Ranking the best free agent pitching targets

8 of 8

1. James Shields

Sep 5, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher

James Shields

(33) pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning of a game at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This one is quickly moving towards “too obvious not to happen” territory, but an interesting wrinkle has been added to the story thread as James Shields leads the upstart Kansas City Royals into a postseason series for the first time since 1985.  I could get caught up in that narrative, but instead, I turn my gaze to the fate of my own team, and with their 2014 season over, it is high time to look to 2015.

In my last piece, I outlined a rotation highlighted by Clay Buchholz as a number two starter, and Joe Kelly, Allen Webster, and Rubby De La Rosa comprising the back three. Now, I also pointed out that even De La Rosa’s spot is a tentative one, winning more by default than by performance. Whether or not De La Rosa is the eventual number five starter, this team needs an ace. And Shields looks to be the man for the job. Over the last four seasons, the 32-year old right hander has never allowed his ERA to surpass 3.52. According to FanGraphs, Shields has pitched to a 16.5 WAR over these last four seasons; this number is a mere .6 behind the number Jon Lester has compiled, 17.1, but despite this fractional difference in player value, don’t expect decimal points to divide these two in terms of contact numbers.

This article by Mark Vandeusen of B/R offers an in-depth look at type of contract Shields will end up with this winter. I would forecast a similar range in both years and dollars, and barring some truly wild bidding, expect him to land in the range of three to five years and $75-$110 million. Three years seems overly optimistic, but I would not be shocked to see Shields wind up with a deal consisting of four years and $90 million, or five years and $100 million. It would be shocking to see anyone go north of five years and $110 million, and I honestly don’t see that pricing the Sox out. Shields is the free agent I want this winter, and I think there is a good chance that the Sox will go out and get him.