According to a report by CSN’s David Kaplan, the Chicago Cubs are “kicking the tires” on 33-year-old right-handed hurler James Shields. Shields is the last big fish on the market and several teams are interested in reeling in the big-game pitcher. If I’m the Cubs, I would step back and say to the other teams, “Go ahead, take ’em.”
Let’s look at all the positives Shields would bring to a Cubs ball club first because I would be insulting you if I said he had no worth with this team. I would also be lying to you if I said I wouldn’t be at least a tiny bit excited if the Cubs ended up actually landing him. The guy is a force at the top of a rotation. For a young Royals team, Shields was the mold and the glue of that staff. He made 34 starts and threw 227 innings — the eighth straight year Shields managed to eclipse 200 innings, and the fourth straight year of eclipsing 220 innings or more.
Not only is Shields the definition of a reliable innings eater, but he’s also consistent in terms of production. He’s had an ERA of 3.52 or lower in four consecutive seasons. a career ERA+ of 111 (for the saber metric lovers), a career 3.77 FIP and a strong career strike out to walk ratio. Shields is also a veteran leader who has been to the playoffs four times in his nine years of MLB experience with 11 made starts. There is no denying the immediate benefit the Cubs would gain if they signed Big Game James.
However, because of the amount of success he has had in his career to this point, as well as some of the stuff I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Shields will not come cheap.
For those who believe four years $80 million is not cheap, then think again. $20 mil average annual value over the span of four years to a 33-year-old pitcher with a ton of mileage is not only an expensive investment, but a risky one.
The impressive durability of James Shields is appalling when his stats are presented in front of you. In 2011 Shields threw 249.1 innings and managed 11 complete games, four of which were shut outs. When the Cubs signed Jon Lester, an area of concern is undoubtedly the amount of innings he’s already logged in his nine years of Major League experience. That total is just about at 1600 innings. As for Shields, his total, in the same amount of service time as Lester, is at 1910 innings pitched. 300 more innings is like an extra season and a half of mileage on a pitcher’s arm (though all pitchers are different).
Now, no one can predict injury, but conventional thinking has me assuming there is no way Shields can consistently produce that many innings in the short term. Throwing a baseball that much takes a toll, especially for a guy who’s 33 and about to enter his tenth year.
The Cubs are in a position to “kick the tires” on Shields because of the masterful job Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have done with locking down position players such as Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jorge Soler on cost controlled contracts. As a result, cash is available to invest in specific needs come the offseason or even at the trade deadline. Being flexible with the way you invest is a luxury not many teams have, and the Cubs are sitting pretty.
So, I guess the question is, are the Cubs willing to take the money they have expertly accumulated and invest a lot of it in one offseason within two big-time arms? In my opinion, they should not be willing to spend that money on James Shields. It would seem counter productive to me, after all the time it took to get to this point, that they would bind themselves to Shields, which is money that could be invested in next year’s free agent class.
Next year’s free agent class is LOADED with arms. Arms that are better options for the Cubs than James Shields at this point. Players such as Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Jordan Zimmermann whom the Cubs had interest in earlier this offseason, Johnny Cueto, and many others are all available next offseason.
“But James Shields has a history with Joe Maddon. They would be a perfect match together and the Cubs would be awesome.” Do you know who else Maddon has a history with? David Price. I’d choose Price over Shields any day. That would be awesome. (Maddon also has a history with Edwin Jackson but we won’t get into that.)
During a season in which the Cubs are taking strides toward developing something great, it is clear with the roster as it currently stands that expecting a playoff appearance is a bit far-fetched. We can hope for one, and be very pleasantly surprised with a Wild Card, or even a division championship as crazy as Rizzo may be, but expecting this team to make the playoffs is crazy.
2015 is a ‘let’s see what happens’ kind of year for the Cubs. There is a ton of upside in a lot of areas including its starting pitching, as well as all the young talent ready to burst on the scene. Investing $80 mil over four years, or even $55 mil over three years is too steep of a price to pay for Shields, who in my opinion is a year or two away from a major decline. The Cubs would just be on the hook for too much invested cash in two expensive starting pitchers.
At this point, James Shields is not the right fit for the Cubs. Wait until next offseason to invest heavily in another starting pitcher.