White Sox fans got their first, sweet taste of trade deadline excitement on Thursday with the swap of Joakim Soria to the Brewers for two pitching prospects. Don’t leave the table, though, as Rick Hahn could be taking another bite out of the pitching market soon. How so? The most obvious trade piece Chicago boasts is James Shields. Last year, that statement would have sounded ludicrous. However, the veteran righty has pitched well for the South Siders in 2018, and should have sufficient numbers to fetch a top-30 prospect in a trade. Still, there’s questions surrounding a possible Shields trade. Who are his suitors? Why are there no rumors? What specific talent level does he warrant? Let’s dig in.
First and foremost, I don’t think Sox fans should worry about the lack of rumors surrounding Shields. Prior to the Soria trade, there wasn’t even a whisper regarding him. Hahn and co. seem pretty adept at avoiding leaks, so it’s very possible that Shields talks are happening entirely behind the media curtain. To accurately estimate Shields’ value, it’s worth analyzing Wednesday’s trade of Nathan Eovaldi. The 28 year-old righty was dealt from Tampa Bay over to Boston. In return, the Red Sox shipped 50-grade (average) LHP Jalen Beeks over to the Rays. Beeks pitched very well over his last two campaigns in the Red Sox system, posting a 2.89 ERA in 2018 to accompany a 1.09 WHIP and dazzling 12.1 K/9 clip. He slots in at sixteenth in Tampa’s system, though personally I feel he deserves a higher ranking due to his consistently impressive numbers and southpaw status.
With this in mind, the key component is how Shields compares to Eovaldi. In my mind, the two are similar in organizational value. Statistically, Eovaldi appears superior to Big Game James. In 57 IP this season, Eovaldi sports a mediocre 4.26 ERA in contrast with a commendable 0.982 WHIP (the disparity stems from his frequent allowance of home runs). Fresh off a poor start last night, Shields clocks in with a 4.53 ERA and 1.299 WHIP. The advanced metrics seem to agree, with both players’ FIPs in the mid-four range. Shields’ numbers are deceiving, though, because his high ERA is largely due to four awful outings. Importantly, he’s scattered those across his 22 starts this year, so teams can rest assured that the veteran is going to give you a solid outing 70-80% of the time and avoid stretches of bad games.
The next thing to consider are the contracts. Eovaldi is an unrestricted free agent after this year, but only imposes a $2 million cap hit. Conversely, Shields is locked down through 2019, but carries a hefty $16 million contract this year and next. With Jerry Reinsdorf’s approval, though, the White Sox could agree to pay most of Shields’ remaining salary, thus bringing them a much better prospect and, in this example, negating Eovaldi’s contract edge. Another option is team’s buying out Shields after 2018 for $2 million if they feel he’s not integral to their 2019 success. However, if Hahn pays enough, suitors would likely be willing to hang on to Shields for the next year and a half.
Teams would not just be getting an adequate pitcher in Shields, however. Additionally, they’d be receiving the impactful veteran presence that Shields brings to a clubhouse. There are many quality examples of this, but the most potent might come from Danny Farquhar this year, who attested to Shields’ thoughtfulness and leadership when the entire Chicago roster joined Farquhar on the mound for his ceremonial first pitch in return from his horrifying brain hemorrhage. “The thing that caught me off guard was the whole team coming out to the mound,” Farquhar told MLB.com in June. “I thought that was an incredibly special moment. Whoever’s decision that was, I’m sure it was James Shields. He’s an incredible leader that we have.”
With Eovaldi’s return and all this in mind, what can we expect for Big Game James? If the White Sox most or all of Shields’ remaining salary, I think it would warrant prospect around Beeks’ level because of the year of control and leadership. If they pay little of it though, which I doubt will happen, expect a slightly worse prospect than Beeks. Generally speaking, the return headliner should be a prospect ranked 5-20 in organizational prospect charts, similar to Eovaldi’s return, probably carrying a 45-50 evaluation grade. If teams are dead set on buying Shields out, the next three deals are moot, but with money Hahn just might convince them to hang on to Shields for an extra year, securing a better return.
In this deal, Hahn would agree to pay all of Shields’ salary for 2018 and 2019. In return, though, they would get the North Siders’ top southpaw prospect and a decent third baseman for depth. The 50-grade Marquez is very young but promising, and Vosler slugs the ball well. Theo would most likely be willing to pull the trigger on this, given he has two solid lefties behind Marquez, and David Bote (and Kris Bryant) in front of Vosler. He also gets to replace the immeasurably aggravating Tyler Chatwood with Shields at no cost. Update: With Cole Hamels going to the Cubs, this deal is far less likely. I could only see this happening if Theo feels he needs Montgomery in the bullpen, meaning Shields could fill in until Yu Darvish returns or possibly longer if Darvish continues to flounder.
Potential Deal #2: Shields and some cash considerations to the Philadelphia Phillies for OF Roman Quinn
Here, I envision Hahn paying about half of Shields’ salary. The Phillies aren’t giving too much in return, though, because Shields is only a slight upgrade over current starter Nick Pivetta. Philly won’t want to deplete their strong farm system significantly despite their first place record. Don’t sleep on Quinn (15th in their system), though, as the 45-grade outfielder could provide some much-needed service in center field for the White Sox through 2020 before Luis Robert arrives.
Potential Deal #3: Shields and full cash considerations to the Washington Nationals for OF Talmigo Agustin and RHP Austin Voth
Agustin (15th in their system) has hit the ball well this season, and appears to be another center field option moving forward. Voth (28th in their system), another 45-grade prospect, has pitched adequately since being drafted in 2017. Today, both Jeff Passan and Buster Olney reported that Washington may be sellers at the deadline, which would eliminate any idea of a Shields trade. However, if they bet on themselves and Bryce Harper, Shields could eat some much-needed innings down the stretch while Washington loses no money to spend on Harper in the winter. Whatever the case, it’s clear that James Shields could net a promising young prospect in return.
Though the initial trade with the San Diego Padres to secure him may not go down as a good one in the history books, a decent trade return may keep Fernando T…He Who Shall Not Be Named from haunting Sox fans in the future.