Good morning, friends. Sleep well? Stay up late checking your phones like it was the Winter Meetings and Jon Lester had started calling teams to tell them they weren’t getting a rose?
If so, I’m sorry to tell you that, no, James Shields did not select a team to take to the fantasy suite last night. But there have been some significant updates on the situation, and Shields could agree to a deal as soon as today.
- A second local source joins the discussion on the Chicago Cubs and Shields, with Bruce Levine reporting that the Cubs would “absolutely love” to add Shields to their rotation, especially now that his price tag has fallen from the $100 million range. (Remember how Theo Epstein emphasized early in the offseason that he couldn’t see the Cubs signing two nine-figure pitchers in the same offseason? He was shooting straight at the time, which would have ruled out Shields … except, well, markets change.)
- If you missed the initial Dave Kaplan report that set off this new wave of Cubs-Shields rumors, you can see it here. And if you missed his update on the radio yesterday, you can listen to it here (starts at about the 11:30 mark). All I can say is that Kaplan did not take an opportunity to walk anything back, and he feels very confident that the Cubs are legitimately interested in Shields, and he’s legitimately interested in the Cubs. No, you can’t take that to mean THIS IS HAPPENING! but I totally buy Kaplan’s report: this is a very real possibility. The big caveat, though, is that the Cubs’ interest may be limited to three years. If Shields can get a four-year offer elsewhere, then he would have to choose a smaller commitment and less money to go to the Cubs. That almost never happens.
- Jon Heyman adds to the Cubs reports, citing a “Cubs-connected person” who says the Cubs could become a player if the price falls “significantly.” That’s a little softer than what Kaplan has said, but it also hits my gut as correct, and is ultimately what we’ve always said about Shields: sure, if he comes at a crazy bargain, of course he makes sense, and of course the Cubs need to get involved, even if it’s difficult. But is he really going to see his price drop to that crazy bargain level (three years and $50 million, for example)? I don’t see it, but you just never know when February rolls around and budgets are gobbled up around the league.
- So, who’s the primary competition for Shields, then, if we buy that the Cubs are involved, at least at some level? The last few days have seemed to be more about ruling teams out than ruling them in, but the team that has held steady in the rumors is the San Diego Padres. What we know (or at least think we know): the Padres want to add another big pitcher, and they very likely have plenty of money in 2015 to make that happen. Shields is from Southern California, and makes his home in San Diego. There’s a really obvious fit there. So much so that Bob Nightengale says you have to consider the Padres the favorites at this point, and Heyman concurred in his piece. Seems fair to me.
- The other thing we think we know about the Padres? They’ve been engaged with the Phillies on a Cole Hamels trade for a very long time, though the sides haven’t been able to come together on a deal. Is it possible that the Padres’ preference is the younger, more effective lefty if they can get him on a reasonable deal? And perhaps Shields’ preference is the Padres, but if they swing a deal for Hamels, he’ll go elsewhere? Could that explain the holding pattern this week? Could one side or the other of that all just be a leverage play? For the Padres to get Shields’ price down? Or for the Padres to get the Phillies’ price down? The Phillies’ price tag on Hamels has seemed crazy for six months now, so are they really going to bend at this point?
- All of that squares with what Steve Phillips says, and he thinks it’ll play out exactly like that – with the Padres preferring Hamels, but ultimately unable to get him, and then finalizing a deal with Shields. Maybe that’s the point at which the Padres will be willing to go to four years to get it done.
- This sounds like I’m setting up a pure Padres-versus-Cubs showdown on Shields, but I’m not sure we can really say they’re the only teams involved. For one thing, Heyman did mention the Blue Jays, whose interest probably looks a whole lot like the Cubs’ (if the price is right, make it happen). Further, I don’t think you should completely rule out the teams that make sense on paper – the Yankees, the Cardinals, the Giants, the Angels, the Tigers, the Marlins – even if they’ve denied interest to some extent, or have had their rumored interest squashed. Further, given how secretive this pursuit has been, and given how the price may have fallen, I also don’t think you can rule out a team that you don’t expect getting involved to get involved (the Astros?).
- Given the interplay between the Padres, Phillies, and Cubs here, I do wonder about the Phillies’ rumored interest in Travis Wood – could that be as a replacement for Cole Hamels (his spot in the rotation, I mean)? As in … Hamels goes to the Padres in a trade, Shields goes to the Cubs, and Wood goes to the Phillies? It makes sense, given the rumors, but that’s a whole lot of moving parts. I’m just spitballin’.
- One other speculative bit: if the Cubs were hoping to have the opportunity to be serious players for Yoan Moncada, knowing that the ultimate cost could reach $80 to $100 million, between the signing bonus and the overage tax, is it possible that they might be willing to now re-allocate that money? Moncada is not going to wait to sign until July 2, when the Cubs could sign him, so perhaps there’s money in the baseball budget that was otherwise being held in reserve that could be opened up for a completely different addition like Shields. No, the two players aren’t really substitutes for each other, but given the Cubs’ financially closed system, money is money, and it’s all there to improve the baseball side in one way or another. I think this is a little tin-foil-hatty, but you’ve got to admit, the timing is interesting – the Cubs are effectively ruled out on Moncada at the beginning of the week, and then their interest in Shields is reported just a couple days later?
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