Thursday, September 2, 2010

Offseason Trade Targets for Pitching (1 in a series) - James Shields

It's pretty obvious that the Pirates need help in a lot of areas. You don't come by a 44-89 record by accident. And while the offense has been horrendous at times, you hope there is some natural progression from Tabata, Walker, Alvarez, and McCutchen.

If this season was good for anything, it was to embarass the ownership and front office into spending more money this offseason to hasten the rebuilding process. There are some nice pieces percolating on the farm, but the ones that may help in 2011 are not "wow" players. It is more likely that the Pirates try to improve a pitching staff that has been dreadful for the vast majority of the season.

But I'm not advocating the free agency route. For the most part, you are buying players moving into the decline phase of their careers and are expending large quantities of cash for declining assets. Rather, I'm suggesting that the Pirates take advantage of the decent number of teams who will be trying to shed payroll this offseason. Some teams are moving into rebuilding phases, but others are up against their own internal "salary caps".

One of those teams will be the Tampa Bay Rays. This year their payroll was at an all-time Opening Day high of $72.8M. Their owner has already said that they will reduce payroll this offseason, maybe into the $50M range.

The Pirates must act like a buzzard circling a kill and zero in on teams like these. And from the Rays, the target could very well be James Shields.

James Shields, 6'-4"/220 lbs, RHP, 29 during 2011 season
Contract - $4.25M in 2011, $7M option in 2012, $9M in 2013, $12M in 2014

Shields' arsenal is a 91 mph fastball, 86 mph cutter, 77 mph curve, and his killer pitch is his 83 mph changeup. His changeup has consistently been his best rated pitch through his career, rating at a +1.6 runs above average.

This year his K/9 is 8.46 (career high), his BB/9 is 2.21, but his HR/9 spiked to 1.52 -- well above his career average. He is also a flyball pitcher as his ground ball percentage is at 40.6% this year. But none of that should matter. He would instantly be the best Pirates' pitcher, especially getting the bump from the AL East to the NL Central.

The question would be "What would it take to get him?" Tampa Bay is notoriously tough to trade with, as Pirates fans may remember from the Jason Bay talks in 2008. But judging on the limited packages received for Dan Haren and Cliff Lee in 2010, I would say something with a Top 10 prospect, a Top 20 prospect, and a lower tier player may get it done.

Tampa has a pretty loaded system, especially with pitching, but you can never have enough cost-controlled pitching. Perhaps Rudy Owens, Quinton Miller, and Brock Holt may interest them. The most important thing to remember is that other teams are desperate to shed payroll and it is a buyer's market right now. Trades right now do not involve blue-chip prospects and young major leaguers. Recent deals are involving more quantity than quality, which the Pirates have.

This will be a very telling off-season for this front office. They have the payroll space to take on salary (especially if they non-tender Duke) and the type of prospects teams are always looking to stockpile.

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