The Detroit Tigers have shown interest in free agent righthander James Shields recently, even going as far as observing Shields’ bullpen sessions, according to a report from MLB.com’s Jon Morosi. Shields, who is 37 and hasn’t been a league-average starter since 2014 (per ERA+), is being sought after by a few different teams, including the Cleveland Indians.
Shields has built up an impressive career, most of it spent with the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals. He was a key part of the Royals’ revival in 2014, serving as both a staff ace and mentor to a young pitching staff that keyed Kansas City’s run to back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015. He earned the moniker “Big Game James” for his work in Tampa, where he produced a 3.89 ERA in nearly 1,500 innings across seven seasons. He logged at least 200 innings in nine consecutive seasons from 2007 to 2015, and crossed the 200-inning mark again with the Chicago White Sox in 2018.
But Shields’ days as a league-average starter, let alone a front-of-the-rotation workhorse, are over. He has been worth just 0.6 rWAR over the past four seasons, and last season’s 4.53 ERA was paired with some of the ugliest peripherals of his career, including a 5.09 ERA and 5.44 Deserved Run Average (DRA).
If the Tigers are looking to sign a starter, it may be an indication that Jordan Zimmermann will be out longer than expected. Zimmermann played catch at Comerica Park on Monday, marking the first time he had thrown since being placed on the 10-day injured list in April. MLB.com’s Jason Beck indicated that Zimmermann was still two to three weeks away from a return, and that’s with no setbacks of any kind.
Signing Shields to a minor league deal would be a solid, if uninspiring way to add depth to a system that has been ravaged by injuries this year. Michael Fulmer and Matt Moore are already out for the year after season-ending surgeries, and Zimmermann, Blaine Hardy, Kyle Funkhouser, and Beau Burrows are all currently on the injured list. It’s not the flashy signing many of us would hope for — I’d prefer if they offered Dallas Keuchel an over-the-top one-year contract, personally — but it would serve an important purpose for a thinning pitching staff.