Leading up to the trade deadline this year, the Twins and the Padres were tied to one another for at least two or three weeks. We noted the league's interest in Joaquin Benoit, and Minnesota was consistently one of the clubs listed as a destination for the 38-year old right-hander. But this morning's topic of discussion isn't about San Diego's bullpen.
On Wednesday it was noted that the Padres had placed both Matt Kemp and James Shields on waivers. All things considered that isn't a surprise, and it's also worth noting that we don't know how complete this information was; the Padres could have placed their entire roster on waivers on Wednesday.
All we know is that the Padres definitely requested waivers for the two aforementioned players, and that - as of yesterday evening - James Shields cleared waivers. Nobody wanted to take the risk of getting stuck with the $63 million guaranteed remaining on his contract over the next three seasons, and that doesn't account for the $2 million and change he's still owed in 2015 or his $16 million option in 2019. As good as Shields is at age-33, that's a lot of money to just take on for a pitcher who is guaranteed to get paid through his age-36 season.
Minnesota has $73 million in payroll already committed to the 2016 campaign for seven players: Joe Mauer ($23 MM), Ervin Santana ($13.5 MM), Ricky Nolasco ($12 MM), Phil Hughes ($9.2 MM), Glen Perkins ($6.3 MM), Kurt Suzuki ($6 MM), and Brian Dozier ($3 MM). Eduardo Escobar (Arb 1), Shane Robinson (Arb 2), Eduardo Nunez (Arb 2), Casey Fien (Arb 2), Tommy Milone (Arb 2), Trevor Plouffe (Arb 3), and Kevin Jepsen (Arb 4) will all be eligible for marked increases through arbitration. A couple of those players could become non-tender candidates, but the Twins will still have a majority of their payroll tied up roughly half of their active roster.
Does adding Shields' $21 million per year make sense? Well, it would give the Twins $94 million in commitments for eight players heading into 2016, not counting arbitration salaries or worrying about how the club will develop its young starting pitchers. It also translates into $95.2 million in commitments (for just seven players) in 2017. As great as Minnesota's farm system is, which would help keep payroll costs to a minimum across the rest of the roster, it leaves the club with relatively no margin for error and probably about the next to no payroll space for free agency or early extensions for young stars.
The idea of flipping Ricky Nolasco's bad contract to the Padres would clear up a little bit of cash over the next two years and also clear a roster spot for a younger starting pitcher. In 2018, when Nolasco would be off the books anyway, payroll commitments decrease which would make absorbing the full $21 million a bit easier: including Shields' 2018 salary the Twins would be committed to $81 million for five players, excluding Perkins' option. Then again, the Twins have nine players eligible for arbitration in 2018 and another ten roster spots to fill, so keeping payroll around $110 (or even $120) million would be out of the question, barring one or two other unexpected payroll-shedding moves or circumstances where the Twins are so good that they can sell out most games and just rake in the dough.
But the money isn't even the biggest red flag here; we can discuss how much the club could or should be spending on players and we'll run ourselves in circles. The biggest red flags which should keep Minnesota out of James Shields territory are, in no particular order:
- Adding Shields while asking San Diego to take on Nolasco's contract, even if it leaves the roster financially viable, would require Minnesota to send the Padres a richer package of prospects. Sure, they're more desperate than the Twins are to get out from under that contract, but a guy like Shields doesn't just get given away. Adding the Nolasco favor just thickens the pot.
- Adding Shields means having three veteran starting pitchers under contract through at least 2018: Shields (at ages 34, 35, and 36), Ervin Santana (at ages 33, 34, and 35), and Phil Hughes (at ages 30, 21, 32, and 33). That's a lot of payroll to starters in their 30s who probably won't be putting up really great numbers in the latter years.
- Young starting pitchers who deserve Major League starter's innings in the next 14 months include: Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Jose Berrios, potentially Alex Meyer, and probably one or two players we're not yet aware of.
- We haven't discussed roles for Tommy Milone, Tyler Duffey, or Taylor Rogers.
As good as Shields is, his short-term value isn't strong enough to outweigh the things he'd cost the Twins in the long run: roster flexibility, financial flexibility, and development time for young pitchers. Until Minnesota is a more complete team that needs just a little tweak to become a real contender, the focus has to be on continuing the rebuild. Block-by-block, player-by-player, making sure the club is better in the aggregate not just next year but over the next three, four, or five years.
When the time comes to make a move on a guy like Shields - when the risk for those extra couple of wins now or next year mean a real contender instead of maybe getting a sniff of the playoffs - that's the time to mortgage some of the future. As frustrating as these last four years have been, and as god-awful as the Twins have been since the All-Star break, James Shields isn't worth the trouble. Not right now, not next year, and certainly not in 2018.