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St. Louis Cardinals free agent rumors: James Shields

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"The James Shields market is murky. Perhaps the lights from the MLB Network's Free Agent Slot Machine might illuminate things." - No One Ever

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals have had their name thrown around with each of the major free agent starting pitchers this Hot Stove. It started with the Cardinals checking in on Jon Lester, but St. Louis wasn't one of the finalists in the bidding for the lefthander, which the Chicago Cubs won. The Cardinals are brought up time and again regarding Parkway Central High School graduate and Mizzou alumnus Max Scherzer, even though they've publicly denied interest. Now we can add James Shields to the list. Kind of.

Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal of FOX reported what he was hearing from his sources regarding Shields:

Though the front-runners for Shields are not known, a number of executives tell FOX Sports they expect the free-agent right-hander to land a contract of at least five years, $100 million.

Two execs say it is their understanding that Shields has a five-year, $110 million offer and is looking for an even higher guarantee. But others say that if Shields actually has such an offer, he should take it.

Rosenthal also shared that Shields's agent is not commenting on negotiations. He further reported that other MLB executives believe Shields will sign for under $100 million. It seems that there isn't a lot of concrete information out there regarding the market for Shields at present, which has led executives to make educated guesses.

On Tuesday, former Fox Sports Midwest and current Idaho Press-Tribune reporter B.J. Rains made some waves in the St. Louis Cardinals Twittersphere with the following:

The tweet references an appearance Rosenthal made on the MLB Network. One of the ways MLBN passes the time during the Hot Stove is to play "Free Agent Slot Machine." It's a segment where the talking heads pick a location for a free agent. The first player on Free Agent Slot Machine was James Shields. Here's the video of the segment:

As you might have deduced from the name and graphical format, the Free Agent Slot Machine is not reporting of the type that Rosenthal does in his column. Harold Reynolds chose the Twins as Shields's likely destination and a producer elected the Marlins. Matt Vesgersian picked the Giants. The last to go was Rosenthal who introduced his pick as being "a little bit off the board" before choosing St. Louis and explaining that he felt the Cards could use a proven innings eater to stabilize the rotation because of the injury question marks in it.

For what it's worth, I agree with both of Rosenthal's points. If the Cardinals signed Shields, it would be out of character, "a little off the board." But they do have question marks in the rotation: Adam Wainwright's elbow, Michael Wacha's shoulder, and Marco Gonzales or Carlos Martinez's innings total. We also know that manager Mike Matheny, based on his experience as a catcher, believes that getting innings out of his starting rotation puts the team in the best position to win. Shields has not thrown less than 203 1/3 innings since 2007 and tallied 227 or more innings from 2011 through last season. Shields is also entering his age-33 season, like Wainwright, the Cards' incumbent ace innings-eater.

Wainwright will earn $19.5 million next year and every year through 2018, for a total of $78 million remaining on his deal. It would be an uncharacteristic doubling down by general manager John Mozeliak to ink another aging workhorse to a big-dollar deal, and probably an unwise one. That being said, if the second group of anonymous executives cited by Rosenthal—the ones who don't think Shields will get a $100 million contract—are correct, Shields would become more palatable to the Cards. It all depends on what an opportunistic signing of Shields looks like, and therein lies the rub. It seems unlikely that the market will leave Shields in a position where the Cardinals enter the bidding.