While I wouldn’t call it a foregone conclusion that the Giants, having missed out on Jon Lester and not having piled up on other pitchers like the Red Sox, were going to sign James Shields, I would definitely have called them the favorite.
I put that in the past tense, because it’s now something of a serious question as to whether the Giants are in on Shields at all. First, there were comments from GM Brian Sabean about financial constraints and a limited ability to add in multiple places after re-signing Jake Peavy and Sergio Romo, and picking up Casey McGehee. The Giants’ preference may be to use their resources on adding a left fielder.
That all aligns, then, with this report from Jim Bowden, which has the Giants out on Shields altogether:
Giants are out on Shields, never in on Scherzer and still trying to work a deal on Zobrist according to sources
— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenMLB) January 3, 2015
A legit financial issue? A lack of strong interest in Shields, specifically? A negotiating ploy?
It’s always hard to know for sure in these situations, but it’s totally implausible that the Giants would rather wait until after this season to spend big on another pitcher when (1) Tim Lincecum’s bizarre extension rolls off the books (as does the Tim Hudson deal), and (2) the pool of high-end pitching talent from which to choose could be significant.
If the Giants are indeed out on Shields, it remains to be seen what his market will be. The early favorites were always the Red Sox and Cubs, but each of those teams has likely moved on (Shields was viewed as more of a back-up plan if the Cubs didn’t land Lester). With the Giants out, it’s a field of mystery teams.
It’s still possible that Shields will be this year’s Kyle Lohse or Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana – a guy whose market and price tag was expected to be relatively robust when the offseason began, only to find that a confluence of circumstances ranging from other transactions to draft pick compensation conspired to leave him on the market too long, and drive his price down markedly? I think Shields is a much better bet than those two guys, and I still believe he’s going to get a four or five-year deal with an AAV near $20 million. But a downward spiral from here is not impossible, especially when you consider his age (33), the dwindling pool of teams to bid on him, and the aforementioned increasing pool of pitching talent coming soon.
Although the Cubs’ front office has been clear that they very likely won’t add two nine-figure pitchers in a single offseason, what if Shields’ price tag fell into the four-year, $75 million range? The three-year, $60 million range? When you consider the Cubs would have to give up only a second round pick, might they not suddenly become a likely suitor again?
I’m not so sure. But maybe. The primary rub there, though, is that if Shields’ price drops into a range where the Cubs would consider it, they wouldn’t be the only team suddenly interested. Are you going to tell me that the Yankees wouldn’t be interested at 3/$60M or 4/$75M? Are the Giants still balking at that level? Even the Red Sox could get back into things. Maybe the Royals then have a better chance to re-sign Shields. Maybe the Nationals or Tigers make good on those rumors to sign a big name and trade another big name. Many other teams could jump in if the price fell enough.
I think it’s still worth monitoring the Shields market, but I doubt very much his price tag will fall into a perfect range where the Cubs would want to pull the trigger, but no other team would be willing to top it.