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Could the Royals re-unite with James Shields?

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The Padres could be dealing Big Game James.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals Review staff has joked a bit recently on how funny it would be if the Royals somehow ended up trading for Wil Myers and James Shields. Myers of course was traded for James Shields in 2012 to Tampa who in turn traded him to the Padres in a three way trade including the Nationals. Shields played out two years here in Kansas City before departing in free agency. He then signed with the Padres for a franchise record 4-years and $75M.

Both players were poor in their debut as Padres. Shields battled home run problems (which you wouldn't expect from a pitcher in PETCO) while Myers missed around 100 games due to injury. Later this week we will take a look at Wil Myers, but for this article we will focus on Shields.

It is a bit complex both valuing Shields and viewing his contract, but I was surprised that Shields' contract/projection doesn't look that bad, at least compared to the more narrative opinion. In 2016, Steamer projects Shields as a 3-win pitcher. That's a big bounceback from his 2015 1.1 fWAR output. Mainly it comes down to a regression in his home run rate and left on base percentage. If that's that actually happens, here's how his value could look, assuming the Padres buy out his 2019 option.

Year Age Salary fWAR $/WAR Value Surplus
2016 34 $ 21,000,000 3.0 $ 8,000,000 $    24,000,000 $                   3,000,000
2017 35 $ 21,000,000 2.5 $ 8,400,000 $    21,000,000 $                                     -
2018 36 $ 21,000,000 2.0 $ 8,820,000 $    17,640,000 $                 (3,360,000)
2019 37 $   2,000,000 0 - - $                 (2,000,000)
Total - $ 65,000,000 7.5 - $    62,640,000 $                 (2,360,000)

Yes, the Padres come out slightly behind in the deal, but it's not a blowout. If he's just slightly better in any of the seasons from 2016-2018 then the deal is better. It is basically break even at this point.

However for an acquiring team they are going to want to do more than break even. Breaking even is nice and has a positive connotation, but teams don't look to just break even on deals. If a club were to acquire Shields they would certainly ask the Padres to kick in money. Mainly to offset the risk of Shields declining quickly or not bouncing back in 2016. Break even seems like the best case scenario perhaps for Shields right now.

I wouldn't argue that you could even be more pessimistic than Steamer is and not quite start Shields at 3-wins in 2016.

Year Age Salary fWAR $/WAR Value Surplus
2016 34 $ 21,000,000 2.5 $ 8,000,000 $    20,000,000 $                 (1,000,000)
2017 35 $ 21,000,000 2 $ 8,400,000 $    16,800,000 $                 (4,200,000)
2018 36 $ 21,000,000 1.5 $ 8,820,000 $    13,230,000 $                 (7,770,000)
2019 37 $   2,000,000 0 - - $                 (2,000,000)
Total - $ 65,000,000 6.0 - $    50,030,000 $               (14,970,000)

or

Year Age Salary fWAR $/WAR Value Surplus
2016 34 $ 21,000,000 2.0 $ 8,000,000 $    16,000,000 $                 (5,000,000)
2017 35 $ 21,000,000 1.5 $ 8,400,000 $    12,600,000 $                 (8,400,000)
2018 36 $ 21,000,000 1.0 $ 8,820,000 $      8,820,000 $               (12,180,000)
2019 37 $   2,000,000 0 - - $                 (2,000,000)
Total - $ 65,000,000 4.5 - $    37,420,000 $               (27,580,000)

Of course lowering a player's production makes their value worse. However it is not as if we are dropping the projected production of Bryce Harper or some young stud who should still be improving or at maintaining. Instead we're entertaining the idea that a pitcher at age-34, who is coming off his career worst season, may be worse than his projection. It's not crazy.

In those last two value tables, the Padres would need to really cover at least an entire year of the salary to get a team talking. You should have noticed that even in the best scenario of the three tables, the Padres are still in negative value territory. It would take something like needing Shields to stave off the average 0.5 wins per year we normally use for guys older than 31.

So using the first value table we can play with some numbers to see what it would take if the Padres were to throw some money in and spread it across the three years.

