Monday, July 20, 2015

A Trade Of James Shields Would Be Bad For Business

By now, everyone has realized that the San Diego Padres aren’t the team we thought – and perhaps more accurately hoped they would be. After an off-season full of big name acquisitions and risky trades, most fans expected the Padres to make the playoffs and perhaps contend for a title.

Well, on July 20, the Padres are 43-49, seven games out of a playoff spot. The team isn’t dead yet, but the plug could be pulled any day. When a team is out of contention, the organization shifts course, trades expiring contracts, and further prepares the organization for next season.

The San Diego Padres have plenty of veterans on expiring deals. Ian Kennedy, Joaquin Benoit, (assuming his option isn’t picked up) Will Venable and Justin Upton among others. Now might be the best time to trade these players for assets that could benefit the club in 2016 in beyond.

James Shields - Getty Images
James Shields is one of those players who is being dangled in trade talks. Shields may not be an ace like a Johnny Cueto or a Cole Hamels, but he is a durable veteran who has pitched in the World Series. He instantly makes any rotation in the league better. Surely, he is a player that the Padres could shop, in hopes of pressing the restart button and collecting young, controllable talent. Trading Shields, from a business standpoint, makes a lot of sense. However, the Padres would lose credibility with a Shields trade. Why? The answer is simple.

James Shields signed a four-year, $75 million deal with San Diego in February – the largest contract in the history of the organization. Shields, 33, has been one of the game’s most consistent pitchers over the last five years. Shields has pitched at least 200 innings in eight straight seasons, typically with an ERA in the mid 3’s. Shields was supposed to be the durable workhorse that the team lacked.
However, Shields has had a strange 2015, to say the least. On the surface, Shields has still been pretty good. With Friday night’s outing, Shields is sitting at 8-3, with a 3.91 ERA in 121.2 innings. His numbers are quite solid, but they do not narrate the tale of a staff ace. Shields’ stuff looks to be better than ever – he is averaging a career-high 10.11 k’s per nine innings. He is throwing his curve more than ever, which seems to be keeping hitters off-balance.

While the strikeouts are up, so are the walks. Shields is walking batters are nearly double the rate he was last year. In 2014 with Kansas City, Shields walked 44 batters in 227 innings. This season, Shields has already issued 40 free passes in 116 innings. Shields’ WHIP has naturally risen a bit, but it is still passable at 1.29.

The strangest stat for Shields in 2015 is his new-found propensity in allowing home runs. Shields has allowed 20 homers this season – half of them coming in the supposed pitcher’s haven known as Petco Park. Shields has pitched well overall at Petco Park – he has pitched to a 2.68 ERA in nine outings, but the homers have been a nemesis all year. Shields’ track record dictates that it is more of an aberration then an actual trend.

Shields brings a lot of accountability and leadership to a clubhouse that has seemed to be in dire need of it. He’s a leader, and personally, I feel that his presence on the team cannot be discounted. The Padres are simply a better team with Shields in the fold.

While fans know what Shields brings to the team on the diamond, his contract could be viewed as a hindrance in the near future. Shields is making just $10 million this year, however next year Shields’ contract jumps to a massive haul of $21 million. Shields could potentially opt out of his deal after 2016. If he chooses not to, Shields is owed $21 million in 2017 and 2018. Shields also has a club option for $16 million in 2019, with a $2 million option.  San Diego could owe Shields as much as $79 million after this season.

Yes, the Shields contract gets bloated, but that is the price of dipping into the free agent pitching pool. A team will always overpay for a dependable and above-average arm. Shields’ contract could have commanded more money on the open market, and his contract could end up being a good value over the duration of the deal.

In addition to everything that I have mentioned, trading Shields just seems like a bad business move that could make the Padres lose credibility. The perception around baseball has been that the Padres a perennial loser – a team that doesn’t take the steps necessary to build a consistent winner. The organization at least showed the financial muscle to make moves with the high revenue teams, although obviously the moves did not pan out as anticipated. The result on the field has been immensely disappointing, but most fans are still encouraged by an ownership group that has shown they want to win. It remains to be seen if the Padres attempt to lure more big names in the free agent market in the future, but a trade of Shields, in my opinion, will lead to loss of credibility.

Most big-time free agents see the opportunity to cash in when they make a move to sign a multi-year deal with the organization of their choice. It represents stability for themselves and for their families. Most players do not anticipate being traded five months into a four-year contract.

Shields lives in San Diego, and I am sure being able to sleep in his own bed was a determining factor (aside from the cash) on his decision to sign with the Padres. If San Diego chooses to pursue another big-time player, a trade of Shields will surely be brought up by competing organizations, as well as agents. It is a move removes credibility from a mediocre in dire need of it.

In addition to the potential personnel ramifications, the Padres also forfeited the #13 overall pick in June’s draft. The Padres gutted their farm system in the off-season, and the loss of the first rounder certainly doesn’t help. At the time the Padres acquired Shields, I, like most fans believed that the potential of four years of Shields outweighed whatever player the Padres could have drafted. Besides, it isn’t like the Padres have had much, if any success drafting players in the first round. Shields is a proven commodity in the game.

When the calendar strikes July 31st, I hope that James Shields is in a Padres uniform. Industry experts think he will be elsewhere. The Padres can build with James Shields, and will be better for it.