After Signing James Shields, Are the Padres in the Conversation?

James Shields

James Shields was the third elite pitcher in this year’s free agent class behind Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. Based on the money shelled out for Scherzer and Lester, either a third team was leery of giving out similar big money or teams were not holding Shields in the same esteem for a variety of reasons.

While Scherzer and Lester wound up with contracts that are a combined 13 years for $365 million, Shields wound getting a four-year deal plus an option for $75 million from the San Diego Padres. Before the option year, the money is 48 percent of Lester’s $155 million and 36 percent of Scherzer’s $210 million.

That factor is likely how the Padres wound up winning the sweepstakes for Shields. Although new general manager A.J. Preller has gone on a transaction spree by adding outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, the price it took to get Shields likely fits in with their budgetary framework more so than a figure of six years, $120-125 million.

That’s a figure that Shields and his agent were anticipating and what was projected to happen from a team like the Boston Red Sox. That was before the Red Sox wound up making trades for Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and signing Justin Masterson, a trio of younger pitchers with cheaper price tags.

Of the three big time pitchers of this free agent class, Shields is the oldest. Even with his “advanced” age, when the risk factor of long-term deals for pitchers (see CC Sabathia, Kevin Brown and Johan Santana) comes into play due to injuries, the argument can be made that the Padres signed Shields for a relative “bargain” price.

Even though the “bargain” is the richest contract in Padres history, it gives the Padres credibility. At least it should if Shields career numbers to date are taken into account.

The Padres can now talk about having an ace. While Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy have done some nice things recently, Shields has accomplished more and enhances a pitching staff that held the fourth-best ERA (3.27) in the game last season.

Among those accomplishments are pitching more innings than anyone since 2007, a year that saw him throw 215 innings while going 12-8 with a 3.85 ERA on a 96-loss team in Tampa Bay. Since then he holds the distinction of pitching at least 237 innings and making at least 33 starts in the previous four years.

That comes out to 932 2/3 innings over 134 starts and that’s an average of about seven innings per start.

Oddly that seemed to be a deterrent to Shields and his quest at a bigger contract. It appeared apparent that teams were leery of his durability due to arm concerns. All of those concerns took place while Shields gets lauded for leading the Royals into the playoffs before being ridiculed for having a 6.12 ERA in the playoffs.

Of course none of what the Padres have done will mean a thing if they follow the path of some other offseason winners like the 2011-12 Marlins, 2012-13 Blue Jays, 1991-92 Mets. If it fails, the Padres have a depleted minor league system and are without their first-round pick in 2015.

Ultimately, the Padres reached the crossroads of the question of rebuilding vs. going for it. Bottom line staying in the background of their aggressive counterparts such as the Dodgers and the Giants was not a blueprint for success.

This is a team that last made the playoffs in 2006. Since losing that classic one-game playoff to the Rockies in 2007, their win and run totals have been the following:

2008: 63 wins, 637 scored, 764 allowed
2009: 75 wins, 638 scored, 769 allowed
2010: 90 wins, 665 scored, 581 allowed
2011: 71 wins, 593 scored, 611 allowed
2012: 76 wins, 651 scored, 710 allowed
2013: 76 wins, 618 scored, 700 allowed
2014: 77 wins, 535 scored, 577 allowed

This may be another year when the Padres miss out on the postseason but it seems that by adding Shields, they can get in the conversation.

Once you get into the conversation good things may start happening. Just ask Shields previous employer – the Kansas City Royals.

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Larry Fleisher
Larry Fleisher has covered sports in various capacities for nearly 15 years. He is a writer/editor for the Sports Xchange and has also worked for SportsTicker and Metro New York newspaper. Larry also has worked on many NBA broadcasts doing stats, on several TV shows as a background actor. He is a member of the Pro Basketball Writers Association and the Internet Baseball Writers Association.