With Jon Lester now a Chicago Cub and Max Scherzer patiently waiting out his market, that leaves James Shields as the best available free agent starter who could conceivably sign in the near future. Shields’ market, as you’d expect, was impacted by his two fellow starters, as it was theorized that teams who missed out on either of those two aces (particularly Lester) would turn to Shields as a backup plan. Secondly, while only a limited number of teams could afford Scherzer or Lester, several more teams could conceivably afford the five-year, $95MM deal that MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes projected it would take to land Shields.
Here’s the breakdown of recent Shields-related rumors…
Giants: They were reportedly focused on the righty at the end of the Winter Meetings, with “exit polls” (per Peter Gammons) from those around the Meetings predicting Shields would sign with San Francisco. The Giants have already re-signed Jake Peavy, though a one-two punch of Shields and Madison Bumgarner would do a lot to boost a rotation that contains some question marks given Tim Hudson’s second-half struggles, Matt Cain’s health and Tim Lincecum’s effectiveness.
Red Sox: While Boston has already added Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson to join Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly in the rotation, Shields would give the Sox a clear-cut ace. But the Red Sox have determined that his tendency to allow flyballs to left-center make him a poor fit for Fenway Park, as Gammons tweets.
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy look to be L.A.’s top four, with Brett Anderson in line for the fifth spot if healthy. Since Greinke can opt out of his contract next winter, the Dodgers could see Shields as a long-term rotation answer if Greinke departs. The Winter Meetings rumor mill linked Shields to the Dodgers, though GM Farhan Zaidi recently said the team was only looking for depth starters at this point.
Royals: It has been widely assumed that Kansas City would let Shields go in free agency, though back in October, the team was at least willing to take a fair crack at re-signing him. Since the Royals have since been spending on Edinson Volquez, Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales, re-signing Shields would now require a significant payroll increase. All things considered, it seems like the Royals will indeed end up thanking Shields for the memories and collecting a draft pick as compensation for his signing elsewhere.
Other teams have also been connected to Shields this offseason, though given his price tag, the likes of the Diamondbacks or Rangers seem like longshot candidates. The Yankees were reportedly unlikely to pursue Shields, Lester or Scherzer this winter, though you can never really count the Bombers out of a race for a major free agent, especially given the injury issues in the Yankees’ rotation.
It’s also possible the ever-popular mystery team could jump into the mix. Looking at another recent MLBTR Poll about Scherzer’s 2015 destination, some of the scenarios Zach Links posits about Scherzer could also apply to Shields. Maybe the Angels or Blue Jays could eschew their spending limits to sign Shields, or perhaps the “Nationals sign Scherzer then trade Jordan Zimmermann” theory could instead see Shields land in Washington, or maybe the Tigers would truly be willing to close the door on the Scherzer era by inking Shields.
This is just my speculation, but I think the Padres could be an under-the-radar contender for Shields given how aggressive they’ve been this offseason. The Padres have shown an interest in Cole Hamels, so if they’re looking to add a top-of-the-rotation starter, signing Shields would give San Diego that ace without having to send Wil Myers and other young talents to the Phillies. If the Padres are willing to cover what Hamels is owed through the 2018 season ($96MM plus an additional $14MM for 2019 if his option vests), then you’d think the Padres would be open to paying Shields the comparable five-year/$95MM figure that Dierkes projected. Incidentally, San Diego is just a few hours’ drive from Shields’ hometown of Santa Clarita, California.