With news emerging that the Twins are trying to trade Ricky Nolasco, it's a natural thing to ask: what about James Shields? There was smoke between Minnesota and San Diego at the trade deadline, and there's no doubt that Shields is a better pitcher.
Or at least you'd think so. After all, that's what earned him a four-year, $75 million contract from the Padres in February. The issue here is partially about risk, of course. Two years and $24 million for Nolasco through his age-34 season is less scary than three years and $63 million for Shields through his age-36 season.
But it's also worth taking a look at Shields' splits. His 3.91 ERA is betrayed by a 4.45 FIP. Batters hit .248/.327/.450 off of him, but that includes plate appearances taken by pitchers. Take them out of the equation, and position players hit Shields to the tune of .260/.341/.477.
Shields, at this point in his career, is no guarantee to be a statistical upgrade over any of the non-Nolasco starting pitchers in the rotation. Maybe he'll get a few more strikeouts, but he's not going to prevent a great deal more runs. As tempting as it would be to jettison Nolasco for anything of relative value, taking on an extra year of guaranteed salary worth an additional $39 million is absurd.
Terry Ryan and the Twins may not be able to get anything back of consequence for Nolasco. They very well may have to take back a bad contract in return. But Shields is most definitely not the answer.