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White Sox Acquire James Shields, Shore Up Rotation

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The Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres have made the first big trade of the 2016 season. Right-hander James Shields is heading to the South Side to form a big front three with southpaws Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.

The deal is reportedly James Shields for Erik Johnson and 17 year-old international signing Fernando Tatis Jr., per San Diego Union-Tribue and Padres beat writer Dennis Lin. Barstool Sport’s Dave Williams was the first to float this as a potential package last week.

The White Sox are finally using money as leverage, which is a far better currency for a team that wants a sustained window. Dollar signs are easier to swallow than dealing a name like Spencer Adams, as someone of his ilk probably would have been in play had Chicago not eaten a portion of Shields’ deal.

For those who are proponents of the more traditional roster construction route, trading young talent for yet another pricey veteran seems like a step backward. However, it’s time to look at the reality of the situation. The White Sox are in win-now mode and has an obligation to capitalize on the primes of Sale, Quintana, Abreu, Eaton, et. al.

Tatis Jr. is an interesting piece but at 17 years old, he is light-years away from helping this core, and this core is all that matters because it gives the White Sox an excellent shot at being competitive through 2018.

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As for Erik Johnson, he’s had an inconsistent career thus far and the White Sox were simply never high on him. So it was either Johnson floundering in Triple-A, or actually being converted into a commodity that could help the big league club. I’ll happily welcome the latter.

It’s time to stop placing this Shields deal or certainly the Todd Frazier acquisition under the umbrella of old regime tactics. Kenny Williams and company absolutely employed a boom-or-bust approach for a decade, in which little personnel or financial resources were allocated to the farm.

Except that’s not what this is. Team building is a balance of shifting priorities up and down the spectrum so that “the now” is satisfied while the future is at the very least not neglected.

For now, 2016 is the priority and what Tatis Jr. does in 2022 is of little concern. Unlike the past, they’re not neglecting the system either. They’re continuing to build new inroads in Latin America, a previously barren talent pool after the David Wilder kick-back scandal and the overall system is far from dire straights.

So while James Shields takes the ball for the White Sox, take solace in the fact that in less than a week the White Sox will have three high draft picks to recoup some of the talent that left town for Samardzija, Frazier and more recently for Shields.

What does Shields bring anyway?

Well, just an offseason ago he was one of the most coveted arms on the market. San Diego ended up getting him for a below market price to be a frontline starter as part of their own push for contention.

Shields went 13-7, with a 3.91 on the West Coast. His FIP was notably worse at 4.45, but his strikeout rate spiked to a career high 9.6 K/9..

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Shields also gave up a league high 33 home runs, and this is obviously the biggest red flag critics of this deal will hang their hat on. Shields hardly profiles well at the Cell because of his propensity to give up the long ball, but he’s not entirely a fly ball pitcher either.

His career fly ball percentage (35.5%) is actually close to league average, while it’s actually dipped to 31.1% this season. He also still generates plenty of ground balls (48.0% in 2016).

Shields was undeniably a big part of the Kansas City Royals’ return to relevance. He spent two seasons as their ace, posting ERAs of 3.15 and 3.21 in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Shields’ calling card is that he’s an absolute workhorse. He’s made over 30 starts every season since he became a full-time starter in 2007. He led the league in games started across 2013-2015.

Shields averages 225 innings a season and also produces close to 200 strikeouts a year for good measure. He’s a legit #3 starter that will look very nice slotted in between Sale, Quintana, and Rodon.

If anything, Shields will be the perfect remedy for a taxed bullpen that has pillaged games the last three weeks. He’s also routinely classified as a high character guy that plays a large leadership role, just the type of fortitude the White Sox will need during the stretch run. Doesn’t hurt that he’ll also be one of the only players on the roster with postseason experience.

The money situation isn’t perfect. Shields is 34 years-old and his remaining contract breaks down like this:

  • 2016: $21,000,000 (portion)
  • 2017: $21,000,000
  • 2018: $21,000,000
  • 2019: $16,000,000 (option with $2 million buy-out)

San Diego will be picking up $29 million of the tab, leaving the White Sox on the hook for a cool but palatable $27 million. What complicates this further is that Shields can opt-out after this season, a decision he may consider based on how dearth the free agent arm market appears.

If anything, Shields will be the perfect remedy for a taxed bullpen that has pillaged games the last three weeks.

Then again, he won’t be able to justify such a move if he isn’t confident he can get at least $60 million over 3 years as a 35-year-old, which is unlikely but will depend heavily on how he pitches down the stretch.

Either way, you’re paying Shields to help primarily in 2016. With Latos and Gonzales not long for the rotation, he could be a key component of the 2017 staff as well.

So in the end if you have dead money on the books in 2018 but made the playoffs two straight years as a result, that’s a deal you make again and again. Simply the name of the game.

As far as the odd-man out in the rotation, it’s hard to say, Latos is a time bomb ready to explode, and you can argue he already has. Miguel Gonzales has been serviceable and is apparently finding good results by standing taller in his delivery. If I had my druthers, Latos would be the one sent packing.

However, that’s for another day. Today the White Sox have acquired a key piece, and regardless of how you feel about this specific deal, be happy that they’ve finally chosen a direction.

Next: White Sox: Are They Good or Awful?

There is no middle ground. The White Sox are unequivocally going for it in 2016.

Hey if they win it all, maybe we’ll name a corner after their newest member (Oh wait, it already exists).

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