James Shields Not Worth the Investment For The Yankees


Max Scherzer has signed with the Washington Nationals, leaving James Shields as the only remaining above-average free agent starting pitcher. However, the Yankees seem content to enter 2015 with a rotation (in some order) of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, C.C. Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chris Capuano (until Ivan Nova returns).

There is a lot of injury risk at the top and the question of whether or not Eovaldi can translate velocity into strikeouts. James Shields would likely be an upgrade over Capuano/Nova and would provide a hedge against injury risk. How much would he actually improve the Yankees’ fortunes in 2015?

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Jeff Sullivan took a look at how much Shields would improve the rotation of all 30 teams. The method involved comparing Steamer projections for each team’s current back-end arms to Shields’ projection if he were to replace those innings. Of course, Sullivan had to make some educated guesses on whose innings would be usurped by Shields and further adjustments for pitchers who would remain as relievers if bumped from the rotation. This exercise isn’t perfect, but it gives a good idea of which teams have the most to gain from a Shields’ signing.

The projected WAR delta (Shields projection minus back-end arms’ projection) ranges from 3.6 WAR gain for the Reds to 0.8 WAR gain for the Nationals. The Yankees come in as the 25th “best” team to gain from a Shields’ signing at 2.0 WAR. Two wins is far from negligible, but perhaps not as much as expected from signing someone with the reputation of James Shields.

Furthermore, this investigation by Sullivan does not include the expenditure and commitment required to have Shields for 2015. In order to have Shields pitch for the Yankees next year they would have to undertake what would likely be a 5 year commitment at around $100 million. This would be for an aging pitcher who, despite the nickname, has never really been an ace. There is a ton of downside risk for in this signing that doesn’t justify the marginal improvement for 2015.

Additionally, this article from the Daily News relays a quote from Cashman suggesting that  the return of Alex Rodriguez‘s salary to the books is a reason for not signing Shields as the team already has the second highest payroll in the league and doesn’t want to go higher.

Beyond just the opportunity cost of the payroll dollars, I’m sure that Cashman is using Rodriguez’s current contract (as well as Sabathia’s and Mark Teixeira‘s) as a personal reminder of how ugly the back ends of long term deals (5+ years) for players usually look. Years 3-5 of a Shields’ contract almost certainly will be similar and the surplus value (if any) on the front half might not be enough to justify the contract as a whole.

The Yankees likely will stand pat and hope that their starters stay healthy. This is probably the best course of action as they can always dip into the trade market if (when?) a starter goes down. Shields is not a large enough upgrade over Capuano/Nova to justify 5/100 as a 33 year old with a ton of mileage on his arm. Shields moves the needle but not enough to justify the cost given the in-house alternatives.