James Shields’ four-year, $75MM contract with the Padres allows him to opt out of the deal after the 2016 season, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). The backloaded nature of his deal, however, means that doing so would amount to forfeiting a guaranteed $44MM over the final two years of the contract. (Shields will earn $21MM in 2017 and again in 2018, and his 2019 option comes with a $2MM buyout.)
Clearly, given the fact that Shields will be entering his age-35 season at that stage, the opt-out isn’t necessarily as powerful as those held by younger arms such as CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke. However, it’s not impossible to think that two years from now, if Shields has put together a pair of strong seasons, that he could top a $44MM guarantee on a three-year deal. The amount by which he would have to top that sum would be the question. Clearly, a three-year, $45MM pact wouldn’t be an upgrade, but if Shields were able to secure something in the vein of three years and $54MM (an $18MM annual salary), perhaps it would be worth considering.
That scenario is hardly a likely outcome, but the increased leverage provided by the contract is nevertheless an additional element of value that had yet to come to the surface. Shields and agent Page Odle have been panned by some for reaching too far in free agency, though Odle spoke to Rosenthal yesterday and explained that there was never a specific target in terms of years or dollars; rather, he discussed three-, four- and five-year deals for Shields from the onset of free agency.
Even if Shields and Odle did seek a five-year contract and stick to that goal for much of the offseason, as some have speculated, a four-year, $75MM contract with an opt-out clause hardly seems like a terrible fallback option. As Jeff Todd and I discussed on yesterday’s MLBTR Podcast, Shields didn’t end up on a one-year deal, and it’s hard to call a contract that handily tops the deals inked by similarly aged peers such as Ervin Santana and Mark Buehrle a failure or a misstep. Last year, we at MLBTR posited that a four-year pact for Shields may be the ceiling in free agency, given his age. I’ll admit to being swept up in the narrative of the “Big Three” free agents this offseason and altering my own expectations to a five-year deal (despite a belief last spring that four would be the cap).
That said, it’s puzzling to see the criticism for Shields when both he and Odle have adamantly refuted the notion that he ever received/rejected a five-year, $110MM offer. Rather, the largest reported figure that has come to light, courtesy of ESPN’s Buster Olney, was the four-year, $80MM pact said to be discussed with the Giants prior to their signing of Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong. If the end result of Shields’ waiting game was a contract that came in $5MM below the top of his range while affording him a two-year opt-out and the chance to play some 200 miles closer to home, it would seem that some of the criticism he’s received may be harsh. Not only that, but if this type of contract was believed to be a fallback all along — and walking away from similar parameters with the Giants in December suggests that may be the case — then it’s hard to blame Shields’ camp for any attempts at a five-year pact.