Should the Rockies pursue James Shields?


General manager Jeff Bridich and the Colorado Rockies have been quiet so far this off-season. Should they change that by trying to sign free agent starting pitcher James Shields?

Someday, the Colorado Rockies are going to sign a big-name free agent starting pitcher again. They are going to exorcise the demons of the Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle contracts and they are going to finally persuade a pitcher to convince him to consciously choose to pitch half of his games in Colorado.

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Someday that’s going to happen…so should the Rockies try to make that someday happen this off-season and pursue James Shields?

That was the suggestion made earlier this month by Root Sports analyst and former Rockies’ pitcher Jason Hirsh on the excellent Purple Dino Podcast (if you don’t already subscribe to that podcast in one fashion or another, you should remedy that situation ASAP). Hirsh suggested that new general manager Jeff Bridich should make a statement right away about this team’s commitment to putting a winner on the field by pushing hard to sign James Shields.

Let’s consider some of the arguments for and against this course of action for Bridich and the front office this winter.

Arguments for it

It’s not so scary anymore

Really, the Rockies don’t need to be afraid of this kind of contract anymore. $100 million is the new $50 million. Or something like that. Anyway, inflation and big fat TV deals have changed the climate of long-term deals. That doesn’t mean that the Rockies should go out of their way to give a big contract to just anybody, but such a deal doesn’t stand to be nearly as crippling as it was in the days of Hampton and Neagle.

Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors predicted a five-year, $95 million deal for Shields. Let’s presume that creeps up over $100 million, especially since the Rockies probably have to pay some sort of “altitude tax”, and that’s still really not all that scary a deal.

Demand isn’t going anywhere

The demand for the Rockies to bolster their starting rotation isn’t going anywhere. Knowing that and knowing this off-season has a wealth of starting pitching options, maybe this would be the time to swoop. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Shields profiles fairly well for Coors Field (as noted by Hirsh in the podcast referenced above).

His career 44.7% groundball percentage would work just fine, especially considering the fact that he post a 45.2 GB% last season. Furthermore, his almost comical reliance on his changeup would profile well. Watching Shields pitch, you get the sense that the downward tilt he puts on his pitches would play well in Coors Field. The numbers for a guy whose career xFIP is 3.61 seem to back that up.

Even if Shields were to fall off in the back years of a hypothetical five-year deal with the Rockies, he would still be a worthy candidate for some spot in the rotation. That’s especially true when you consider some of the rag-tag pitchers Colorado has used in recent years. Even if Shields were to turn into a slightly overpaid back-of-the-rotation guy, that would just fine as long as the contract was not disastrously back-loaded.

The Rockies would have a way out

Let’s say that the Rockies sign Shields, and then a year and a half into the deal they are still toiling at the bottom of the National League West. At that point the Rockies could get creative about trading Shields with years of team control left. If he is still a good starting pitcher, that should allow for Colorado to still get value for him and possibly get out from under the worst years of the deal.

This would not be an option that the Rockies should take for granted, because if this deal were to blow up in their face, they would likely be on the hook for all five years. But given Shields’ stability and durability over the course of his career, it seems like a pretty safe bet that he would still be a good pitcher and attractive trade target in a couple years if the Rockies felt they needed to go that route.

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Arguments against it

The need to ‘make a splash’ is overrated

This point should not be conflated with an argument in favor of the Rockies’ stagnant organizational philosophy the last few years. The point here is that making a splash for the sake of making a splash is overrated and usually unwise. That is especially true for the Rockies.

Understanding that Rockies’ fans are frustrated, Jeff Bridich should not jump the gun and make a big move just to make a point. It needs to be the right big move, and signing a 33-year-old James Shields coming off eight straight seasons of 200+ innings may or may not be the right big move.

The payroll is already too top-heavy

Pending a scenario where the Rockies were to sign Shields while also trading Carlos Gonzalez or Troy Tulowitzki, putting a $100 million deal on the books would make an already too top-heavy payroll even more of an issue.

Between the ages of Jorge De La Rosa and Shields (32 and 33 years, respectively) and the injury histories of Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, and Justin Morneau, that’s a fair bit of money tied up in guys who might be headed the wrong direction in the seasons to come. Oh, and Boone Logan is the pits and he makes the fourth most money next season.

There is a very reasonable argument to be made that even if the Rockies can pursue Shields, they should resist the temptation and use those resources elsewhere (say, on a proactive extension for Nolan Arenado, if possible).

In the end, James Shields could very well be a reasonable target for the Colorado Rockies. It certainly is fun to consider, especially if the Rockies could ever actually talk Shields into choosing them over the other teams that will be interested.

If they do so, however, it should be after careful consideration of how Shields fits and how they can creatively use him in the years to come if they need to.

A move for James Shields in that context is one that I would be in favor of, for the right price.