Tuesday, February 10, 2015

San Diego Signs Shields

Shields solidifies what was already a strong rotation in San Diego (Sports Talk Florida)
The San Diego Padres put the exclamation mark on their whirlwind offseason by landing big-name starting pitcher James Shields this week.

San Diego fetched Shields, the last remaining member of this winter's hallowed free agent starter trio, for considerably less than his asking price. Shields, 33, sought a five-year deal worth upwards of $100 million. When nobody ponied up for a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 who's logged more innings than anyone else over the last eight years, Shields was forced to settle for the more modest but still lucrative sum of approximately $75 million over four years.

I wouldn't have gone over nine figures for Shields (and am glad the Red Sox didn't), but that price is much more reasonable. Consider that Victor Martinez, a 36 year-old DH, got roughly the same deal (4/68), and Shields looks like a pretty good bargain, especially now that the former catcher just underwent knee surgery.

"Big Game James" looks like a steal compared to Jon Lester, who netted twice as much, and Max Scherzer, who tripled Shields's haul. Lester, who debuted alongside Shields in 2006, has outWAR'ed the latter by roughly six wins over the course of their careers, a difference of less than one win per season (in Lester's defense, though, he is two years younger, throws lefty, and has an actual track record of postseason success). Since 2008, when Scherzer came into the league, Shields has been only four and a half wins less valuable than the new National, which again works out to be less than a one win difference per season (though Scherzer won a Cy Young and is only 30). Shields is the worst and oldest of the three, but not substantially so, and I would have been thrilled if Cherington brought him to Boston at that price.

But it was San Diego who won the Shields sweepstakes and, in my opinion, the offseason. Remember the flurry of moves they made back in December? The Padres completely overhauled their offense by trading for Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, and Will Middlebrooks. After fielding a historically punchless lineup last year, San Diego projects to have one of the scariest batting orders this year.

On paper, the Padres appeared to have a pretty good rotation as well, comprised of Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Odrisamer Despaigne, and either Cory Luebke or Brandon Morrow at the back end. The addition of Shields gives San Diego a strong front three with him, Ross (an All-Star last year), and Cashner (2.87 ERA over his last 300 innings), with Despaigne (a prime breakout candidate) and Kennedy rounding out the rotation.

That's a good team. I still like Los Angeles to win the NL West again, but San Diego looks like the second-best club in that division right now. They look significantly stronger than the Giants, who didn't do squat this winter, while the Rockies and Diamondbacks are still a joke. A 77-win team in 2014, San Diego should improve by at least 10 wins, which would put them in contention for a wild card berth. That's a big step for the Padres, who have had just one winning season out of the last seven and haven't reached the postseason since 2006.

Who knows: they might even exceed 90 wins for the first time since 1998. That would be quite a feat.

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