starting pitchers of age 33 or older and points out that history is not on Shields’ side. MLBTR took a similar look at Shields in Spring Training of last year, noting that recent history suggested it’d be difficult to find a team willing to guarantee his age-37 season. Rosenthal notes that executives to whom he has spoken cite Shields’ age, innings backlog, declining strikeout rate and shaky postseason track record as negatives. At this point, Rosenthal feels a four-year deal worth less than $20MM annually is likely.
A few more pitching notes from around the league…
- Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports that the Twins were informed yesterday of a Feb. 10 showcase for right-hander Matt Albers in Houston (Twitter link). All teams are invited to watch Albers throw, of course, and Wolfson does note that the Twins are open to adding a bullpen arm. A shoulder injury limited Albers to just eight appearances with the Astros in 2014, but he does have a pristine 2.63 ERA over his past 133 1/3 big league innings (three seasons’ worth of work).
- While it’s been previously written that the Rangers expect Neal Cotts to sign elsewhere, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram now reports (via Twitter) that the Rangers have been officially informed that the 34-year-old lefty will sign with a different team this offseason. Cotts wasn’t able to replicate his exceptional 1.11 ERA from his 2013 comeback, but he did post a 4.32 ERA with solid peripheral stats in 2014 (8.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 3.58 FIP, 3.41 SIERA).
- The Mets still aren’t close to trading Dillon Gee, tweets MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, nor are they close to dealing any of their other potentially available starters (presumably referring to Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon). However, as DiComo notes, that type of situation can change quickly in the three weeks leading up to Spring Training, and of course, a deal could always be negotiated in Spring Training as well.
Most of the meat left on the free agent bone belongs to the pitching segment of the market. Indeed, five of the seven players who I listed this morning as intriguing free agents were right-handed pitchers.
Here’s the latest on some arms from around the league:
- There was more cloudy news out of Venezuela regarding Johan Santana‘s comeback attempt, as his agent tells Jon Morosi of FOX Sports that he will not attempt to pitch again in the winter league. (Twitter links.) Santana may still aim to take a mound for scouts, but any such plans are “unclear” at this point.
- The Angels are still not interested in chasing James Shields, even if his price may have dropped somewhat, GM Jerry Dipoto tells Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (via Twitter).
- For their part, the Twins have no intentions of going after free agent righties John Axford and Alexi Ogando, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune tweets. As he notes, the market has several attractive right-handed relief arms, though it is not clear whether Minnesota has any interest in adding to its pen. Both Axford and Ogando made my list of interesting players to watch. I consider the pair to be among the remaining free agents who could either break out or break down in 2015.
MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince takes a look at some folks around the league who are, in his view, facing make-or-break seasons. He includes some less obvious names, but two players stand out who could conceivably be All-Stars or become non-tender candidate: Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates and Mike Moustakas of the Royals.
Here are some notes from the game’s Central divisions…
- The Indians had the team’s defense in mind when they traded Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals at the July 31 non-waiver deadline, manager Terry Francona explains to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian (Twitter link). However, Francona admits that there was some hesitation on Cleveland’s behalf because of how they thought the move would be perceived by fans and the rest of the roster. “…[GM Chris Antonetti] was justifiably concerned about the perception, that we were throwing up the white flag. So we had to kind of decide, ‘OK, look, we believe in what we’re doing and we’ll make sure the players understand that we think we can actually be a better team and get a prospect back.’ I think it took awhile, but once [Jose] Ramirez came up and everybody saw how he played shortstop, they saw why we wanted to make the move. We love Cabby — always will — but we felt we had a chance to get a little bit more athletic at shortstop and you saw the way Jose played.”
- Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets that the Royals are still monitoring James Shields‘ free agency, though he notes it’s likely just due diligence. Said general manager Dayton Moore said to McCullough: “I’m not sure there’s a fit.” As McCullough notes in a followup tweet, the Royals have six starting pitchers under contract (including Kris Medlen), and the team’s payroll is already set to top $110MM — a club record.
- The Reds completed a four-year extension with catcher Devin Mesoraco earlier today that bought out all three of his arbitration seasons and one free agent year, but it doesn’t sound like agreements for the team’s remaining arb-eligible players are close. GM Walt Jocketty told MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that the Reds are “a ways apart” with both Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman (Twitter link). It sounds like Cincinnati may have spoken with Frazier’s agents at CAA about an extension as well, via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay, but things don’t look promising based on his tweet. Jocketty tells Fay that the Reds talked to Frazier about a new deal, “but we’re not nearly as close as we were with Mesoraco.”
“Just because we didn’t win doesn’t mean it didn’t work out,” insisted Bautista. “It helped build a core for our team. And the last two years we’ve added to that core. I think the players really appreciate the commitment that [General Manager] Alex [Anthopoulos] has made to building our team.”
Here’s more from today’s column..
- One prominent baseball official feels that free agent pitcher James Shields has not been marketed properly by his camp. Few doubt Shields’ talent, but some have the notion that he isn’t a strong postseason pitcher. Meanwhile, a few executives suspect that the Blue Jays could become interested in his services if the club can convince Rogers Communications to shell out the money. At present, however, Toronto only has the budget to allow for a bullpen upgrade or two.
- Over the weekend, David Price reiterated that he would “absolutely” consider a long-term deal with the Tigers. Entering his walk year, Price doesn’t want to eliminate a big-market team from contending for his services, Cafardo writes. Still, it’s believed he’ll hit free agency and go elsewhere.
- With the Astros losing out on Ryan Vogelsong, they might turn their sights to comparable free agents such as Chris Young, Kevin Correia, and Kyle Kendrick.
- Recently, Cafardo asked Orioles manager Buck Showalter if he’d be interested in being a GM, which was a tough question for him to answer given that Dan Duquette is still with the O’s. Still, Showalter is already involved in personnel decisions and if Duquette leaves, Cafardo writes that he’d be at the helm along with talent evaluator Brady Anderson and a new GM. Recently it was reported that the O’s have a list of candidates for the job if it opens up and that includes names like Ned Colletti, Kevin Malone, Omar Minaya, and Kevin Towers.
Jim Bowden of ESPN (Insider required) speculates the best fits for the current top 10 free agents. At the head of the list is James Shields who Bowden thinks fits with an AL team. Specifically mentioned are the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, and Rangers. However, now that his price tag may have dropped below five years and $110MM, other teams could get involved too. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports also explored nine potential suitors for Shields and turned up plenty of NL contenders like the Cardinals and Padres.
- The Yankees franchise has benefited from the longevity of players like Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Derek Jeter, writes Chad Jennings of LoHud.com. Now, the key for the franchise is the longevity of players like Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia. I would also add Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann to the list as there is reason to worry about how both players will age.
- Red Sox first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig is healthy and ready to contribute, but he’ll face a difficult path to playing time, writes Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. The Sox have Napoli at first base and a jam packed outfield mix with Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino, and Jackie Bradley Jr. jockeying for playing time. Manager John Farrell suggested training at third base to Craig, but even then he’d be competing with Pablo Sandoval, Brock Holt, and Ramirez. Craig is likely to become trade bait during spring training, once he proves he’s healthy once again.