After a flurry of offseason moves that saw the San Diego Padres go from NL West also-ran to Legitimately Interesting Team (shut up, that's a thing), they may already be looking towards next season. The Padres have gotten off to a 41-49 start and are in fourth place in the NL West, 10 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
While they aren't in full fire-sale mode, Peter Gammons reports that the Padres are gauging interest in starting pitcher James Shields. The 33-year-old righthander signed a four-year, $75 million contract with San Diego last offseason, but has struggled to get settled in front of his hometown fans. Shields is 7-3 with a 4.01 ERA, his highest since the 2010 season. He also has a 4.16 FIP, and his walk rate has jumped from 4.7 percent in 2014 to 8.3 percent this year.
This does not mean that Shields, a pitcher with a lot of mileage on his right arm, is on the decline. He has upped his strikeout rate from 19.2 percent in 2014 to 26.6 percent this year, and a lot of his troubles are related to the highest home run rate of his career. His xFIP, which controls for a league average home run rate, is 3.30. Shields is still eating plenty of innings as well, averaging nearly 6 1/3 innings per start.
The Tigers, who desperately need starting pitching, could be one potential suitor for Shields. The two parties were in contact while Shields was a free agent last offseason, though we do not know how extensive their talks were. The Padres will likely be looking for a hefty sum for Shields, who is still under team control for three years. Having another team swoop in to pick up his backloaded contract seems nice, but this is a similar predicament that the Miami Marlins faced when they sold off Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle just one season after signing them to lucrative contracts.
It may not make much sense for the Tigers to trade for Shields now after failing to sign him last offseason, but there are several circumstances that may have changed. Shane Greene has not been as good as the team hoped he would be, and David Price is still slated to be a free agent at the end of the season. The young arms in the minors haven't shown much improvement either. Shields represents a major upgrade over the fifth rotation spot right now, and could fit into the team's long-term plans as David Price and Anibal Sanchez reach free agency in the next two seasons.
Will it happen? Probably not, but there has been interest in the past, so it seems worthy of another mention. The Tigers likely don't have the pieces in their farm system to acquire a costly asset like Shields, and they cannot afford to ship away at their cost-controlled major league talent if they want to compete beyond 2015.