Is a Blue Jays Trade for James Shields Worth the Risk?


We all know about the search for pitching the Toronto Blue Jays have been undertaking of late. Apparently, they’re looking everywhere, even in unlikely places. Take, for example their efforts to go after Carlos Carrasco from the Indians. Blue Jays, GM Alex Anthopoulos was after that very team friendly 4yr/$22M contract as well as the pitching upgrade. The argument could be made that the Ninja GM thinks contract first, talent second. If that is the case, James Shields just might represent an interesting option for him.

Shields’ contract is a rather heavy one to take on. Even though, he probably felt like his price tag fell lower than he had hoped. Surely, he would have preferred Max Scherzer money rather than the 4yr/$75M deal he got from the Padres. That is not a deal to sneeze at, though. It is a rather heavy commitment to a guy who is 33 right now. And, that is why some feel the Blue Jays should avoid trading for him without some financial help, or at all.

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But, should they avoid it? On it’s face, yes. But, consider this: Shields has an opt out clause in his contract that states he can bolt at the end of the 2016 season…when he’s 34 (he turns 35 that December). So, if the Blue Jays were to consider bringing him aboard, they would at least be looking at the remainder of this year’s $10M and then next year’s jump to $21M. Then, he could opt out and test his luck on the free agent market.

The Blue Jays would be paying for a pitcher who has made his name in the AL East, which is important. He’s also pitched 30+ games each year since 2007. We all know how valuable that is. Look at Mark Buehrle. We love the consistency. And, the Blue Jays are paying him $20M, which no one seems to be complaining about. That money is likely coming off the books at the end of this season. 

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Shields has increased his strike out rate to a career high 26.9%. What is concerning is that his walk rate is an all time high 8.8%. And, his HR/9 has reached 1.42 after being under 1 since 2010. And, he’s pitching in Petco Park, which is supposed to be a pitcher’s park. It is a little unsettling to see how that would translate to Rogers Centre.

But, in a year where the Blue Jays need pitching help to compete for the division, James Shields could be an option. The Padres would likely look to move him after their failed attempt at building a winner this offseason. Given the financial commitment Shields would include (opt out or no) the Blue Jays could look to send fewer prospects (or lesser talent) the other way. Of course, they also have a closer I’d like to bring over in Craig Kimbrel. As well, Tyson Ross may be the more logical starter to prioritize. 

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  • But, we’ve seen things set in motion already. The Blue Jays may not be in a position to have their preference. If Jame Shields is what they end up with, is that a bad thing? On the one hand, they’d have him to fight for the playoffs this season. He pitches all of next season and opts out. They are off the hook. Perhaps, during next season, he indicates that he’ll exercise his opt out clause and they can move him. Of course, this could also backfire and he could choose to stay in Toronto (it could happen…). Let’s be honest, what are his chances of getting a better deal than $21M per season at an older age? Of course, he’d likely be looking for more years at that point. But, if he does, is that the end of the world?

    The Blue Jays have put a premium on a veteran presence in the rotation. “Papa” Buehrle and his influence have been invaluable. Some would say even worth the $20M. The way things look now, the rotation is looking pretty young moving forward. Add in the value of having a healthy starter for a whole season and this doesn’t look so bad. If Shields stays, the Blue Jays are then on the hook for 3 more seasons at $21M each. Shields would be 36 through his final 2018 season. Essentially, they’d have another Mark Buehrle. Would that be so bad?

    None of this is to suggest that James Shields is the best option available to the Blue Jays. But, in a time when the “best option” may not be what a team ends up with, Shields’ contract might just indicate that he could be worth the risk. There is risk in bringing him in for the immediate future. Is he the pitcher he once was? He’s an upgrade, for sure, but he isn’t a Johnny Cueto. There is even more risk in the long run. The question is: is it worth it?

    Next: Blue Jays Sign Canadian Phillip Aumont

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