The San Diego Padres continue to remake their roster under A.J. Preller, who was hired as the team's general manager in August. On Monday, they agreed to a four-year, $75 million contract with veteran right-hander James Shields.
Shields joins fellow offseason additions Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks as San Diego looks to engineer a quick rebuild. The Padres haven't won more than 77 games in any of the last four seasons and last won the National League West in 2006.
Preller is hoping these big splashes result in a battle with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants for the division crown. It won't be an easy road, but one certainly made realistic by the aforementioned signings and trades.
The Padres had been linked to Shields for quite some time, but reports gained more traction when it became apparent that his price tag had come down. His agent, Page Odle, was looking for much more earlier in the offseason. Shortly after he helped lead the Kansas City Royals to the World Series, Shields was reportedly looking for a five-year, $125 million pact.
When suitors didn't trip over one another, that figure dropped to $110 million. With pitchers and catchers set to report in a little more than a week, the Padres were able to land the 33-year-old on a deal that carries an $18.75 million annual value.
When you consider the initial asking price, this contract looks like a bargain for the Padres. What must be considered, however, is just how big of a swing Shields and Odle were taking with fellow hurlers Jon Lester and Max Scherzer also available.
Lester, who got a six-year, $155 million deal from the Chicago Cubs, is two years younger than Shields and a left-hander. Scherzer, just a year removed from a Cy Young award, is two-plus years younger and landed $210 million over seven seasons from the Washington Nationals.
Grade for Shields: C-
Shields is a native of California and makes his home in San Diego, which makes the allure of signing there obvious. Factor in pitcher-friendly Petco Park and the club is a very good fit.
One of the reasons Shields didn't receive a contract in the same zip code as Lester and Scherzer is his workload. He is known as a workhorse, which is a backhanded complement at his age. No pitcher has thrown more innings than Shields (1,785-plus) since 2007, which averages out to more than 223 innings per season.
If the Padres end up getting close to 900 productive innings out of Shields through 2018, they'll be lucky. It could be that Shields has the perfect anatomy for pitching and that his throwing motion is smooth enough to avoid extra stress on his right arm. Whether or not that's the case, it is unlikely he'll be able to avoid even minor injury at 36 when he enters the final guaranteed year of this contract. The Padres hold a $16 million club option for 2019.
In addition to age and workload, there is another concern surrounding Shields and it's a big one: effectiveness.
He has posted an ERA below 4.15 in seven of his eight full seasons and hasn't had an ERA above 3.52 in any of the least four years. So what's the issue? More so than his postseason woes -- 5.46 ERA, 1.534 WHIP in 59.1 innings -- Shields has lost his ability to record strikeouts. The right-hander hasn't seen an uptick in walks or home runs allowed, but his strikeouts-per-nine (7.1) were at a five-year low in 2014. It's worth noting that he hasn't lost much velocity on his fastball.
The sample size is small, but Shields didn't do anything to throw water on concerns about his ability to strike batters out last fall. His strikeout rate decreased in each round of the postseason -- from the Wild Card Game all the way through the World Series.
The reality is that Shields is not an unquestioned No. 1 starter at this point in his career. He was that for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Royals wouldn't have gone on that magical run without him, but there is a good chance that Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner or even Tyson Ross could have better campaigns in 2015.
As Keith Law pointed out for ESPN, his value to the Padres is twofold. He'll add more wins than whomever San Diego might have trotted out as the fourth or fifth starter and provides Preller with the tools to swing another deal. The club has a surplus of starters from the middle-to-bottom of their rotation.
Grade for Padres: B+
In addition to Cashner, Kennedy, Ross and Shields, the Padres also have Odrisamer Despaigne (16 starts in 2014), Robbie Erlin (11 starts), Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson and prospect Matt Wisler.
That surplus gives Preller the option of trading for more offensive help or even someone like Cole Hamels. As we've quickly learned, the Padres can no longer be underestimated as players on either the free agent or trade market.