On Saturday morning, Buster Olney broke the news that James Shields had cleared revocable trade waivers. This means two things: one, that Shields was eligible to be dealt to any team prior to the August 31 waiver trade deadline, and two, that a new trade rumor mill had begun. The Padres held fast at the non-waiver deadline, as they felt that a playoff spot was within their reach, so it may seem unlikely that they'd reverse course so quickly - particularly by dealing someone that is under contract through at least the end of next season. Of course, July 31st may well be viewed as a long time ago, as the Padres have went 4-7 in August, and are now 9.5 GB in the NL West and 10.5 GB in the Wild Card. Before delving into whether the Yankees should pursue Shields, it's worth noting that, despite all of the injuries and disappointments, pitching does not seem to be an issue right now. The team has allowed 3.91 runs per game since the break, which would put them sixth in the AL on the season (and only fifteen runs in their current four game losing streak). The offense has been the greater culprit of late, and the team's success will hinge on the bats waking up.
That does not, however, mitigate the need for some stability in the rotation, for all of the normal caveats that don't require a great deal of explanation - Tanaka's elbow, Pineda's forearm/elbow/shoulder, Sabathia's awfulness, so on and so forth. Enter James Shields.
Shields is owed between $3 MM and $4 MM for the remainder of 2015, and can earn $21 MM a year in 2016, 2017, and 2018, with a team option for $16 MM in 2019 (with a $2 MM buy-out). I say 'can earn' because he can opt-out after 2016 (which isn't a bad thing for the team, necessarily - if he leaves, that likely means that he was awesome and believes he can cash-in ... if he doesn't, well, at least he's only there for two more years). It may end up as a long-term commitment if he goes belly-up next year, but it is less egregious than many of the multiyear contracts given to pitchers in their 30s. To wit, a team can be rid of Shields by his age-36 season should he falter. Is Shields faltering already? The answer is not as easy as one may suspect.
He's allowing a career-worst 18.3% HR/FB, and his 1.48 HR/9 is the second-worst mark on his ledger. His 3.75 ERA is between 4 and 5% worse than league-average, after adjusting for park and league, and his 4.21 FIP is 12% worse (though, his 3.35 xFIP is quite strong). Shields is also walking a career-high 8.1% of batters (as compared to a 5.9% BB% for his career).
Much has been made about Shields losing velocity this season, as well. His fastball velocity is down 1.1 MPH from last season, which is oftentimes a red flag - but it's worth noting that his 91.4 MPH mark is in-line with his career norm, and that his velocity in 2014 represented a career-high. Moreover, he is throwing more two-seamers and fewer four-seamers than in previous years, and some of that decline could be attributed to his selection and/or identification issues with the pitch type. In short, while it isn't ideal to see a pitcher losing a full MPH from year-to-year, it is not as disconcerting in Shields' case.
On the positive side, Shields has a career-best strikeout rate (9.84 K/9, 26.0 K%) and is still keeping the ball on the ground (45.5% GB). He's allowing less contact than ever overall, and is picking up more swings and misses. This can be at least somewhat attributed to Shields throwing his terrific knuckle-curve nearly twice as often this season (as can, perhaps, some of the home runs as he hangs a few). It may be a matter of Shields adapting his pitching style on the fly, and dealing with the resulting costs and benefits.
If the Padres are looking to dump Shields for salary relief and a lottery ticket prospect (not unlike the Red Sox/Dodgers deal a couple of years ago), I think that the Yankees should bid with confidence. Signing Shields this past off-season at the cost of a draft pick and the slot money that comes with it would have had far greater ramifications than sending a B or B+ prospect to San Diego today. I am not confident that he will be a Cy Young candidate, but I do feel strongly that he can be a league-average to slightly above-average pitcher that can provide 220 IP going forward ... a rich man's CC Sabathia, I suppose.
Should the Padres want more than that, I would stay the course. As much as I think Shields is better than he has shown thus far, I would not consider giving up genuine assets right now, given the team's justified commitment to the future.