The Padres have agreed to trade James Shields to the White Sox in exchange for Erik Johnson and prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. San Diego will also be picking up $31 of the $58 million still owed to Shields.
With Shields aboard, the expectation is that either Mat Latos or Miguel Gonzalez will lose his spot in the rotation. Regardless of whether the White Sox demote Latos or Gonzalez, their top four will likely consist of Sale, Quintana, Shields and Carlos Rodon as long as all four are healthy. Whether Shields will stay in that top four beyond 2016 is up in the air, though, as he could opt out of the final two years of his contract at season’s end. That would mean leaving $42MM on the table, however.
Shields, 34, isn’t the pitcher he was during his best years with the Rays and Royals, but he remains a competent innings eater who’s on pace to exceed the 200-inning plateau and surpass the 30-start barrier for the 11th straight season. That aside, Shields does come with red flags. After a dreadful final start with the Padres, Shields’ ERA (4.28) is at its highest since 2010. Further, his strikeout rate – which spiked to a personal-best 9.61 per nine innings last year – has regressed to 7.62 (closer to his 7.84 career average) and the control that he displayed in his earlier days has declined. Shields’ walk rate is at 3.61 per nine innings, which is in line with last year’s 3.6, and his velocity has dipped. To Shields’ credit, he has long been a capable ground-ball generator – at 48 percent this year, there’s no sign he’s slowing down in that area. That should help his cause as he shifts to the hitter-friendly confines of U.S. Cellular Field, but he does have the third-highest home run rate among qualified starters since last season (16.9 percent).
While Shields isn’t the pitcher he once was, he still represents a slight improvement over current options for Chicago and will provide some additional depth in case of injury, and came at little cost. Neither of the two players San Diego received are expected to have significant impact, and at this point the deal seems to be more about washing their hands of a terrible deal and cutting whatever loses they could.