Let’s set up a disclaimer first. For one, I am not saying that the Chicago Cubs absolutely need another pitcher; I’m just saying it would be nice to have another guy in the mix so that they don’t have to rely on Tsuyoshi Wada (or whoever) as the #5 starter. For another, we already know that the Cubs front office is super disciplined and won’t be bullied into a deal they don’t want to make (but that goes without saying for most GMs worth their salt). So this is a purely hypothetical exercise.
The reason I am doing this is because it appears that free agent starter James Shields is having trouble convincing a team to blow a ton of money on him at the moment. In that linked article, Jon Heyman suggests nine teams (none of them the Cubs, because Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have stated rather transparently that they won’t be grabbing yet another high-priced free agent) that may have use for James Shields. Honestly, any team would want Shields; he’s durable and reliable. But they, like most of us out there, would prefer him on a three-year contract rather than going five years. I’ve made the case before that the Cubs shouldn’t bother with James Shields given the free agent crop of pitchers after the 2015 season, but that’s in the future and we’re just dealing with the present right now. Let’s remake the future then.
I made a joke on Twitter earlier:
James Shields should just sign a one-year $20MM pillow contract with the #Cubs just for yuks.
— Rice Cube (@CubicSnarkonia) January 24, 2015
But now that I keep thinking about it, I wonder at what price point Epstein and Hoyer will jump back in. Of course that also comes with the caveat that if the price point drops, then other teams will jump in too, driving the price back up.
The idea here is that if Shields can’t get the immediate huge payday he wants, then how about settling for a one-year big time payday? Originally the rumor was that he had a five-year, $110MM offer on the table, which is $22MM per year. I’m surprised he didn’t jump on that, but apparently it came from a team Shields didn’t want to play for, so whatever. For a pitcher of Shields’ caliber, a one-year pillow contract around $25MM would bring the Cubs’ payroll up quite a bit, probably past what they can handle this year based on their finances and debt load etc. But other teams could try something creative like this, including the Miami Marlins, who according to Ken Rosenthal are on the periphery but trying to convince owner Jeffrey Loria not to be such a cheap bastard.
To further clarify my idea, consider Ervin Santana, who had to take a bridge deal with the Atlanta Braves prior to getting his surprising deal with the Minnesota Twins this year (after rejecting his second consecutive qualifying offer). Shields is obviously a better pitcher than Santana is, despite being a year older, so his bridge deal would cost more than the QO, and closer to the $25MM I proposed above. Furthermore, if he’s as good as advertised, he would be extended another QO after 2015 just like Santana was, and the signing team should be able to recoup their draft pick.
If Epstein/Hoyer are able to convince Tom Ricketts to magically come up with random money, this seems like a creative idea that could snag a James Shields. The Cubs would lose just a second round pick this year but recoup a sandwich round pick next year. The disadvantage for Shields is that he would be trying to score his next big payday starting at his age 34 season, and smart teams would avoid that even more…unless he has a monster year, in which case a crazy GM might throw the armored truck at him.
I realize it’s a very unlikely scenario, but it was fun to think about. And $25MM is a lot of money even if it’s just one year and not part of a nine-figure guarantee.