James Shields is the third of the "big three" starting pitchers (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester) to be a free agent this offseason. Shields, off of a World Series appearances with the Royals, might just be the most affordable of the big three due to his age. That doesn't mean that he won't be inexpensive by any means.
The 32-year-old Shields was drafted in the 16th round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He worked his way through the minors nicely, breaking out especially in 2005. Shields came up to the Rays in 2006 and worked his first 152 games (151 starts) over the next five years. He was an average pitcher -- above average at best -- working his way to a 4.25 ERA in 977 2/3 innings pitched.
His 2011 season changed his entire career. Shields went 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and a 134 ERA+, also averaging 3.46 strikeouts per walk in 249 1/3 innings. He led the American League with an astounding 11 complete games and 4 shutouts. He was shipped to Kansas City in 2012 in the deal that moved Wil Myers to Tampa. Since, he's been with the Royals.
This past season, Shields went 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA and a 124 ERA+, averaging 4.09 strikeouts per walk over his 227 innings pitched. He was a 3.7 fWAR player this past year. The Royals decided to offer Shields a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer, but he has yet to make a decision.
Shields just isn't as good as Lester or Scherzer. Those are the facts. He's also older, which means that his contract won't be as extravagant, nor for as many years. Currently interested, as previously reported, in Shields are the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs (obvious ones), but also the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Marlins. It's hard to gauge the interest of the latter three teams right now, but I have to assume they're in due to a smaller contract size.
Shields is a really good pitcher, but this postseason he didn't help his stock in pitching well down the stretch. Lester posted an ERA around 2.6 in close to his last 30 postseason innings and Scherzer has an ERA around 3.6 over his last 30 postseason innings. Shields has a 7.20 ERA over his last 30 postseason innings. This has to be taken into consideration for teams wanting to sign him, for sure.
This contract is a tough one to peg for me, but I really believe that the Cubs are going all in this offseason. Whether this means they are going to sign Lester, Shields, or both, I do not know, and I probably won't be able to tell you until both of them sign. My personal opinion is that they will sign Lester, but I'm not sure about Shields. But it's really hard to peg a contract for him in general. So, I have James Shields signing with the Chicago Cubs on a five-year, $80 million contract.