By Joey Schneider, KCOU Sports
With Spring Training nearly two weeks away, many Major League Baseball teams have already addressed offseason needs from the large pool of free agents. But to officially cap off what’s proven to be a busy offseason, one big-name free agent still needs to find a home for the upcoming season.
This currently unemployed athlete happens to be none other than 33-year old pitcher, James Shields. While proving to be one of the Kansas City Royals’ most important pieces in last year’s deep postseason run, “Big Game” James has not had much success in the open market until recently.
Shields has consistently been hyped as the third-best starting pitcher in this current MLB free agent class behind Max Scherzer and Jon Lester respectively. This duo has shaped modern baseball economics, combining for offseason deals over $365 million and 13 years collectively.
Unfortunately, these previous contracts make Shields’s situation a little tricky, as his experiences aren’t fully comparable to his competition. He doesn’t nearly live up to the regular season potential of Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young award winner, or the postseason credentials of Lester, a two-time World Series champion.
However, the 2011 All-Star carries a lot of upside for teams in desperation of pitching. In his nine-year career with the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals, Shields has compiled a 114-90 record, 1626 strikeouts and a respectable ERA of 3.72. Shields’s ability to be a leader for low-market teams has also allowed him to play an integral postseason role in four different years.
Basically, the fate of James Shields depends on what type of contract he is seeking. Many teams may be afraid to make a financial deal beyond a few years, fearing the likelihood of an injury or decline in performance. As a result, there is a growing possibility that Shields may need to accept a lower sum of money to pitch in 2015.
If the right-hander opts for a short-term deal, it’s very possible he could be playing in the state of Missouri once again. The St. Louis Cardinals have expressed interest in Shields to add depth to a rotation with many developing pieces. It doesn’t seem likely he will re-sign with the Royals, but Kansas City may be intrigued to bring back Shields on a short-leash if they need a proven pitcher to compete to last year’s standards.
There could be a few potential long-term suitors for Shields, but none particularly stand out as front-runner candidates. The New York Yankees frequently boast one of the largest payrolls in baseball, and could use Shields with plenty of foreseeable health concerns with their current rotation. Meanwhile, teams such as the Boston Red Sox or San Diego Padres may look to address their pitching priorities for future years by giving Shields a mutually beneficial contract.
According to a Sporting News report from yesterday, Shields has several offers on the table and hopes to make a decision by the end of the week. It’s not often that a pitcher with the talent of James Shields remains a free agent through February, but it should be a well-worth wait for the winner of the “Big Game” James sweepstakes.