“We like a lot of players, we just like them at a certain price.”
That’s the phrase Alex Anthopoulos has uttered numerous times this offseason. Reports have linked the Blue Jays to countless free agents this offseason; some true and some completely far-fetched, but the latest rumour is another which may carry some validity.
Late yesterday, Ken Rosenthal reported the Blue Jays had renewed interest in free agent pitcher James Shields. Other reports corroborate that evidence and have suggested the Blue Jays have had internal discussions about targeting Shields.
Need I remind you the last time reports leaked that the Blue Jays had “internal discussions” regarding a player, they ended up eventually signing him; and that was Russell Martin.
If given the option, I think most teams would gladly take the services of James Shields; the question is whether they’re willing to pony up the cash that Shields and his agent are asking for.
Much like Max Scherzer, James Shields has opted to wait things out in pursuit of a bigger contract, but is one instance where biding time may have actually hurt his chances of landing a bigger deal.
Initial reports had Shields garnering a five-year contract in the neighbourhood of $100 million dollars or more, while the latest suggests that asking price has come down to four years.
Last year, Ervin Santana found himself in a similar situation and he practically fell in the Blue Jays’ lap. James Shields may not be that desperate to take a one-year deal, but if the reports are true, he may end up signing for significantly less than most initially thought.
Would the Blue Jays be willing to go four years at around $20 million per for James Shields? In terms of starters they already have, the Jays are paying $19 million this year for Mark Buehrle and $12 million for R.A. Dickey.
Tack on another $20 million for James Shields and three starting pitchers alone would cost the Blue Jays $51 million dollars, with a full starting rotation costing around $52.5 million dollars.
However, the Blue Jays wouldn’t necessarily need to pay Shields in equal installments; much like Russell Martin’s contract, they could backload the deal and structure the contract to pay a small salary up front.
The team reportedly only has around $7-8 million dollars for wiggle room when it comes to the 2015 payroll. And while it may be difficult to get approval from ownership to tack on an extra $20 million for payroll this year, deferring that money may seem like a feasible option.
Much like with Russell Martin, if the Blue Jays are in fact going to shell out for a free agent, it should in fact be for James Shields. He’s battle-tested and a proven commodity faring against the AL East from his days with the Tampa Bay Rays, although his career numbers at the Rogers Centre aren’t the best (10 starts, 4.09 ERA, 20 home runs surrendered).
A few years ago, the Blue Jays took some big risks by bringing in NL starters over to the AL East; Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey and J.A. Happ didn’t enjoy the same success in the AL as they did the NL, while Mark Buehrle has defied the odds and held his own.
Shields may be 33 years old, but he’s about as durable of a starting pitcher as you can get, with eight consecutive seasons of 31 or more starts. And much like baseball’s current Iron Man, Mark Buehrle, James Shields has never been on the disabled list in his Major League career.
Although the Blue Jays still have other needs to address on the roster (bullpen, second base), signing James Shields would provide the starting rotation with an immediate upgrade. Shields would automatically vault himself into the Jays’ number one starter’s position (although Marcus Stroman could very well challenge him for that position).
Another positive side effect of signing James Shields is it would effectively end the need to find a closer as well; it could push Aaron Sanchez out of the starting rotation and back into the bullpen, and potentially into the closer’s role.
At the very least, it gives the Blue Jays a lot of options in regards to back-end relievers; with the likes of Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup and then Aaron Sanchez, if the team chose to go that route.
As with Russell Martin and even Josh Donaldson, James Shields does not seem like an immediate “need” for the Blue Jays roster, it’s more of a “want”.
Overall, it’s been a rather unorthodox offseason for Alex Anthopoulos, and signing James Shields would prove to be another unorthodox and unexpected move by the Toronto Blue Jays.
But if the team likes James Shields and he comes down in his asking price, then perhaps the Blue Jays just might surprise us all again.
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