$10M (~15% of the remaining money)

Year Age Salary fWAR $/WAR Value Surplus
2016 34 $ 17,666,667 3.0 $ 8,000,000 $    24,000,000 $                   6,333,333
2017 35 $ 17,666,667 2.5 $ 8,400,000 $    21,000,000 $                   3,333,333
2018 36 $ 17,666,667 2.0 $ 8,820,000 $    17,640,000 $                      (26,667)
2019 37 $   2,000,000 0 - - $                 (2,000,000)
Total - $ 55,000,001 7.5 - $    62,640,000 $                   7,639,999

$20M (~30% of the remaining money)

Year Age Salary fWAR $/WAR Value Surplus
2016 34 $ 14,333,334 3.0 $ 8,000,000 $    24,000,000 $                   9,666,666
2017 35 $ 14,333,334 2.5 $ 8,400,000 $    21,000,000 $                   6,666,666
2018 36 $ 14,333,334 2.0 $ 8,820,000 $    17,640,000 $                   3,306,666
2019 37 $   2,000,000 0 - - $                 (2,000,000)
Total - $ 45,000,002 7.5 - $    62,640,000 $ 17,639,998

$30M (~50% of the remaining money)

Year Age Salary fWAR $/WAR Value Surplus
2016 34 $ 11,000,000 3.0 $ 8,000,000 $    24,000,000 $                 13,000,000
2017 35 $ 11,000,000 2.5 $ 8,400,000 $    21,000,000 $                 10,000,000
2018 36 $ 11,000,000 2.0 $ 8,820,000 $    17,640,000 $                   6,640,009
2019 37 $   2,000,000 0 - - $                 (2,000,000)
Total - $ 35,000,000 7.5 - $    62,640,000 $                 27,640,000

Even if the Padres just kicked in $10M (which is basically half of one season for Shields) the deal doesn't look so bad and the final year (2018) actually is close to breaking even. However if they are willing to just pay for one season of Shields (and of course get a better package in return) then the deal look pretty good for the acquiring team.

Now there is another factor making this all tricky; Shields has an opt-out after this year. In less than a year from now Shields could be a free agent again. Is it likely? No, probably not. If he does opt out (and forfeit $24M guaranteed) then he could be entering the market at age 35 with likely a draft pick compensation attached to him seeing as he'd hope to get more than ~$17M guaranteed (he just turned down $24M).

Unless somehow he wins the Cy Young next year or has a huge bounceback season (beyond the Steamer projection) he's probably riding out the next two years of this contract and collecting his $24M at a minimum. However, the threat of an opt out is still there, and though it's improbable, it's not impossible he doesn't opt-out.

What would likely happen though if he were traded is he'd ask the acquiring team to guarantee his 2019 money in exchange for staying with the club. In that scenario we'd probably be looking at something like:

Year Age Salary fWAR $/WAR Value Surplus
2016 34 $ 21,000,000 3.0 $ 8,000,000 $    24,000,000 $                   3,000,000
2017 35 $ 21,000,000 2.5 $ 8,400,000 $    21,000,000 $                                     -
2018 36 $ 21,000,000 2.0 $ 8,820,000 $    17,640,000 $                 (3,360,000)
2019 37 $ 16,000,000 1.5 $ 9,261,000 $    13,891,500 $                 (2,108,500)
Total - $ 79,000,000 9.0 - $    76,531,500 $                 (2,468,500)

So we're strangely back to where we started with this first value table. It might be just better off for a club to just eat the $2M to buy out Shields and not risk the possibility of an even greater negative return on a $16M investment.

The best case scenario though is probably that the Padres kick in a few million and Shields then decides to opt out.

$5M

Year Age Salary fWAR $/WAR Value Surplus
2016 34 $ 16,000,000. 3.0 $ 8,000,000 $    24,000,000 $                   8,000,000
Total - $ 16,000,000. 3.0 - $    24,000,000 $                   8,000,000

$10M

Year Age Salary fWAR $/WAR Value Surplus
2016 34 $ 11,000,000 3.0 $ 8,000,000 $    24,000,000 $                 13,000,000
Total - $ 11,000,000 3.0 - $    24,000,000 $                 13,000,000

Of course the Padres/Royals wouldn't know that Shields is going to opt out unless he makes it blatantly clear. I'm not sure how the protocol works for teams when they chip in cash - if it is a lump sum payment, or payments spread out over years. If it's a lump sum then it's a great deal for the acquiring team as they could basically be getting Shields production for free or being paid. I believe though it is spread over the terms of the contract normally, but does the obligation cease if the player opts out? I don't know. Tell me please.

