Column: The Red Sox are the best fit for James Shields, so why are they not making a move to sign him?
It's January 14 and I'm sitting here at my desk enjoying a snow day for 0.3" of snow. While that's beside the point, baseball is not too far away, and while children around my area are still getting snow days, pitchers and catchers will report in just over a month. Two of the three best free agents, Max Scherzer and James Shields, are still unsigned. Shields' market seems to be picking up ever so slightly. Perhaps an end to the sweepstakes is near.
That brings me to my point. The Boston Red Sox need to sign James Shields. He is the answer to their prayers for contention, shown earlier in the offseason with the signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to multi-million dollar deals. The Sox' rotation was in shambles at that point. After signing both Sandoval and Ramirez, the Red Sox had three "viable" starting pitchers: Joe Kelly, Clay Buchholz, and Brandon Workman.
After losing to the Cubs in the race for Jon Lester, the Red Sox went out and made a few moves to try to fix up their rotation issues, agreeing to terms with Justin Masterson on a one-year, $2 million deal, and acquiring Wade Miley and Rick Porcello from the Diamondbacks and Tigers, respectively.
Boston's rotation does not have a true No. 1 starter in it, but it looks pretty solid across the board. Buchholz is a two-time All-Star, Porcello is coming off a career year, Kelly posted a 2.69 ERA in 2013, Masterson is another All-Star, and Miley finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2012.
However, the Red Sox' rotation can also be looked at this way: Buchholz is coming off a season with an ERA over five, Porcello was a below-average starter from 2009 to 2013, Kelly only pitched 96 average big league innings last season, Masterson was horrendous, and Miley has been only average in about 400 innings since the great rookie campaign.
That's where James Shields comes in. Shields can solidify any issues that could arise with the Red Sox' rotation, and would likely push Joe Kelly to the bullpen, where he has posted better career numbers anyway. Shields would also give the Red Sox an estimated extra three wins (per fWAR), which could be the difference between 84-87 wins and 87-90 wins. According to FanGraphs, the Red Sox are projected to win the AL East, but by a slim margin, with every team, except the Orioles, projected to win 80 games.
Yes, projections are just that, projections. However, they do make a point. That is, the AL East has no clear favorite. Shields could be the difference between winning the division or getting a Wild Card spot for Boston. If the Red Sox are truly set on contending next year, signing James Shields should be a no-brainer for them. Red Sox owner John Henry was quoted as saying that the Red Sox would be willing to "blow through" the luxury tax for one year to sign Jon Lester, so why not do the same with Shields?
In terms of payroll, the Red Sox, with arbitration and pre-arbitration projections by MLBTradeRumors.com, currently have a payroll around $176.8 million. In terms of guaranteed contracts only, the Red Sox have $86.6 million guaranteed for 2016, $78.4 million for 2017, and $70.1 million for 2018. Adding on Shields at about an average of $20 million a year would put them over the luxury tax this year, but they could stay under for the years to come.
As the snow continues to fall (not really), the Red Sox' front office better be heating up. One way they could they could heat up is by signing James Shields.