Free-agent right-hander James Shields reportedly agreed to a four-year contract with the San Diego Padres on Monday morning, according to various news outlets.
The deal reportedly is worth $75 million with an option.
The Padres add Shields to a rotation that includes Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy and various other candidates for the back end of the rotation.
The agreement comes 22 days after the Washington Nationals and Max Scherzer agreed to a seven-year, $210 million deal, and almost two months after the Chicago Cubs signed Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract.
Among the top-end free agents, that had left the veteran Shields, the right-hander with the “Big Game” nickname and 5.46 postseason ERA.
Shields is 33, so two years older than Lester and 2 ½ years older than Scherzer. He’s also logged far more innings.
He does, however, come with a reputation as a gamer, a good teammate and mentor figure, and a pitcher with some solid years left in him. He’s posted eight consecutive seasons of at least 200 innings, the past four seasons – two in Tampa Bay and two in Kansas City – with a combined ERA of 3.17. He’s spent his career in the more demanding American League and ranks fifth among active pitchers in strikeouts to walks, and consistently rates well in ERA adjusted to his ballpark and fielding independent pitching.
Where the Scherzer and Lester markets were limited to teams that could – or would – commit $210 million or $155 million to a starting pitcher, Shields presumably could be had for fewer years and dollars, in theory broadening his market. Then again, as the offseason approached February, more than a few teams were at or approaching their allotted budgets.
An early winter report that Shields had a five-year, $110 million offer in hand suggested Shields could come off the board early. Weeks passed, however. As January arrived, the Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers were thought to have interest in Shields, and speculation grew that rotation-light teams – the New York Yankees, for one, and the Texas Rangers viewed Shields as an emergency possibility – were waiting for the cost to come down.
Though you might not know it from the bigger recent signings – Scherzer at seven years, Lester at six – teams do seem warier of the long-term contract for a pitcher, particularly in light of the rash of recent Tommy John surgeries. So, teams appeared hesitant to commit to five years for Shields.
Another element to Shields’ free agency, perhaps, was his October performance. Following a typically sturdy regular season – he was 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA, made 34 starts, pitched 227 innings and was the undisputed ace of the Royals’ staff – Shields was largely ineffective in the postseason. He made five starts, averaged five innings in them and popped a 6.12 ERA and .330 batting average against. While the sample size was rather narrow, it was also the lasting impression general managers took with them into Shields’ free agency.
Then, just as it would seem to have arrived at Shields’ time – after Scherzer joined the Washington Nationals – came another possible complication. The Nationals could trade one of their existing starters, meaning teams had that to consider, along with the availability of Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels.
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