Blue Jays WUTS: Is James Shields a Good Target?


Conventional wisdom has it that the Blue Jays are targeting a short-term rental such as Cueto or Samardzija.  Failing that, some foolish writers have suggested a trade of hitting for young pitching – such as Edwin Encarnacion for Taijuan Walker.  But what if Alex – in true ninja fashion – is looking at something else entirely?

Start with what we know.  The Jays are limited in the payroll they can assume – some estimate $5-6 million.  They are primarily interested in starting pitching.  With the departure next year (perhaps?) of Buehrle and Dickey, a pitcher with a history of pitching 200+ innings would be very welcome.  It would also help if that pitcher were a veteran who could help the kids, and who was under team control for multiple years (but not more than 5).  And finally, it would be ideal if this pitcher were available for a price less than a Hoffman or Norris.

Cue the Padres, and James Shields, for today’s wildly unfounded trade speculation (WUTS).

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The Jays were rumoured to be in hot pursuit of Shields prior to the 2015 season.  In fact,

some have suggested

that the Jays were the mystery team that Shields reportedly turned down.  He chose San Diego, presumably in part because he lives nearby.  But apparently the Padres are

now shopping him

– and it is possible that their demands are not all that extortionate.  Shields is pitching to a pedestrian 4.01 ERA so far this year, even though half of his games have been in the

second most pitcher-friendly park in baseball

.  And his stats have been steadily deteriorating, from an April xFIP of 2.80 to 2.94 in May, 3.64 in June and 4.32 in July.

So why would the Jays want him?

Shields’ 2015 salary is $10 million, which means that the Jays would only pick up about $4 million if they acquired him in July. This is well within their payroll limitations.  Shields’ salary increases to $21 million in 2016-2018, with a team option for 2019, but this should be less of an issue with Buehrle, Ricky Romero and possibly R.A. Dickey coming off the payroll after 2015.  So the money appears to work.

Second, Shields’ 800 innings pitched from 2012-2015 is the highest total in baseball.  So he more than meets the Jays’ need for innings.  And at 33 years old with 10 years of experience, he could be a valuable mentor to pitchers such as Stroman, Hutchison, and Snachez – not to mention Hoffman, Norris, Osuna et al. 

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Toronto Blue Jays

And in terms of performance, in Shields’ case the 4.01 ERA could be misleading.  His SIERA (a more sophisticated form of ERA that adjusts for certain factors beyond the pitcher’s control) is 3.25, good for 21st best among mlb starters.  Better than Sonny Gray, or Cole Hamels, or David Price.  His xFIP – fielding-independent pitching, normalizing home runs – of 3.30 is 26th in the majors, and ZiPS and Steamer (two of the top baseball prediction services) both project an ERA of ~3.4 for the remainder of the season.

Which brings up to the final criterion:  price.

The Padres are said to be retooling for 2016, and they have supposedly actively asked other teams about an interest in Shields.  This enthusiasm on the Padres’ part, added to the $63 million remaining on Shields’ contract, might induce them to part with Big Game James for a less-than-extortionate price.  In his recent analysis of mlb farm systems, John Sickels ranked San Diego 25th, noting that they were in a down phase.  Might a package of multiple mid-level prospects, possibly enhanced with a high risk, high-upside option such as a Colabello, be sufficient?

The bottom line?  Rentals such as Cueto will likely be too expensive, and ideally the Jays would prefer to not have to trade a player such as EE for pitching.  Shields presents an intriguing combination of high upside, team control, reliability and (hopefully?) workable price.  At a minimum, I would hope that Alex would be returning those Padres calls.

Next: Blue Jays rumors: Johnny Cueto link refuses to die

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