old stove featureIt’s February, and there are still things to be rumored. Primarily, James Shields remains unsigned. But then you’ve also got Cole Hamels – still untraded – and the Nationals’ rotation – still glutty. And the Cubs still have Welington Castillo, Edwin Jackson, and Travis Wood.

At this point, while I don’t expect the Cubs to make a major adding move, I’ve still got a big rooting interest in how the rest of the offseason shakes out: here’s hoping the other teams in the NL Central do not make any last-minute, significant upgrades.

  • Speaking of Shields, the status is still pretty much the same: he could sign at just about any moment for just about any amount with just about any team. I’m not sure I can remember the last time a big name free agent’s process played out like this, lasting so long with so many unknowns. Nick Cafardo hears from an NL GM that it’s very hard to see him getting five years at this point (which we’ve suspected now for a few weeks), and Buster Olney goes through the timeline to conclude that Shields may have missed his best window to sign several months ago. In looking at the teams that might still be a fit for Shields, Olney notes the same thing we’ve said about the Cubs: with so many attractive top tier pitchers available after this season, the best course may be to stand pat (on an already excellent offseason) and save money for next offseason.
  • But what if Shields won’t get all that much money? We know that his market is probably not great, but how far has his price tag fallen from the previously-reported five-year, $110 million asking price? Joe Frisaro, while writing about the merits of the Marlins taking a Hail Mary shot at Shields (two years and $35 million) says that Shields is seeking “at least” four years and $70 million. That’s a far cry from where he was thought to be, and, despite his age (33), could prove a bargain for a pitcher of his caliber. If you conservatively project Shields for 3.5 WAR in 2015 (he hasn’t been below 3.7 since 2010), and then lop off 0.5 each successive year, that’s a total of 11.0 WAR over the next four years. At $7 million per free agent win, that’s $77 million in value. So, maybe it’s not an enormous steal (Steamer projects Shields for just 3.0 WAR in 2015), but still could be a very good get.
  • I’ll say it: four years and $70 million for Shields is starting to get close to the price where you would wonder whether the Cubs simply can’t afford to pass that deal up, even if it means it would be very difficult (financially) to add another impact starter in free agency next offseason. If the Cubs picked up Shields on a relative bargain, and then still wanted to add another impact starter next year, well, then maybe that’s when we start talking about making hard choices about dealing top tier prospects where the Cubs have redundancies. I’m still not quite saying the Cubs should go get Shields, nor am I saying I think there won’t suddenly be many other suitors if his price tag actually drops dramatically. But I am saying … well … I’m watching closely. I think 4/$70M is still probably too much. But 4/$60M? 3/$50M? I really start to wonder. (Just to emphasize the unlikelihood here: when Cafardo mentioned teams that could make sense for Shields, he specifically mentioned teams with a protected first round pick (like the Cubs), and went on to name seven of those teams – the Cubs weren’t one.)
  • Speaking of those post-2015 free agent pitchers, will Jeff Samardzija be among them? The White Sox picked the former Cub up in trade this offseason with at least the hope of extending him. When Samardzija was with the Cubs, it sure seemed like he was pretty well set on wanting to test free agency (that was, at least in some part, why he was dealt), and this read from the Sun-Times suggests that’s still the case. Samardzija’s agent leaves the door open for an extension, but he sounds like a guy who is priming his client for a big free agent score.
  • It’s still not clear whether Zack Greinke will be among the post-2015 class (LA Times). He’s under contract for three more years (and $71 million) with the Dodgers, but he’s got the right to opt out of his deal after this season. At age 31, it sure seems like Greinke could do a lot better on the open market, even a crowded one. It seems most likely that he’ll wind up sticking with the Dodgers on a new extension or a new deal post-opt-out, but it’s an interesting story to follow.
  • With the Cubs likely to enter Spring Training with several lefties competing for one or two spots in the bullpen, you have to wonder if they’ll take a look at recently DFA’d Red Sox lefty Drake Britton (who, yes, was drafted and developed during the Epstein/Hoyer days there). The 25-year-old has had so-so success on his way up the minors as a starter, but was solid in very limited bullpen duty for the Red Sox the last two years. Britton is out of minor league options, which undoubtedly factored into the DFA. If the Cubs did try to squeeze him on the 40-man roster, they could let him compete for a bullpen job, and, if he doesn’t win one out of Spring Training, they could try and outright him to AAA Iowa.
  • The Brewers still haven’t done anything with respect to those Jonathan Papelbon rumors, but they did add lefty Neal Cotts to the pen on a one-year, $3 million deal. What a comeback story he’s been, eh? The former Cubs lefty (do you even remember that he spent parts of three seasons with the Cubs from 2007 to 2009?) didn’t pitch in the big leagues in 2010, 2011, or 2012, and then came out of nowhere to dominate with the Rangers in 2013. This is why teams take flyers. And good for Cotts, who, now 34, has parlayed that comeback into some cash.