James Shields Rumors

AL East Notes: Shields, Cespedes, Johnson, Price

In his latest Insider-only piece for ESPN.com, Buster Olney reports that he’s spoken to executives around the league who assume that the Red Sox will target James Shields in free agency this offseason.  Shields would be a good fit for a Boston team that is suddenly light on veteran pitching after Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy were all traded within the last week.  I wonder how high the Sox would be willing to bid on Shields, however, since the team’s concerns about paying big money to a pitcher throughout his 30’s kept them from working out an extension with Lester.  While Shields would come at a lower price and probably a shorter-term deal, Shields will also be 33 on Opening Day.

Here’s some more from around the AL East…

  • A clause in Yoenis Cespedes‘ contract will allow him to become a free agent after the 2015 season, and according to Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron (Twitter link), it means the Red Sox would have to non-tender their newly-acquired outfielder.  This would make Cespedes ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, and thus Boston wouldn’t get any draft pick compensation if Cespedes signed elsewhere.
  • The Athletics released Jim Johnson today, and there has been speculation that the Orioles will offer their former closer a minor league contract, Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun writes.  Manager Buck Showalter spoke highly of Johnson to reporters today, though he was careful with his words due to uncertainty about whether Johnson was free of any ties to Oakland.
  • The Rays plan to contend in 2015, which is why Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan (writing for FOXSports.com) feels the team felt comfortable trading David Price for a package highlighted by players — Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin — with Major League experience.  It’s unclear if any of the blue-chip prospects often cited in trade rumors were actually available for Price and such prospects might not pan out anyway, whereas Smyly and Franklin have already shown they can contribute at the big-league level.
  • Had the Rays waited until the offseason to trade Price, they might’ve had trouble finding a better return.  As one executive noted to ESPN’s Jayson Stark (Twitter link), Tampa would’ve been shopping Price in a crowded marketplace for ace pitchers given that Lester, Shields and Max Scherzer are all slated to be available in free agency.

Gammons On Zobrist, Uehara, Miller, Lester

Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons appeared on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Show (audio link) to discuss a host of Red Sox topics earlier today, and in doing so he touched on quite a few Red Sox issues, as well as some issues pertaining to other teams around the AL. Here are some highlights from the interview, and readers can check out full quotes from Gammons in the transcription provided by WEEI’s Ryan Conor

  • Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is torn as to whether or not he should buy or sell at this year’s trade deadline. He’s had scouts looking at top prospects around the league, but the upcoming road trip will do a lot to determine their course of action. Gammons notes that he may even have to consider dealing Jon Lester if the team truly isn’t going to work out a new deal with him.
  • The Rays’ recent surge in the standings has them holding off on selling pieces, Mariners sources told Gammons. Seattle thought they were closing in on a deal for Ben Zobrist, but they’ve since been told that the Rays plan to wait until the final 48 hours prior to the deadline before determining a course of action.
  • One GM who contacted the Red Sox about Koji Uehara told Gammons that Cherington seems disinclined to even discuss the possibility of trading his closer. The Sox want to bring Uehara back in 2015 and have him close.
  • Uehara hasn’t even been generating the most interest, Gammons hears. That distinction goes to Andrew Miller, who has “by far” been the subject of the most inquiries in Boston’s bullpen.
  • Gammons hears that Lester told teammates that he’d have signed in Spring Training if the team had offered even one dollar more than Homer Bailey‘s six-year, $105MM contract. The Red Sox maintain that their four-year, $70MM offer was merely a starting point, not a final offer, as they didn’t want to start at $110MM and end up in “Max Scherzer” territory (referring to the six-year, $144MM which Scherzer rejected).
  • That Scherzer offer, however, may be what Lester ultimately secures as a free agent, Gammons said. Two general managers have told Gammons that they expect Lester to sign for at least that much on the open market. “There’s a lot of money out there,” said one GM.
  • Gammons can see the Sox pursuing James Shields on the free agent market, but he notes that it’s more important for the team to cast a wide net rather than have just one contingency plan for Lester. He lists Cole Hamels as another alternative, though he points out how difficult it would be to acquire Hamels, as Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. would need to hit a home run on the deal after failing to acquire useful pieces from the Cliff Lee-to-Seattle deal and some other missteps.
  • Gammons feels that Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts, Rubby De La Rosa and Henry Owens are probably all untouchable in trades at this point.

AL Central Notes: Shields, Moore, Rios, Castillo

The Royals‘ recent slide has dropped them below the .500 mark and, with so many teams ahead of them in the playoff race, Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron believes K.C. should cut its losses and trade James Shields.  There seems to be little chance Shields will re-sign with Kansas City this winter, so the Royals could get more prospect value by dealing him now than they would by getting a single compensation pick if and when he left in the offseason, Cameron opines.

Here’s the latest from around the AL Central…

  • Dayton Moore doesn’t seem to be in sell mode, nor does he necessarily seem to be close on any trades as per comments made to FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi.  “I’m not going to give up on our team….We need the group of players we have to produce. We believe they will,” the Royals GM said (Twitter links).
  • The Royals had a scout watching the Rangers/Blue Jays series over the weekend, and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News believes the right-handed hitting outfielder-needy Royals could’ve been there to watch Alex Rios.  Of course, Rios suffered a sprained ankle during the first inning of Saturday’s game and hasn’t played since.  The sprain isn’t believed to be too serious, yet even a minor injury can’t help Rios’ trade value.
  • The Twins will attend Rusney Castillo‘s showcase for scouts on July 26, 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson reports (Twitter link).  There is “no sense yet of real interest” from Minnesota, according to Wolfson, and the decision will ultimately come down to how high the bidding gets for the Cuban outfielder’s services.
  • Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer doesn’t expect the Indians to be major players at the trade deadline, either as buyers or sellers.  The Indians are still in the hunt for both the AL Central lead and a wild card spot so they won’t be selling any notable players, but “it would be a shock if they added any high-priced talent.”

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.


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."