The Chicago Cubs were late to the part on the bidding for free agent pitcher James Shields, but in a radio interview in San Diego today as he discussed his decision to sign with the Padres, the hurler said that it was still a two-horse race despite the Cubs’ tardiness.
“In all reality, it came down to the Cubs and the Padres – two great managers,” he said. “I think I made the right decision here. I’m really happy about it. I’m really happy to be a Padre.”
Shields, who signed a four-year deal earlier this week with an option for a fifth year, was one of the big three free agent pitchers available on the market when this offseason began, but as time wore on and Jon Lester and Max Scherzer were snapped up, Shields remained on the market much longer than anticipated. With that factor, and a dwindling number of teams interested in him, the Cubs ramped up their efforts late last week to land him, but ultimately their bid fell short.
One other interesting note from Dennis Lin’s recap of the Shields interview was the tidbit about how much the Cubs ended up offering the pitcher. According to Lin, the Cubs offered Shields a three-year deal worth a total of $60 million. While that money number is pretty high for a pitcher who is 33 years old and likely going to start declining in the near future, the fact is that the term was exactly in line with the Cubs’ front office philosophy: pay for future results, not past ones.
Despite the Cubs missing out on Shields, they still made it a competitive race, and they did their due diligence. You can’t ask for much more in a situation like this, and from our perspective, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer handled the situation well.
The Chicago Cubs are preparing to head to Arizona for spring training next week, but it doesn’t appear that James Shields will be joining them as multiple reports have surfaced suggesting that he will end up signing with the San Diego Padres.
The deal, rumored to be four years and in the range of $72-76 million total, is one that might be out of the Cubs’ price range, and considering the position they find themselves in with a huge financial outlay already in place for a veteran pitcher, that may not be the worst thing in the world.
Even if that deal ends up happening and the Cubs miss out on Shields, it’s far from an indictment of the front office or a suggestion that they aren’t going to be trying their hardest to win a division championship this season. In fact, a “failure” to sign Shields would represent forward-thinking by a franchise that has shown a lot of it in recent years, and fans should be excited by the notion that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are sticking to their guns about not paying for past performance, but rather to paying for what will come in the future.
All of that being said, signing Shields still wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Cubs to do. Yes, there are guys like David Price and Zack Greinke that will hit the market next season, and yes there is something to be said about a guy whose strikeouts-per-nine is going down season by season. All of those innings will eventually catch up to him, but for the next year or two, it can be reasonably assumed that he would be a solid second or third starter in the rotation, and would really solidify the group going into this season.
The Chicago Cubs are done adding pitchers with hefty price tags this offseason, but with the price tag on one free agent dropping down to more reasonable levels, the team could be pulling the trigger on a move after all.
For those that can’t read the tweet, here’s the gist of Kaplan’s argument: the Cubs have been waiting for the market to take shape for Shields, and it’s becoming apparent at this point that he’s not going to get a contract worth more than $100 million this close to spring training. With teams preparing to report in two weeks (!), he’s looking to make a decision by the end of the week, and his history with Joe Maddon could make Chicago an attractive landing spot.
With those things in mind, a Shields signing would make perfect sense for the Cubs under the right parameters. If the deal is going to be in the three year range, the Cubs should jump on it and offer him as much money yearly as they want. A four-year deal would still work too, but going over $20 million per season would probably be a bit much.
The reason for an aggressive push if the term of the deal is right is simple: the Cubs don’t have a ton of salary on the books for the next few years as some of their impact players have cheap deals. Guys like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Addison Russell are all on really cheap deals during that time, and if two or three of them pan out as advertised (still a sizable if, but a much more reasonable thought than the notion that all four will be stars), having a guy like Shields added to the rotation could make the Cubs a serious contender during that time.
If Shields was paired up with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, the Cubs would have a rotation that would rival anything that an NL Central foe could throw out there, and they’d likely have one of the top five or six rotations in all of baseball. When coupled with the offense that the team is potentially going to have with guys like Miguel Montero added to the fold, and their dreams of making Back to the Future 2 could be much closer to reality than fans dare hope.
* = Kaplan is fairly plugged in with the Cubs, but he also has occasional misses (as do most reporters), so take this and all reports of activity on the North Side with a grain of salt.