With the clock ticking towards Spring Training (Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 21st), it would seem the Mariners are pretty locked in. They have most of the questions answered for their roster, and just a few small positional and bullpen / rotation battles that are common in camp.
However, there is a premier free agent still standing alone out there, and his name is James Shields. He is a quality starting pitcher who has defined the word “Reliable” the past 5 or so years. Shields has consistently hit the plateaus of: 200 innings pitched, double digit wins, and generally has a sub-4.00 ERA.
His asking price at the beginning of the off-season was quite high, and rightfully most teams steered clear. Shields not going to be the Ace of your staff, but rather the reliable No. 2 or 3 guy who carries the workload. This still carries immense value to any club on the market. But he now stands alone with less than 3 weeks before pitchers report to Spring Training, and his bargaining position is substantially weaker than it ever was before.
Plenty of baseball writers have done the math and come to the conclusion that the Mariners are under budget this year. The general thinking is that Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik wants room to maneuver at the trade deadline. If the team looks close to contention, he will add payroll. If the team does not coming together, he will have money saved for next year’s free agent class, as well as retaining the current players (Austin Jackson and Iwakuma to name a few). But what if?
One hundred million over 5 years is the common figure that is passed around by people who are familiar with Shields asking price. This seems extremely high, considering that he is 33 years of age and is not a true Ace.
However, what if the Mariners approached Shields with a deal for 3 years, 50 million? This is around 17 million a year, which isn’t too far off of his 20 million dollar demand. I realize it’s not 5 years, but that’s unrealistic for a 33 year old pitcher in today’s market. The Mariners will not have room at the deadline without dumping a contract, but they could swallow the 17 mill for a pitcher of this caliber.
Now, would he do it? It’s a lot of cash, and it’s for a team with a serious shot at contending. It’s a chance to play in a ballpark that is known for being extremely friendly to pitchers, and he would not have the world on his shoulders with Felix there. Yes it’s half of what he wanted, but it’s a good deal considering how much time is left.
Now, imagine an Opening Day Roster that has a rotation of Felix, Iwakuma, Shields, Walker, and Happ / Paxton / Elias (with the 2 losers of that battle coming out of the pen for depth). That is a championship built rotation right there. Add in the fact that the Mariners offensive lineup will have teeth this year, and the Mariners would have an extremely good shot at the Series.
Is such a move likely? Probably not, but it would definitely make a lot of sense and seriously enhance the team moving forward. Stay tuned…