Sunday, July 24, 2011

James Shields: A Ray of Hope for Reds?

Here we are entering the last week of July and the Cincinnati Reds (49-51) are still very much in the hunt for first place in the tight NL Central race (4 GB).  However, three teams currently stand in their way from winning the division for a second straight year -- the front running St. Louis Cardinals (53-47), the second place Milwaukee Brewers (54-58) and the surprising, third place Pittsburgh Pirates (51-47, 1 GB). 
Shields has posted a
2.53 ERA in '11.

GM Walt Jocketty has expressed interest in acquiring a starting pitcher, a reliever, and/or another middle-of-the-lineup bat to help push the club over the top.  While various names have been tossed around in the rumor mill, one name stands among the rest in my opinion --  James Shields

The Rays ace is putting together another great season in St. Pete.  And with the Rays postseason hopes appearing to be fading fast (9.5 GB in AL East, 6.5 GB in Wildcard), coupled with the fact that Shields' contract is due to give him considerably more money in the next few seasons, it's not improbable at all for cash-strapped Tampa Bay to seek to deal him away. 

In order for the Reds to pry him away from his current team, I think a package consisting of top prospect Yonder Alonso, catching prospect Yasmani Grandal and another mid-level prospect would be enticing enough for the Rays.  With reigning MVP Joey Votto already at 1B, and top catching prospect Devin Mesoraco next in line to be Cincy's backstop, Alonso and the switch-hitting Grandal are expendable.  Shields would finally give the Redlegs a proven ace the franchise has been looking for to go alongside with Johnny Cueto and the rest of the deep pitching rotation they possess.

The proposed trade also benefits Tampa Bay as well.  Their current 1B, Casey Kotchman, is set to become a free agent after this year, which would finally give the major-league, ready Alonso his shot in the big show.  And with no clear catcher of the future waiting in the wings of their farm system, Grandal could eventually inherent that same position with the Rays. 

And if that's not enough to convince you, how about considering Shields' contract?  TB has the majors second-lowest team payroll at just under $42 million.  Their way of competing consist of excellent scouting, drafting and grooming of players through the minor leagues until they come up with the big club.  At that time they ride the success of their young stars for as long as they afford them (usually 3-5 years).  Unfortunately for the Rays, that time is quickly approaching with Shields.  He is due for a hefty raise from $4.25 million this season to a club option of $7 million in 2012.  That salary increases to $9 million in '13 and $12 million in '14. 

Initially, he may look to be a bit pricey for the Reds mid-small payroll too ('11 team payroll=$76.2).  However, his contract is a relative bargain if you compare him to the aces of other teams (i.e.-Sabathia, Halladay, Beckett, etc.).  In comparison, Cincinnati already dishes out $11.5 million this year to Bronson Arroyo -- a reliable, but middle-of-the-rotation type starter.
Shields could provide the "punch"
at the top of the Reds roation.

Not only has Shields shown to be a shutdown starter throughout his career, the 29-year old has done so in the rugged AL Central East Division.  Just imagine what he could do in the more pitching-friendly National League.  Here's a look at some of his notable statistics:
  • 65-59 with a 4.02 ERA in 6 career seasons (all with TB).
  • 2nd in AL in K's (151) and 3rd in AL in QS (17) this season.
  • 9-8 record this year, but is tied for the most "tough losses" in the league (5) and has the 4th lowest run support average of any starter in the AL.
  • Exhibits high control as evidenced by his 3.71 career K/BB ratio. 
  • One concern though.  He pitches considerably better in domed stadiums (3.54 lifetime ERA) than in open-air stadiums (4.66 lifetime ERA).  And with GABP being known as a "hitter-friendly" park, that's about the only cause of concern I could find with Shields.
With all this in mind, the Reds have the pieces to acquire the former 16th round pick from the Rays.  Even if the club missed out on the postseason this year, adding a guy like Shields to the rotation could still set the table for a successful 2012 and/or 2013 campaign.  Let's see if Jocketty and the front office can make the deal happen.


BJ Ruble said...

I would throw those two and Francisco in there, surely the Rays would at least be interested in that. All would cost controlled for 3+ seasons and would give them a starting 1B, a starting catcher in 2 seasons, and a DH/Backup 3B. Two of the three are essentially ML ready and Grandal can't be too far off.

Jimmi Adair said...

Yep, it sounds like a complete win-win situation for all. Would hate to part ways with Alonso, but you have to give to receive as they say.