Increasingly, the discussion surrounding free agent starter James Shields has less to do with where or when he’ll sign, but with how far his suspected price tag has fallen. We discussed that again at length yesterday, partially in relation to the Chicago Cubs (who are presumably not interested shy of an insane bargain), and it’s carrying ahead into today.
I’ve cautioned against following the Shields market with hopes and visions that his price will fall so far that, regardless of budgetary concerns or future dollars earmarked for starters next offseason, the Cubs will jump all over that insane bargain. Why? Because, to my mind, at an insane bargain price, Shields makes sense for virtually every team in baseball. And as his price falls, teams that previously couldn’t make it work might suddenly be able to make it work.
Thus, this discussion from Anthony Castrovince about Shields’ falling price tag and the Yankees’ rotational needs (something we also discussed this morning, if you missed it). Being that we’ve already reached February, most teams simply cannot find room in the budget for another $15 million player over multiple years, and Castrovince argues that it’s possible Shields’ price may yet fall into the four-year, $50 to $55 million range, where the Yankees could certainly afford to pounce. (At that price, obviously, you’d have to wonder whether the Cubs could afford to pounce, too.)
Indeed, it’s possible that Shields will be lucky to get even that amount. Jeff Todd looks at the history working against Shields in this piece at MLB Trade Rumors, noting that big, multi-year contracts are simply not signed in February. Just one such contract exceeded $50 million in the last decade or so – $70 million to JD Drew back in 2007.
Four years and $50 million for James Shields? Or even less? Sounds too good to be true, right? Wouldn’t lots of teams enter the bidding at that point? I really think they would. The Yankees, then, would be just one of several teams ready and willing to go against previous plans and take the opportunity that has fallen into their lap.
Thus, on the other hand, Tony Blengino at FanGraphs can still see Shields getting four years and $75 million from a team like the Giants (they’ve got the money and the need). With Shields’ market and negotiations stunningly secretive this offseason, it’s entirely possible that he could land in that range, even at this late date. (Blengino’s piece is a great read on Shields’ floor and ceiling going forward, too. It provides additional, compelling analysis on why teams may have been reluctant to hand Shields a huge contract from the get-go.)
In any case, it remains difficult – and very interesting – to know for sure where, when, and for how much Shields will sign. The range of plausible outcomes is enormous. I think Shields winds up able to get that four-year, $75ish million deal, which is still probably a great deal for the team that gets him. Shave a year off and a few million from the AAV, though, and it’s the kind of insane bargain that any team should want to figure out a way to make work within the budget.
Which, of course, is why it would be difficult to get Shields for an insane bargain, even in February. There would be too much interest, pushing the price back up to the reasonably expected range. I’m guessing that’s the undulation that’s going on right now behind the scenes.