James Shields is the latest starting pitcher to make the rounds in trade deadline discussion circles. Within the past week, I’ve seen the Tampa Bay Rays starter linked to the Angels, Rangers, and most recently StanGraphs’ own team of choice, the St. Louis Cardinals. Please don’t take this rumor all that seriously, though; from what I’ve read, the possibility of a Shelby-for-Shields trade was brought up on a talk radio show by St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Joe Strauss. These whisperings haven’t even become seriously to get attention on MLB Trade Rumors or make me stay awake at night.
Still, I can’t help but begin picturing Shields as a Cardinal. It’s a pretty satisfying image, right? James Shields is simply really, really good; even his obviously dominant 2011 wasn’t enough to convince many of his prowess, but it’s real. For his career, Shields has posted a FIP of 3.90 and a corresponding xFIP figure of 3.64. He’s been worth at least 3.7 WAR in four of the last five seasons, and he’s roughly on pace to do it again in 2012 despite terrible luck (.340 BABIP, 68.2 LOB%) and ugly SportsCenter stats. The man has struck out more than eight batters per nine three years running, and his walk rate has never exceeded 2012′s 2.88/9 at any point in his career. Shields is just the type of pitcher that always seems over or undervalued by analysts and fans. Some may point to his fortunate 2.82 ERA a year ago and call him a fluke, while others may reference his consistently solid predictive numbers as indicators that he’s always been a very good starting pitcher.
There are other reasons to like Shields, too. Just now 30 years of age, Shields is actually throwing a shade harder (91.8 MPH on the average fastball) and inducing more ground balls (53.7%) in 2012. He’s spent the duration of his solid career pitching large chunks of his seasons to the most deadly opponents in the game. The AL East has been something of a pitcher’s mine field for years, and Shields as acquitted himself rather nicely despite the danger. Just imagine what he could do should he escape such an environment and find himself facing weaker NL opponents. There’s a good chance that a change of scenery would actually serve to make Shields look even better than he is rather than worse.
If you think I’m done raving about how you should fall in love with James Shields and move to New Hampshire with him, you’re wrong. The 6’4″ right-hander comes with one more attractive feature: affordable team options for 2013 and 2014. Should a team try and land Shields, they won’t just be borrowing him, they’ll be integrating him in their organization and rotation. The team options for Shields are $9 million for 2013 and $12 million for 2014. I seriously don’t think there’s any way a team would turn those down, particularly the impending option for next season. The buyouts on these team options are $1.5 million and $1 million respectively, though I again don’t think that’s going to be an issue any team decides to deal with.
I like the idea of welcoming James Shields to Missouri, perhaps even with a giant welcome banner, a pizza, and a fifth of vodka that is at least five times as expensive as the usual StanGraphs choice. Any and all Shields-related rumors that also involved the Cardinals and Wild Internet Speculation seem to be linked directly to pitching prospect Shelby Miller. Miller’s stock has dropped considerably as he’s suffered a few setbacks in 2012 (loss of velocity, general shittiness), but he still has a world of talent and his fastball is starting to get faster again.
Miller entered the season as not only the most highly-regarded pitcher in the St. Louis system, but as one of the most exciting talents in the game. Pretty much every well-known source of prospect knowledge had miller listed among the top 10 or so prospects in all of baseball. A recent mid-season update to Baseball America’s top prospects list might indicate the general industry opinion of his current status. Before the season, BA had Miller as the eighth most tantalizing prospect in baseball; after just three months of the 2012 season, the publication had shuttled him down to the number 20 spot.
If you’ve been to our site before, you’re awesome. Whoops. What I meant to say was, if you’ve been to our site before then you’re probably aware that we’re generally not in favor of dealing top prospects for veterans. The best way to build a contender and stay relevant and competitive for the long haul is to develop your own cost-controlled talent, so giving it away typically isn’t the most advisable of ideas. When considering Miller for Shields, I find myself rooting for it to happen. There are plenty of scenarios, and likely ones at that, that result in Miller’s ceiling not equaling that of Shields. Aside from comparing the relative merits of these two pitchers down the line, it’s important to remember that the Cardinals are a team in a unique and enviable position. The team is clearly in contention mode right now, but it also has a nice farm system to rely on for the future. Losing Miller hurts the system, but such a move would hardly serve to cripple it.
Should Shields seriously be available for the Cardinals, he’s a very good fit and as a fan, I’m comfortable with giving up Miller to acquire him. Shields would provide the Cardinals with a very good second starter behind Adam Wainwright and fill the void getting ready to be left as the other veteran starters prepare to leave for free agency (Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook are of course who I’m writing vaguely about). It’s entirely possible that Shields would even be costing the team less than Lohse over the next two seasons given the deal our favorite motocross enthusiast is likely to get. Shields would be the rare deadline acquisition that not only helps out now, but is guaranteed to be in the fold for multiple seasons in the future. Again, though, we shouldn’t think about it too much; it’s Joe Strauss we’re talking about here.