It was hard to know from the outside just how close the Chicago Cubs came to pulling off a surprise and snagging pitcher James Shields at the very end of his free agent run, but it turns out the answer is: close. Really close. Runner-up close.
“In all reality, it came down to the Cubs and the Padres, two great managers,” Shields said today on 1090-AM in San Diego (you can see his comments here). “I think I made the right decision here. I’m really happy about it. I’m really happy to be a Padre …. When it came down to it, I had to think about my family, being close to home. And my No. 1 reason is winning. The teams I was looking at, I knew they were going to win and win now. That’s what I loved about San Diego and what ownership’s doing right now. They had that win-now mentality. They want not only to win now but win the next four, five years.”
Players say certain things in these situations, so I’ll ignore that last part (yes, San Diego is trying to win now and in the future, but I’m pretty sure the Cubs have one of those long-term vision things, too).
Instead, I think we can take away from Shields’ comments that the situations were close, the money was probably close, and he chose the better personal fit. That fit, by the way, is also where he got a four-year, $75 million deal, rather than the three-year, $60 million deal the Cubs were reportedly offering.
Interestingly, Shields could probably say it wasn’t all about the money and be believed: Ken Rosenthal talked to an accountant who calculated the difference between the two offers when you factor the extreme state tax advantage in Illinois, and the Cubs’ offer was effectively only about $4.5 million less. And that was in one fewer year, which means, had he taken the Cubs’ deal, Shields would have only had to land a deal worth about $6 million in 2018 (at age 36) to be better off financially than on his San Diego deal.
In other words, the money was extremely close. There’s an argument there that the Cubs’ offer was actually more generous (in addition to the tax advantage, it came with the higher AAV), so maybe Shields really just did want to be in San Diego, where he lives already. I can’t blame him for that, and I can’t blame the Cubs for refusing to bid over the top to try and sway his heart.
So, in the end, the Cubs came up just short for another big-time player, as they have seemingly so many times in the last few years (Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Anibal Sanchez reportedly among them). And yet, I don’t really feel bothered by it.
I don’t have any feeling of, “Aw man, couldn’t they have just added another year or a few million bucks?” Part of that is the suspicion that Shields ultimately really wanted to be in San Diego, but it’s also the place where the Cubs are now. I feel like they had a great offseason, and I feel like more great moves lie ahead. I can’t say whether signing Shields would have precluded a major signing or acquisition down the road (I doubt it), but we do know that the Cubs don’t yet have maximum financial flexibility. So, if it’s a zero sum game, signing Shields does mean at least some dollars are unavailable for other moves. And I trust that those moves are coming, all in due time. Perhaps as soon as the Trade Deadline.
Am I alone in this? Do most of you feel the same way upon learning that the Cubs were the runner-up for Shields? It just … doesn’t really faze me. Sure, I would have been thrilled to see the Cubs get Shields for three years and $60 million, but I’m more encouraged by the fact that they were able and willing to take that chance late than I am disappointed it didn’t work.