James Shields has had a long career and a good one at that, which is what makes it odd that the free-agent right-hander is still available. Now that Max Scherzer has signed a deal, Shields remains the last top-line starting pitcher on the market. However it’s becoming less clear exactly what that market looks like. The question remains: should the Marlins take shot on Shields? Would he be a good fit for the Fish? Let’s take a look at the factors at play:
Age: Shields is coming off an impressive season, there’s no question about it, but his age should be a concern when it comes to signing a multiyear contract. Historically pitchers aged 30 and above see regression in a more accelerated manner than position players. There’s certainly reason for concern should he require a four or five year contract. One would feel a bit more comfortable with the first and second years, but his age is definitely a significant factor when considering longer deals.
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Michael Hill and Dan Jennings connection: When Shields was a youngster, he was recruited by none other than Michael Hill and Dan Jennings when they were with the Tampa Bay Rays organization. It’s unclear whether they were strong advocates and whether their opinions remain the same as in the past, but one thing is for sure, there is a history there and this administration knows the player well.
Need: It’s tough to say that the team wouldn’t have a “need” for a picture of Shields’ quality, experience and stature, but the Marlins rotation seems decently deep at this point. Henderson Alvarez, Mat Latos, Tom Koehler and Jarred Cosart provide what many believe is a quite solid first four, and Jose Fernandez is expected to be back 15 starts into the season. Beyond those five, there is depth. Brad Hand, David Phelps, Aaron Crow, Justin Nicolino, Jose Urena and others are Major League-ready arms with high ceilings. If there is a need, the Fish are seemingly 10-deep to cover for injuries or regressions. They won’t all pan out this season, but there are enough arms that you’d feel comfortable at least a couple will have break-out seasons.
Kings of Kauffman
Culture: If there’s one thing this new Michael Hill and Dan Jennings era has been known for, it’s Culture. Hill and Jennings have been relentless about acquiring players with good attitudes, winning resumes and great clubhouse presences. It’s been a part of their success since taking over at the end of 2013. It’s unclear whether Shields fits the “team player” bill, but it is certainly a factor that must be in strong consideration.
Cost: This is certainly the top consideration for the Marlins, there’s no way around it – the Marlins are operating on a limited budget given low revenues from low fan support in the South Florida market. Shields would inflate payroll beyond the reported budget of $60-$65 million, which they are near at the moment. While there’s not a big discussion as to whether James Shields would be an upgrade over Tom Koehler, for a team with limited revenue streams, Koehler seems like a perfectly acceptable option in that spot. Shields would be an abundant, gluttonous addition, but there may not necessarily be a strong need for a pitcher of his cost. Shields would be a splurge likely only if the value was right.
The Nationals: The Nationals are the Marlins’ top threat in the division and potentially in the postseason. With the signing of Scherzer, the Nationals’ rotation has become as intimidating from top-to-bottom as any in recent memory. Will that be the tipping point to lure the Marlins to make the splurge and go from a “very good “ rotation to a “scary-good” rotation? A playoff rotation of Shields, Latos, Alvarez and Fernandez can go toe-to-toe with anyone – even the Nationals.
Conclusion: There’s no doubt he’s a top-of-the-line arm that would give the Marlins a “scary-good” rotation, instead of just a “really good” rotation. The Marlins have to like their rotation and their depth going into the season. If I had my guess, I’d say the Marlins passed.