Coming into the 2014-2015 baseball offseason, much of the hot stove was focused on three free-agent pitchers who had just led their teams to the playoffs. The first was Jon Lester, whose deliberation on who to sign with essentially delayed the winter meetings. Lester eventually agreed to become the ace of the newly rebuilt Chicago Cubs. Max Scherzer took a much longer time to decide, but just like the movie franchise he's nicknamed after, Mad Max scored a 2015 blockbuster - and gave the Washington Nationals the best pitching staff in baseball. Now, the Hot Stove shifts its focus to James Shields, who helped the Kansas City Royals reach their first postseason and World Series since 1985. Shields is more of a mixed bag than Lester and Scherzer. He has never won a Cy Young, has only been to the All-Star game once, and has a career win pct. of .559. His nickname, "Big Game James", also went out the window last October after Shields had an ERA of seven or more in three of his four playoff starts. That said, however, he is still a consistent 10+ game winner with competitiveness and leadership to spare, and his career ERA is a very respectable 3.72. So which teams benefit the most from signing Shields? Who's in the market for a 33-year-old borderline #1/2 starter? Here's some of my top picks,
Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers
I lumped these two together because their reasons for pursuing Shields are incredibly similar. Both lost their aces to free agency - you can probably guess who those aces were - and they need someone to come in and anchor their staff, which is pretty much what Shields did on the Royals anyway. The Tigers make the most sense, as Shields is similar in many ways to Max Scherzer and is close friends with Tigers pitcher David Price. However, don't count out the Red Sox, who have spent big this offseason and could easily have another big contract in them. If Boston doesn't make another move this season, they'll have to risk relying on Rick Porcello as their frontline starter.
San Francisco Giants
Don't think the Giants will stop after their third world championship in five years. They desperately want to become mainstay contenders and prove that 2014 was not a Madison Bumgarner-fueled fluke. To do so, they need pitching - even more so now that Pablo Sandoval's bat is no longer in their lineup. Bumgarner and Shields could provide a 1-2 punch that would rival Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke of the Dodgers and give San Francisco what it needs to stay on the top of the NL West year after year.
If the Marlins are committed to competing in the NL East in 2015 - and the solid lineup they've built around MVP runner-up Giancarlo Stanton sure gives that impression - then they need an answer to the Nationals' loaded pitching staff. It all depends on how much money the Marlins are willing to spend on Shields after signing Stanton to a massive $325 million extension. They might not have a choice, however, as ace Jose Fernandez's success in returning from Tommy John surgery is yet to be determined.
Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners
Both Chicago and Seattle will be gunning for October with one of the best pitchers in baseball leading the way (Lester and Felix Hernandez, respectively), but they have to be concerned with their meager rotation depth behind those aces. Shields may provide the answer, as some of his best years in Tampa Bay were as a #2 starter behind the likes of Price and Scott Kazmir. Seattle has doled out huge contracts before and they easily could again if they felt a King Felix-Shields combo was worth it. The Cubs, meanwhile, may get a discount on Shields since his going there would mean a reunion with former manager Joe Maddon.
After an ugly collapse down the stretch in 2014, the Brewers look to rebound in 2015. Easier said than done in a division where two teams have made it into the postseason every year since 2011. Between the Cardinals' shoring up their lineup, the Pirates staying at their heels, the Reds getting healthy, and the Cubs' big offseason, there may not be a chance for the Brewers unless they get pitching. It obviously doesn't help that they just traded ace Yovanni Gallardo to the Rangers, either. The Brewers have a decent team, but the need to avoid a 2014 repeat and the challenge of competing in the NL Central may force them to reach into their pockets and spend big on Shields.
Those are my picks. Think I missed any? Then please, politely sound off in the comments!
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Jake Wesley is now the only writer for MLB_NL_AL.com all of these articles are ether based on facts and pieces of his opinion.