After an offseason of speculation, the news that Tigers fans expected — though were not necessarily hoping for — is finally here. Max Scherzer has reportedly agreed to a seven-year contract with the Washington Nationals worth more than $180 million. SB Nation's Chris Cotillo reported on Sunday that the Nationals and another mystery team were competing for Scherzer's services, and the Nationals came through with the winning offer.
While there are plenty of dominoes set to fall from that move, the biggest one involves another recent rumor. James Shields' agent reportedly reached out to the Tigers late last week, though reciprocal interest was tepid at best. We don't know how involved the Tigers were with Scherzer, but Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski's comments were cryptic enough to believe that they were keeping tabs on the situation. With Scherzer now out of the way, would the Tigers be more willing to pursue Shields?
Shields' agent in "recent" contact with Tigers
There are plenty of reasons why a Shields-Tigers pairing makes sense. Shields is one of the best and most durable pitchers in baseball. He has pitched 200 innings-or-more in each of the past eight seasons and is coming off two of the best seasons of his career with the Kansas City Royals. He was the best possible replacement for Scherzer on the market this year, aside from Scherzer himself. Shields is good friends with former teammate David Price, and it's possible that Price has tried recruiting Shields to Detroit.
There are also reasons to stay away. Shields is 33-years-old, and over two years older than Scherzer. The durability is nice, but Shields is just shy of 2,000 career innings-pitched. That's a lot of mileage on his arm, and there are already signs that his age is catching up to him. He struck out over 23 percent of batters in his last two seasons with Tampa Bay, but declined to 20.7 and 19.2 percent in 2013 and 2014, respectively, with the Royals.
Shields also held opponents to a career low 4.7 percent walk-rate last season after being above six percent in each of the three seasons prior. His home run-per-fly ball rate dropped in two seasons with the Royals, presumably thanks to Kauffman Stadium's spacious dimensions.
Scherzer's contract is as pricey as expected, but that probably will not alter what teams are willing to pay for Shields. There are plenty of other starting pitchers available via trade, including Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, Washington's Jordan Zimmermann, and even Price. Instead of paying Shields too much money, some teams may be more inclined to fork over a prospect or two for one of these other starters on a one-year deal. The compensation pick they would receive next offseason would help offset the prospect loss as well.
Should the Tigers sign him? The answer isn't black-and-white, and largely depends on the price he commands. If his final price is closer to Shields' asking price of five years and $110 million, I don't think the Tigers should bite. He would be 37-years-old at the end of the deal, and his numbers suggest that his decline might already be in effect.
While Shields brought a tangible impact to a young pitching staff in Kansas City, he likely would not provide a similar team-wide improvement with Detroit's veteran club. A four-year, $80-85 million deal (similar to Anibal Sanchez's contract) would be an easier pill to swallow, and the shorter deal maximizes the short-term impact that the Tigers would be searching for.
What do you think? Should the Tigers sign Shields now?