On Wednesday evening the newest member of the Chicago White Sox, starting pitcher James Shields will make his debut versus the Washington Nationals at U.S. Cellular Field. Shields was acquired by the White Sox this past weekend in return for pitcher Erik Johnson, shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr., and cash considerations. White Sox fans responded to the news this weekend on social media with mixed reactions ranging from elated, to the belief that Shields is beyond his best years and will be nothing more than a financial burden moving forward. So let’s break down the trade particulars, and take a look at what the addition of Shields means for the White Sox in 2016 and beyond.
Let me just establish this from the start, the White Sox without a doubt were the winners in this deal. Make no mistake that the San Diego Padres made this deal in an attempt to unload Shields in a hurry. At first glance, Shields’ 2-7 record isn’t flattering in any sense, neither is his 4.28 ERA. Then we remember that the Padres have been awful thus far in 2016, boasting a record of 23-35. Their .236 team batting average ranks 27th in all of baseball, helping tell the story of the undesirable 2-7 record that Shields brings with him to the Southside of Chicago.
The White Sox gave up a 26-year-old pitcher, who has proven that at least until this point in his career, he will never be more than a Triple-A pitcher. Johnson has seen opportunities with the White Sox in each of the last four seasons, over which time he has compiled a 7-6 record with a 4.50 ERA. Over the course of 98 innings at the major-league level Johnson has allowed 105 hits, with 19 of those leaving the yard. Tack on 49 walks to just 77 strikeouts, and the Padres now have what baseball analysts often call a solid “4A” pitcher. In addition to Johnson, who was immediately optioned to Triple-A by San Diego upon the trade being finalized, the Padres received 17-year-old prospect Fernando Tatis, Jr. The Padres also agreed to pay $29 Million dollars of the remaining money owed to Shields, leaving the Sox on the hook for roughly $27 million dollars over the next three years.
On the flip side the White Sox landed an established veteran pitcher, who has made a career out of being an innings-eater and a proven leader to help anchor the middle of the rotation for at least the remainder of the 2016 season. Shields has a career record of 129-104 with a 3.76 ERA over parts of 11 seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals, and the Padres.
In the offseason of 2015 the Chicago Cubs made a push to sign the then unrestricted free-agent James Shields, who eventually decided to sign with the Padres instead. The man behind those efforts on the north side of Chicago was none other than Shields’ former manager Joe Maddon, who had just taken the reigns of a very young Cubs team and was looking for a proven winner and leader in the clubhouse. Maddon has been quoted by local media in the recent days since the acquisition stating that Shields was the driving force in the clubhouse behind the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays who as we all know won the American League Pennant that season. Maddon also said that as far as competitors go, Shields is one of the best he has ever managed. Shields also anchored the starting rotation for the Kansas City Royals in 2014, when the Royals also won the American League Pennant.
With Carlos Rodon struggling this season, Mat Latos coming down to earth after an unreal start to the 2016 campaign, and Miguel Gonzalez failing to win a single game in six starts with the White Sox, an innings-gobbling veteran, and a leader with a fierce competitive streak is just what the doctor called for.
Granted, the White Sox still have other needs to address in the very near future if they aspire to return to the success that they enjoyed in April, such as a left-handed power hitter or a dependable arm or two in the bullpen. The middle of the rotation was a need, and White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn was able to address the need early, effectively, and at a price of virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things.
If you think that Rick Hahn didn’t get exactly what he wanted from the Padres consider this, if Shields decides to exercise his opt-out clause at the end of the 2016 season and become an unrestricted free agent, the White Sox will have only paid him $13 million dollars. Does that number sound familiar? If you guessed correctly, that’s the exact amount of money that the White Sox saved when former first baseman Adam LaRoche retired.
Moving forward for the White Sox James Shields will take the winless Miguel Gonzalez’s spot in the starting rotation, with Gonzalez in turn filling another need that the White Sox had, a reliable long reliever in the bullpen. The White Sox are significantly better off on the pitching side than they were Saturday morning, and if the offense can pick up their production they should be able to see some success moving forward, and snap out of the 6-18 funk that they have experienced since they opened the season at 23-10.