For those hoping the Yankees pursue James Shields as a cheaper alternative to Max Scherzer, it might be worth noting that cheaper in this case does not mean cheap.
Ken Rosenthal reports that multiple executives have told FOX Sports that they expect Shields to ultimately sign for a deal north of five years, $100 million. Two executives believed that Shields already has an offer on the table for $110 million over five years; an average annual value of $22 million. This deal would make him the 11th highest paid pitcher in the league by AAV, a fraction behind Masahiro Tanaka for a spot in the top-10 at least until Scherzer commits. Shields is reportedly holding out for a higher offer.
For any team willing to commit nine figures to a pitcher, the appeal with Shields is obvious. In his eight full major league seasons Shields has averaged over 223 innings, never dropping below his 203 1/3 innings pitched in 2010. Despite pitching the bulk of his career in the American League East, his career ERA is a solid 3.62 and ERA- of 91. That number is backed up by solid peripherals as demonstrated by his FIP- of 93 and xFIP- of 86. James Shields has accumulated 31.6 career wins above replacement, putting him 13th in fWAR since 2006 and 12th since his first full year in 2007.
Of course, at 33 years of age and near 2000 innings pitched on his arm, betting on Shields to continue pitching at this level is risky at best. If you missed Matt Provenzano's analysis of the 23 pitchers over the last 25 seasons with the most similar workloads and performance levels heading into their age-33 seasons as James Shields, it did not result in a promising conclusion. On average these pitchers saw significant declines in both innings pitched and performance.
It's always possible that Shields could be an outlier who lives up to a mega-deal covering his age-33 to age-37 seasons. Otherwise, any team that signs him now might be looking for successful seasons over the next couple of years, willing to bite the bullet on league-average or worse pitching that awaits in the second half of the contract. The odds are that this contract will be a liability sooner rather than later; increasingly though, this appears to be part of the price of doing business with top-tier free agents.
Of course, Shields isn't the only elite pitcher available. The aforementioned Scherzer is 2.5 years younger, and has been a better pitcher over the last six seasons by any measure except innings pitched, even there Scherzer averages a respectable 197 innings a year. Also, with Cole Hamels potentially available via trade, there is yet another pitcher both younger and better than Shields that the Yankees might do well to look at, should they be interested in adding a top-tier starter.
FIP Comparison For Shields, Hamels and Scherzer across Age and Season. Courtesy of Fangraphs
If James Shields does sign for at least $22 million a year, Max Scherzer would likely command an AAV well north of that, and over 6-8 years. Perhaps his rumoured 8-year, $200 million target might not be so outlandish after all. Meanwhile while Hamels comes at a relative bargain, 4 years, $96 million with a vesting option for a fifth year, the real cost might be in the price Brian Cashman will pay from the prospect depth he has strengthened this offseason.
Personally I would not be at all surprised to see James Shields defy the aging curve and post another two or three solid seasons. I simply don't think a five year deal is worth the risk though, and certainly no where near $22 million a year. I'd rather the Yankees pursue Max Scherzer if he could be signed for around 7 years and $180 million, and even then I'm uncomfortable with the decline curve and risk involved. Of course, the Yankee ownership has the financial muscle to swallow the risk with a large pitching contract for either Shields or Scherzer.
What do you think about this offer? Are you hoping that the unknown team here is in fact the Yankees, or would you like the organisation to stay well away at this price?