The San Diego Padres have agreed to a deal with right-handed starter James Shields on a four-year contract worth about $75-million range on Monday morning, according to reports. Adding Shields, who has pitched at least 200 innings for eight-straight seasons, is just the latest headline-grabbing move in arguably the Padres' most active offseason.
General manager A.J. Preller’s list of acquired players is truly impressive. In a matter of weeks, Preller traded for Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers to completely overhaul the outfield. He also traded prospects for catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks to give manager Bud Black five new bats in the lineup. To go along with Shields, the Padres also added pitchers Brandon Morrow and Brandon Maurer.
The Padres had a record payroll of $90.1 million in 2014, but the club will shatter that record in 2015 with a payroll well over $100 million.
While scoring victories in the offseason does not ensure winning in the actual season, the high-profile acquisitions have perhaps made the Padres relevant in a division that boasted two playoff teams in 2014. San Diego (77-85) finished a middling third in the NL West behind the eventual-champion San Francisco Giants (88-74) and the division-winning Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68). There is much more reason to be hopeful this year at Petco Park.
The addition of Shields might prove to be a crucial decision for the Padres to overcome the Dodgers and Giants. He owned a 14-8 record in 2014, with a 3.21 earned-run average, 180 strikeouts and 44 walks while often pitching in important games for the surprising Kansas City Royals, who would go on to reach the World Series. He will likely be the Padres' ace, anchoring an already steady rotation. Perhaps an even bigger boost to the Padres than Shields, however, is a revamped batting lineup. Kemp, Upton and Myers could form an imposing middle of the order.
The Padres are coming off a dreadful hitting season, ranking at the bottom of the MLB in batting average (.226), runs scored (535), RBI (500), on-base percentage (.292) and slugging percentage (.342). The first half of the year was especially terrible, with the New York Times even running a July article that explored whether the Padres might have had the worst offense in history. Left fielder Seth Smith, who was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Maurer, led the Padres in batting average at just .266. Eventually San Diego’s offense did take a slight, second-half uptick, but it did little to dispel the notion that the Padres lineup was a catastrophe.
Upton (.270 batting average and 29 home runs) and Kemp (.287 BA/25 HR) would have both easily been the Padres’ best hitter in 2014. In fact, the two accounted for about half the amount of home runs the entire Padres team managed (109). Myers (.222 BA in 2014) is coming off a down second season, but is just one year removed from an impressive Rookie of the Year season with the Tampa Bay Rays. The three talented bats will compose an entirely new outfield for the Padres. Norris will add a steady presence at catcher along with a decent bat (.270 BA in 2014). There seems to be nowhere for the Padres' bats to go but up, but there is potential for the offense to surge in several categories.
The addition of the durable starter Shields, on the other hand, bolstered the Padres’ already-solid rotation featuring Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy. Pitching wasn’t the problem in 2014. San Diego finished No. 4 in team ERA (3.27) and No.7 in batting-average-allowed (.241). Adding Shields, along with Morrow and Maurer, can only help improve on a relative strength.
All the additions have certainly moved the needle around the league. The Padres are now at 8/1 odds (No. 5) to win the 2015 NL Championship and 16/1 odds (No. 8) to win the World Series, according to bovada.lv. The Padres have better odds to win the World Series than the defending champion Giants (22/1). That is remarkable for a team that won just 77 games last season and didn’t even sniff the playoffs.
Acquiring a bevy of talent has its cost however, even beyond the reported $75-million Shields price tag, the largest Padres contract ever. In the span of two weeks, the team traded away eight prospects ranked in the organization’s top 20, according to Baseball America. That included five prospects in the top 10: shortstop Trea Turner (No. 2), righthander Joe Ross (No. 4), left hander Max Fried (No. 6), righthander Zack Eflin (No. 9) and second baseman Jace Peterson (No. 10).
The Padres farm system is not entirely drained, however. Rymer Liriano, a 23-year-old outfielder and Baseball America’s No. 6 Padres prospect, appeared in 38 MLB games (.220 BA, one homerun) last season and could see more MLB innings, especially if bench options Cameron Maybin and Will Venable disappoint. San Diego’s top three remaining prospects, right hander Matt Wisler (No. 1), catcher Austin Hedges (No. 2) and outfielder Hunter Renfroe (No. 3), all have enough high-minors experience to be available for a possible call up, according to Baseball America. To land big names, the Padres have cleaned the prospect cupboards a bit, but the shelves are still far from bare. Now the team seemingly has a mix of proven talent and future players.
San Diego was largely an afterthought on the national scene in 2014. Teams like the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays, and the 2012 Miami Marlins made big offseason moves, but had little to show for it in the standings. But after a busy winter, San Diego will at least be a team worth paying attention to.