The Score is reporting that the Padres are pushing a James Shields trade. You will remember the Cubs were interested in bringing in Shields last year, only to be outbid by an ambitious front office bent on creating an instant contender. One year later, the Padres are coming off an 88 loss season and looking to cut payroll. Could that mean a good value opportunity for the Cubs?
Given the price of starters this offseason, Shields might have some trade value after all. The problem is that Shields' deal is a backloaded one and he will make a hefty $21M a year for the next 3 seasons. Including a $2M buyout option in the last year of his contract, that is a commitment of 3 years/$65M at minimum.
The short term nature of the deal likely appeals to the Cubs, as does Shields proven ability to take on a big workload, something the Cubs lacked after Arrieta and Lester last season.
Shields is also 4 years younger than John Lackey and is considered a good fit for any clubhouse. When it comes to players talking about great teammates, Shields is often at or near the top of the list. He also comes with significant post season experience.
There is a lot to like here, but the money is going to be an issue. The Padres intention is to cut payroll after an ill-conceived attempt at a one year rebuild. There are ways to make this palatable, however.
- The Padres could expand the deal to include an additional pitcher such as Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner to entice the Cubs to take on the contract.
- The Padres could take on some salary of their own in a trade. The Cubs could send back a player that will still save the Padres money overall, yet still save the Cubs significant money by reducing the net gain in payroll. We have mentioned some of the players drawing significant salaries, so perhaps there is a fit that could be found among that group.
- Some combination of the two compromises above is a possibility as well.
The Padres and Cubs seem to match up well in terms of players and direction the two teams are heading. If the Cubs can deal from depth, reduce the net hit to their payroll and/or pick up a useful secondary player in return, it certainly is an option worth considering.
Despite the workload, Shields doesn't seem to be slowing down much. The velocity has remained relatively constant and the K rate went up last year -- though it also came with a spike in the walk rate. Shields had a slight alteration to his approach last year, throwing less cut fastballs and more curveballs. It may have had something to do with both figures as the CB, along with his change-up, is a pitch with which he gets a lot of swings and misses. The cutter, on the other hand, has less movement and is easier to throw for strikes, with the compromise being that a hitter is more likely to put the ball in play.
The other change was an uptick in his HR rate despite pitching in a big ballpark for half his starts. The result was that while Shields' FIP soared to 4.45, the xFIP (3.70) remained relatively constant with what we had seen the previous two seasons with the Royals.
The Cubs have long liked Shields and perhaps they believe the tinker with his approach led to some of the control and HR issues last year. A return to the Shields of the previous two seasons would give the Cubs a formidable top 3 capable of going deep into games.
Of course, much will depend on how the deal is structured for the Cubs to take a gamble on a post-prime pitcher who arguably had the worst season of his career -- especially at the money he is owed. The Padres are going to have to find a way to make the risk worthwhile.
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