Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Should Yankees consider James Shields at discount rate?

The New York Yankees have done a very commendable job sticking to their guns by shying away from nine-figure deals this offseason. With Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields on the free-agent market, it would not have been out of the question for the Yanks to go hard after one of them after missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

The Yanks passed on Lester, and then on Scherzer. All the while, Shields has languished on the market. Apparently, he is not a pitcher who warrants $100 million+ in salary, and at 33 years old, his value has seemingly dropped into a zone where the Yankees might take a look.

The Yankees strategy this offseason had more to do with the timeframe of contracts, than it did the bottom line value of those contracts. The value matters, but only in reference to the length of time the club would be subjected to the terms.

The Yanks spent big on lefty reliever Andrew Miller (4/$36M) and invested in Chase Headley (4/$52M). Neither is young, but the contracts they were given are not considered ones which will hinder the Yankees in the future. Scherzer’s and Lester’s contracts might become issues in the later stages and the Yankees understand how that feels all too well (see CC Sabathia).

With Shields’ market seemingly redeveloping, the Yankees are one of the teams that could stand to take on the average annual salary he might garner, and also take the risk of carrying him into his age-36 season. What kind of contract are we thinking here?

Anthony Castrovince at MLB.com suggests Shields could drop into Ervin Santana territory (four years, $55 million) and if that’s the number it would be difficult for the Yankees and other clubs needing a starter with top of the line potential to ignore. Because of the number of teams who might emerge in a battle for Shields at about half the salary it was expected he could make back in October, the total could jump a bit making Castrovince’s estimate a starting point.

Shields at four years, $60-68 million, is more than some are gauging his current market to look like, but something the Yankees can easily withstand from the financial standpoint and roster implications. Shields would cost the Yankees their first round pick, which is surely a consideration, but they do have the fallback of a compensation pick received for David Robertson signing with the Chicago White Sox.

Shields has been incredibly durable through his career, and there is little in his peripheral stats which suggest that he is losing his abilities. Shields has tossed more than 200 innings for eight straight seasons. He has averaged 4.2 fWAR (rounded) for the last four seasons, turning in a 3.7 mark in 2014 for the Kansas City Royals. His strikeout rates have begun to fall, but so too have his walk rates while he continues to throw more groundballs than flyballs.

His repertoire has not suffered much as he’s aged. He continues to throw a low 90’s four-seam fastball which in fact has increased in velocity each of the last three seasons (90.9 --> 92.0 --> 92.2 --> 92.5) according to PITCHf/x metrics provided by FanGraphs. The value of the pitch has slid some (down to +0.4), while his cutter increased in run value (+6.2 up from +2.6). His changeup is his third most used pitch followed by a two-seam fastball, then a knuckle-curve (which PITCHf/x says he’s used for two seasons versus a regular curveball).

For 2015, Steamer projects Shields to be a 3.0 fWAR pitcher. That would put him near the top of the rotation along with Masahiro Tanaka (projected 3.3 fWAR) and Michael Pineda (projected 2.0 fWAR), both of whom have potential injury issues ahead of them.

Now, it is right to suggest that Shields could be headed for a quick downturn considering the number of innings and pitches that he has thrown and that the final two seasons of even a four-year deal could become an problem for the Yankees. However, right now this rotation is shaky and Shields immediately makes them better, this year and at least next season as well. Sabathia will be gone after 2016 (barring a tough to imagine option kicking in), Tanaka and Pineda will be clouded by injuries for the foreseeable future, and no one knows what Nathan Eovaldi is going to become.

Looking at the farm system there is only one starting pitcher who profiles as a potential star (Luis Severino) while others seem to be hit or miss. If by chance another prospect emerges in the next year or two, Shields could minimally be a fine backend of the rotation starter, who might still provide middle of the rotation production.

He might even have some trade value considering the salary in years three and four, and the Yankees’ ability to pay some of that money if in fact the team builds a younger and better rotation in the next couple of seasons.

Here’s the biggest point of the matter. Signing Shields now is a much different discussion at four-years, $60-68 million than it was at five/six years and $100 million-plus. The Yankees need to determine if they believe Shields can bring a few more wins to the club in 2015 than Chris Capuano might, and whether he can sustain his recent production for a majority of his contract.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

James Shields photo courtesy of CBSSports.com.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



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