What's nice here is that Shields is only locked up for another three years guaranteed. That fits well into the Royals window of contention for the most part, though 2018 might be a lost year. 2019 though almost certainly will be at this point in time.

So what would it cost for the Royals? Obviously the more money the Padres include the better the player they'll get in return. One seemingly oft-mentioned trade is a swap with the Red Sox for Pablo Sandoval for Shields, or a semi-bad contract swap. Though as noted above, Shields isn't really a bad contract but one with above average risk probably.

The Padres seem to be set with some options for their rotation, but they just traded Craig Kimbrel and are likely in need of some bullpen help. They need some infield help as well as outfield too. However with the Padres it's not easy to decipher what they are doing. They went big in 2015 to try and win, which didn't work out. Now they've traded Craig Kimbrel (who they acquired last winter) and just also traded their starting first baseman Yonder Alonso.

What it seems like they are doing is trying to shed some salary (moving Kimbrel, potentially trading Shields/Cashner) while getting younger. So maybe it makes sense for the Padres to look for prospects in return than MLB ready pieces (like they did with the Kimbrel trade in acquiring four minor leaguers).

Again Shields isn't a terrible contract (if you go by Steamers projections) but he's not someone with surplus value really over the next three years. Likely it would take an decent, but not great prospect or two.

I think we could rule out Raul Mondesi and Kyle Zimmer as the Royals covet both of them. So instead we're probably looking at prospects that might be ranked 5-10 in the system. Those names (based on more popular opinion, not necessarily mine) would likely be:

Jorge Bonifacio

Foster Griffin

Scott Blewett

Nolan Watson

Hunter Dozier

Cheslor Cuthbert

Personally I'd be okay with parting with any of those guys at this point for Shields, though I'd be most reluctant to part with Blewett or Watson. Kansas City would likely need to kick in another back guy like Pedro Fernandez, Eric Skoglund, Alfredo Maldonado, Alec Mills, etc...

Money is a factor as I mentioned earlier. If they kicked in $20M then the Royals are probably parting with two guys from that 5-10 range.

What about this though... The Braves basically bought Touki Toussaint from the Diamondbacks (for Bronson Arroyo) for $13M this past July. Toussaint is top 100 prospect (former mid-first rounder) but he's not Raul Mondesi (who is a top 50 prospect for the most part). Now it's not exact to say that the Mondesi is twice as good a prospect as Toussaint, but he's certainly a better one by some level. Now, the Braves acquired Arroyo (who was recovering from Tommy John) and then basically DFA'd him as he didn't pitch an inning for the Braves organization anywhere. The Royals however would get value, hopefully several wins from Shields, so that's at a cost to the Padres.

Would you be okay with the Royals parting with Mondesi and others if the Padres paid for $50M (~75%) of the Shields contract? Now in this scenario the Royals would have to make Shields guarantee he won't opt out, which would probably make the Royals have to guarantee his final year.

Year Age Salary fWAR $/WAR Value Surplus
2016 34 $   8,500,000 3 $ 8,000,000 $ 24,000,000 $ 15,500,000
2017 35 $   8,500,000 2.5 $ 8,400,000 $ 21,000,000 $ 12,500,000.
2018 36 $   8,500,000 2 $ 8,820,000 $ 17,640,000 $   9,140,000
2019 37 $   3,500,000 1.5 $ 9,261,000 $ 13,891,500 $ 10,391,500
Total - $ 29,000,000 9 - $ 76,531,500 $ 47,531,500

That would represent a great deal for the Royals but they would of course part with the best prospect they've had in a few years. A prospect they are probably wanting to have once the rebuild starts in a few years.

$50M is a lot of money, and it's probably more than the Padres want to part with for a guy like Mondesi. I'd imagine they'd have other suitors with better prospects perhaps if suddenly they've got a half off coupon for Shields in their fanny packs. However I don't write for other teams SB Nation sites so I have to live in this Royals world.