Is it Time For Houston to Pursue James Shields?

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It’s February, and James Shield has yet to sign with a team, although that may be changing this week.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Yankees, Cardinals, Padres and White Sox are all teams that have at least checked in on Shields. If the term “mystery team” pops up, that could be a great sign for the Astros.

With James Shields still on the market with Spring Training just a couple of weeks away, the likelihood that his price tag has dropped is fair to speculate upon. It was widely assumed that he’d receive something in the five-year $100M range at the beginning of the offseason, but now perhaps a shorter deal for the same annual value would land the 33-year old righty.

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Ken Rosenthal wrote a few days ago that history is not on Shields’ side in terms of his age, and the contract he was hoping to receive. Cliff Lee received a five-year, $120M deal in 2011 and has been limited by injuries the past couple of seasons. Mark Buehrle is an example of a contract that has worked for a player of that age, and his career ERA entering free agency was close to what Shields is at currently. In nine big-league seasons James Shields has accumulated a career 3.74 ERA, while Buehrle had a 3.82 in thirteen seasons. The major difference between the two pitchers is the workload on their arms. Shields has amassed just 1910 1/3 innings pitched to the crafty lefty’s 2,679 at that point.

Buehrle signed a four-year deal worth $58M in 2012, or a $14.5M average annual value. With a lighter workload, and slightly better career ERA, Shields should garner a little bump in pay, perhaps in the $16-17M per year range.

So how does all of this affect the Houston Astros? Their rotation ERA last season was 3.82, good for 19th in baseball, but below the American League average of 3.92. Currently, the rotation is shaping up to include Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Scott Feldman, Brett Oberholtzer and either Asher Wojciechowski or newly acquired Dan Straily. While this isn’t a bad rotation, the addition of Shields would make them a very formidable bunch, much the same way that the addition of Shields to the Kansas City rotation helped turn around the Kansas City Royals back in 2013.

Shields is a workhorse, logging well over 200 innings in each year since his rookie season in 2006 when he only started 21 games. He would save the bullpen, which we can all agree is a positive, no matter how improved they are.

The Astros are a team on the rise, and while some are considering them as a surprise team for 2015, they are not considered a legitimate threat at the moment. Adding James Shields would legitimize this ball club, and would put butts in the seats, which (hopefully) allows Jim Crane to spend more on free agents next offseason.

I’m not all-in on Shields, but if the Astros can nab him for the right price I would welcome him with open arms.

Next: Astros All-Time Best Seasons: Catcher

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