But with Shields still languishing on the market less than three weeks before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, his leverage has shrunk and he may no longer be a $ 20 million player. Most teams have reached their payroll limit and are preparing to enter the season with what they have.
“(Shields) was an obvious $ 100-million guy, who now if he signs for $ 60 million he’ll be lucky,” said one of three baseball agents who spoke to the Star — all on the condition their names not be published — about Shields’ situation.
We have a pretty good sense the team’s payroll this season will be roughly in the neighbourhood of the $ 137 million it was last year, give or take. That leaves Anthopoulos with about $ 5 million to $ 7 million left to spend, a point the GM did not dispute during his interview with McCown. That won’t be enough for Shields, even if his asking price comes down.
But while the question has always been about whether the Jays can afford to sign Shields, perhaps the better question is, “Can they afford not to?”
They currently own the longest post-season drought in Major League Baseball — and all of North American professional sports, in fact — at 21 consecutive seasons. Longtime president Paul Beeston — who endured the indignity of Rogers’ aborted search for a replacement this off-season — is retiring at the end of the year, having yet to make good on a promise to make the post-season.
Anthopoulos is in the final year of his contract and facing an uncertain future. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both in the final guaranteed years of their very team-friendly deals (though the Jays hold options on both players for 2016). Meanwhile, signing Shields would not only give the Jays a boost at the front of their rotation but also plug a glaring hole at the back of their bullpen by bumping Aaron Sanchez out of his starter’s spot and into a closing or setup role.
“The window is now,” said one agent, who has no connection to Shields but argued the Jays should take advantage of his deflated market. “If you’re ever going to do it, you should do it this year. You’ve already invested so much in this team. You’re right there. Finish it off.”
Shields, who reportedly turned down a $ 110 million offer earlier this off-season, is just the latest veteran starter whose apparent strategy to wait out the market appears to have backfired. A similar fate befell Kyle Lohse in 2013 and Ervin Santana last year.
“I feel bad for the guy,” one agent said. “But he should have looked at what happened to Lohse and Ervin.”
Shields’ price isn’t likely to drop that far, but at 33 he is entering the downside of his career and with a bumper crop of potential free-agent starters available next year — Johnny Cueto, David Price and Jordan Zimmerman, to name the top three — he wouldn’t necessarily put himself in a better position by taking a one-year deal.
That’s something the Jays could also consider as a means of limiting the damage to this year’s payroll. Trouble is, they already have a couple of back-loaded deals on the books: Russell Martin’s franchise-record, five-year, $ 82 million contract pays him just $ 7 million this season, before his salary jumps to $ 15 million in 2016 and $ 20 million in each of the following three seasons; Jose Reyes, meanwhile, is owed $ 22 million each season through 2017.
Presumably, Rogers has done the math and determined any potential increase in ticket sales, TV audience and increased odds of making the post-season that would occur as a result of signing Shields would not equal the cost. Or maybe Anthopoulos believes Shields’ best years are behind him and what little payroll flexibility the team has now would be better served by adding at the deadline or taking a run at a bigger name next season.
Both explanations are logical. But preaching patience to a fan base that has already waited more than two decades will be a tough sell.