San Francisco Giants

James Shields doesn’t make sense for Giants … unless something’s wrong with Matt Cain

The Giants’ mission — to be in the conversation whenever a starting pitcher is mentioned under any context — is going quite nicely this month. And with Tim Hudson and Matt Cain looking more hittable than ever, not everyone thinks the Giants will stand pat and see how things play out with their seven current starters.

This isn’t that loopy of a suggestion; the Giants were reportedly interested in Shields before he signed a back-loaded deal with San Diego. And even if the Padres would “prefer not to trade within the division,” they’re already reaping the benefits of acquiring former-Dodger Matt Kemp to play right field.

The Padres went from being mega-buyers before the season to sellers in July. One might wonder if they were trying to boost season ticket sales and gain relevance in the community before the season, and now that the tickets are sold and the losses are mounting, they’re ready to go back to being the same old Padres. But that doesn’t matter to most of you, who (I’m assuming) are Giants fans hoping to hear something fun and juicy about any big name, regardless of position, coming to San Francisco.

Sorry, but it’s time to play the role of wet blanket. At least when it comes to Shields.

Acquiring James Shields: PROS

  1. Shields has been a good, durable pitcher for a decade.
  2. His strikeout rate (10.2 per nine innings) is higher than it’s ever been (previous high: 8.8 K/9 in 2012).
  3. Shields probably wouldn’t cost a lot in terms of prospects.
  4. Shields has a cool nickname: Big Game James. Sure, it didn’t quite ring true in the 2014 World Series. But if he became a Giant and pitched well in September, fans would completely forget how much they mocked him last October.

Acquiring James Shields: CONS

  1. Shields turns 34 in December.
  2. Shields is only making $10 million this year … because he’s guaranteed to pull in $65 million over the next three seasons.
  3. This is one high-mileage pitcher. Shields is on his way to his ninth consecutive 200-inning season, which is why he has already thrown over 2,000 innings in his career. Including the postseason, he pitched 252 innings last year.
  4. His velocity is down by over 1 mph across the board compared to a year ago.

As a go-for-it move in 2015, it makes some sense. Part with a lesser prospect or two, get a proven starter who’s better than Tim Hudson and possibly Cain and Jake Peavy, all while plugging a hole in next season’s rotation.

Around $50 million (Hudson, Tim Lincecum, Jeremy Affeldt, Marco Scutaro, Casey McGehee, Joaquin Arias) comes off of the Giants’ books next year, which leads to the big question regarding Shields. Do they really want to tie up so much of that money ($21 million in 2016, $21 million in 2017 and $21 million in 2018, with a $2 million buyout in 2019) in a mid-30s pitcher whose best days are clearly behind him?

Unless the Padres are going to pick up some of that tab (and why would they for a division rival?) it seems like the Giants would rather shy away from Shields and either (1) make it work with the current rotation, or (2) part with one of the better pitching prospects in the system for a younger rental starter who the Giants might have a good shot at re-signing to an extension.

(The concerns about Shields play heavily into my insistence that the Giants go after Mike Leake, who’s six years younger and has thrown half as many innings. Leake is also one of the best pitchers in the game in recent weeks, going 30 innings and allowing just two runs over his last four starts.)

However, here’s what that AL executive may have been thinking.

  1. Say the Giants stand pat over the next three days. (very plausible)
  2. Say Cain goes back on the DL in August after experiencing more forearm tightness or whatever. (sort of plausible)
  3. Say the Padres put Shields on waivers. (very plausible)

This is more about Cain than it is about Hudson. The Giants are reportedly looking for a starter good enough to take the ball in Game 2 of a playoff series. Two days ago Joel Sherman tweeted “SF still has hope that Cain can be No. 2 again.” Cain has been OK since his return, with solid starts against the Mets and Padres, but his command has been spotty and at times it appears he’s throwing BP (like the first four innings of last night’s game, for instance). The Giants may believe it’s just rust after a year away, but the possibility exists that those command problems are related to Cain having to exert more effort per pitch to maintain the stuff (velocity and movement) he had back when he was a true No. 1 or 2 starter.

If the Giants are within striking distance of the Dodgers, but are forced to weaken their bullpen by making Ryan Vogelsong a starter again unless they take action (while keeping an ineffective Hudson in the rotation at the same time), they might be tempted to claim Shields, work out a deal for mediocre prospects, and worry about the financial ramifications later. Adding Shields is certainly an option, but it’s far from the best option.

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