At one point last week, I noted on my twitter feed that the name James Shields was coming up in coordination with the Twins an awful lot. In fact, I thought maybe I missed a Reusse/Souhan column instructing the club to deal for him in the offseason. Moreover, I got a text from a good friend of mine, Chris Finstad, who asked what I thought about Shields.
So, here’s what I think about Mr. Shields, at least in the scope of the Twins acquiring him.
To be blunt: I’m not really interested. On the surface level – which is often the level that most fans tend to consider things, in my view – adding Shields to any rotation is a no-doubter. After all, he’s 15-11 with a 2.78 ERA, an eye-popping 11 complete games (can you imagine what Bert would say?), and a 1.04 WHIP. Beyond that, he fans his share of hitters and keeps the free pass in check. Someone tweeted me that he was a “perfect Twins pitcher.” Well, sure, in the scope of the fact that he’s among the 10 or so best pitchers in the American League. I almost felt obligated to tweet back that he fans too many for the Twins’ taste, but I thought better of it.
Nonetheless, the time to deal for Shields was a year ago, if ever. Big Game James was coming off a 13-15 season, with a 5.18 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, but identical to ’11 8.3 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. So what gives? Well, Shields was quite a bit more susceptible to the longball (1.5 HR/9) in ’10 than ’11 (0.9), and his career rate is right in the middle of the two. Thus, he’s probably a decent bet to regress a bit, but not enough to sully his image. Additionally, Shields posted a .341 BABIP last season, and has a sterling .261 mark this year. Best bet? He’ll settle at the midpoint, which will again aid in his regression going forward.
To be sure, I’m not attempting character/talent assassination on Shields; he’d be an ideal fit on this rotation and is better than any of the current options by far. But guess who else knows that, and knows it better than anyone? Yep. Mr. Friedman. If anyone were to think that Andrew Friedman would let Shields go for anything less than a king’s ransom, especially when considering that Shields is owed a mere $16 million over the next two seasons (with $3.5 million in buyouts, if need be), they’re probably not thinking too clearly. Friedman could probably command at least one top-100 prospect; maybe two if they’re in the lower half of the rankings (like Benson-Hicks are), as well as an intriguing B/C prospect. For a team with more holes than Bonnie and Clyde at the end, it’s simply not worth shifting assets to grab a top-end pitcher when the holes are too numerous to fill if creating new ones (like perhaps including Span in this deal). On top of that, Bill Smith has to fill out his entire rotation, so there’s no sense in making a huge deal for one piece when he realistically may need to add two or three arms in the offseason. If it were me running the ship, I’d probably move on a few lower tier arms in free agency, like Rich Harden and/or Chris Capuano.
To summarize, sure it would be nice to have James Shields. However, aren’t we about a year behind in the “Twins need an ace pitcher” argument? I guess it’s more catchy than “Twins need three starters, a middle infielder, and some bench depth,” but that’s not saying much now, is it?