The Orioles find themselves two weeks out from Spring Training having made very few strides towards improving a team that won 96 games–only the Angels won more in all of baseball–and the AL East in 2014. Some would say that the team only got worse this offseason, losing Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller, and fan favorite Nick Markakis.
A loud minority of Orioles fans have seemingly thrown in the towel on the 2015 season already, feeling that the loss of those three players coupled with a lack of offseason activity all but guarantees a last place finish for a franchise that has been reborn over the last three seasons.
Oh how quickly we forget.
The Orioles were being criticized last offseason for not making any moves as the team arrived at Spring Training in Sarasota. Fans and analysts alike were collectively scratching their heads at the lack of activity by the team and many pundits were picking them to finish last in the division. Then, on February 17th, the team reached agreement on a four-year deal with Ubaldo Jimenez. A week later, they signed Nelson Cruz.
This season, however, there is no Nelson Cruz. There is no Ubaldo Jimenez. Every marquee free agent has already signed. Except for one: James Shields. But the Orioles would never go after a player of his caliber with the money that he is going to command, right? Not so fast.
Shields turned down the $15.3m qualifying offered made by the Kansas City Royals, reportedly looking for a contract in the five year, $110m range.
With history showing that no pitcher has ever signed for more the $50m after February 1st, and the fact that any team that signs Shields will have to forfeit their highest draft pick, it is now being reported that Shields’ asking price is coming down. Could he be putting himself in the Orioles’ wheelhouse?
Why the move makes sense for Baltimore
Though the team already has six candidates for five rotation spots, and Dylan Bundy and Mike Wright waiting in the minors, you can never have too much starting pitching. Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris are both due to hit free agency after the upcoming season and there is no guarantee that the team will re-sign either of them.
With the acquisition of Shields, the Orioles would have themselves a bona fide ace to anchor an already solid rotation and would have less anxiety in letting either Norris or Chen–or both–leave in free agency.
Dan Duquette just traded away two players in Steve Lombardozzi and Michael Ohlman for cash considerations. Could he be trying to stockpile some money to make a move? Realistically, probably not, considering neither of those players would get you much more than a bag of baseballs and a hitting tee, but who knows?
When Duquette was asked by MASN’s Roch Kubatko about James Shields, he didn’t exactly say no. “I think you have to give up a draft pick to sign him,” Duquette said. “He’s in the same class that (Nelson) Cruz was in last year, and Jimenez, so that may have something to do with his market right now.”
That could be an ominous statement from the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, seeing as how Duquette relinquished the Orioles’ first and second round draft picks in 2014 to sign both Cruz and Jimenez.
Why the Orioles won’t do it
Exhibit A: Ubaldo Jimenez. Orioles Majority Owner Peter Angelos isn’t looked upon very favorably in this town by the fans as he has been, perhaps unfairly, labeled as cheap and unwilling to spend the money to make this team a perennial contender. When he has ponied up the dough on players like Albert Belle, Miguel Tejada, and Ubaldo Jimenez, it has come back to bite him.
Angelos allowed Duquette to take him out of his comfort zone when the team signed Jimenez to a four-year deal worth roughly $48m last spring, and all he did was go out and pitch to a 6-9 record with a 4.81 ERA while leading all MLB starters in BB/9, eventually losing his spot in the rotation. Angelos would rightfully be apprehensive in throwing out more money to another free agent starter after the Jimenez debacle.
And then there is Shields’ age. While his numbers warrant a big payday, it is highly unlikely that the Orioles brass would being willing to meet Shields’ demands considering he is 33 years old. Add to his age the fact that the Orioles are reluctant-at-best to offer any starter more than a three-year deal, and we don’t exactly have a recipe for a James Shields sighting in the warehouse.
Look, would Shields be a great addition to a franchise that is only a player or two away from a World Series? Absolutely. And I’m sure the on-air personalities over at 105.7 The Fan would love a signing just so they can stop getting all those doom-and-gloom phone calls. But the reality is that Shields probably isn’t going to be wearing black and orange on Opening Day, unless the San Francisco Giants come calling.
Its true – no pitcher has ever signed for more than $50m after February 1st. But there’s a first time for everything. Some team will sign Shields, whether its four years for $80m, or five years for $100m. It just probably won’t be the Orioles.
Still, stranger things have happened. A fan can dream, right?