Alright, I’m just going to come right out and say it…
I don’t believe the White Sox should trade James Shields.
Let me make sure I am perfectly clear: the White Sox will most likely trade James Shields. I am not arguing against this. They will get a couple of high ceiling prospects in return from a team that is looking for a reliable arm for the Postseason push. In addition, Shields will get what he deserves: the chance to pitch in another Postseason. Regardless, what I am arguing is that the White Sox SHOULDN’T trade Shields, not that they WON’T. And here’s why:
James Shields’ Contract has been Built In – And You Don’t Pick Up the Buyout Tab
The first argument many people will make is that it is economically wise for the White Sox to shed whatever money Shields might still be owed this season. This could be as much as $11 Million dollars, but it is obviously much lower. However, the White Sox came into this season with a budget that included James Shields’ contract; all the decisions they’ve made concerning the budget to this point have been made with the assumption that they’re paying his $11M – hence, it’s a cost that has been built in. There is no meaningful economic benefit to the White Sox trading James Shields, outside of saving a couple million dollars – which, again, isn’t a meaningful difference for a team that makes millions a year.
But what about his buyout, you might ask? The $2 Million they saved there, PLUS the money they shed in a trade should make it meaningful, right? The only problem is that the Padres, not the White Sox, are the ones paying that buyout. Keeping Shields only to buy out his contract at the end of the year costs you nothing additional financially.
The REAL Value of James Shields is Far More than $11 Million
My reasoning for why the White Sox should keep James Shields goes far beyond any economic argument that could be made. This entire season has been one filled with growing pains and ongoing questions about when Michael Kopech or Jordan Stephens could join the rotation. Many fans argue that Kopech will get the chance once James Shields is traded. So wouldn’t this cause James Shields to become an obstacle, rather than a placeholder?
In this situation, the White Sox would have one of two choices: (1) Remove Dylan Covey from the rotation, or (2) Employ a six-man rotation.
Here’s the argument for (1): Dylan Covey is clearly coming back to earth. As I mentioned last week in this article, while his numbers looked pretty good, they were not sustainable. If you’re going to throw your sinker 60% of the time, you better be sure it’s working in every start. In addition, Covey hasn’t gotten away with the meatballs he had been getting away with early on – he’s given up 16 runs and 6 homers in his last 11.1 innings. It’s time for him to make some adjustments, but as someone who isn’t a key piece to the rebuild, he is still expendable.
However, as someone who preaches patience, I’m not ready to give up on Dylan Covey, which is why I prefer option (2). In addition to benefiting Covey, it benefits the White Sox in several ways. It gives Michael Kopech the chance to pitch alongside Rodon, Giolito, and Lopez, while decreasing all of their innings just a little bit. Every inning and every pitch matters when you are young and have a history of arm problems (Giolito, Rodon). Most importantly, however, it gives Michael Kopech the same opportunity to learn from Shields that Giolito and Lopez have both benefited from.
Remember the first start of Shields’ season on Opening Day, way back in Kansas City? The first four runners scored, and after that rough first inning, Shields threw 5 scoreless innings. His ability to make in-game adjustments based on an understanding of what’s working and what’s not was what kept him in that game – and keeps him in the game today at 36. This knowledge and in-game adjustment ability is something that you learn in one of two ways – someone who’s been there teaches you, or you have to suffer and learn the hard way that even though you throw 100 MPH, sometimes your stuff is just not that deceptive on a given day. While most young pitchers try to power through that or throw a little harder, a veteran will learn to adjust to the hitter. James Shields has the ability to teach all of this and more to our young staff of the future, helping turn their struggles into success. Pitching coaches can’t relate to young pitchers in the same way that veteran pitchers on a staff can.
In essence, James Shields is worth far more than the $11 Million he is paid. What he is doing for these young pitchers is setting up the White Sox’ rotation to make millions in the future, while giving Jerry Reinsdorf the chance to see millions of fans (and millions in revenue) rolling into the ballpark in 2019 and beyond. Jose Abreu has been praised and, in most fans’ minds, cemented as a staple for the White Sox moving forward because of his ability to provide veteran leadership. Why can’t Shields do the same for a few more months?
But What About the Prospects?
This rebuild doesn’t work without accumulating as much minor league talent as possible, I completely understand this. However, there are trade-able pieces on this team that don’t require you to give up important veteran leadership – Leury Garcia, Matt Davidson, Joakim Soria, Xavier Cedeno, Luis Avilan, or even Avi Garcia. While not all of these guys will – nor should – be traded, the point is that there are still plenty of trade chips for the White Sox to deal and get some level of talent in return.
Also consider this: James Shields is not going to get you much – he’s 36 years old with an expiring contract. Teams are debating whether or not to give up talent for Manny Machado because of his expiring contract, so why would you expect high levels of talent for James Shields? Quality paired with quantity is the most important combination; the Sox shouldn’t be trying to trade James Shields just because they can.
If Shields wants to be traded, then you trade him – he’s earned that right. However, James Shields is 3-9 on the season with a 4.12 ERA. He has been worth about 1.0 WAR, but most importantly, he has thrown 113.2 innings already this season. The debacle that was James Shields in 2017 has not shown up this season. He has been a model of consistency and has been anything but painful to watch. Admit it, at least once or twice this season, you’ve breathed a sigh of relief when you realized he was the SP in the game because of the consistency, determination, and work ethic he has brought. 2018 James Shields has proven that he can do much more than just pitch: he keeps the intensity up, sets a positive tone in the clubhouse, and has acted as a role model and mentor for the young White Sox.
This rebuild is at a critical stage. Many of the White Sox’ young players are hitting stumbling blocks throughout the season. This is a juncture where careers can either blossom or fall apart. Someone needs to be there for these guys to help them understand how to work through the struggles, grind and make adjustments when they might not have their best stuff, and become pitchers rather than throwers. Someone needs to be there to set a winning atmosphere, preferably a veteran who is nearing the end of his career. Someone needs to be there to hold young players accountable for their actions and help them realize that baseball is so much more than what happens between the white lines.
That someone is James Shields.
Featured Photo From cbssports.com