James Shields is affordable, but is he worth it?

The Rangers are hamstrung by limited financial resources this winter, an issue exacerbated by the remaining holes they still need to fill before spring training gets underway. More so than any team in baseball, Texas are relying on its injured, ineffective 2014 parts to produce next season. No matter what the club adds between now and then will mean a damn thing unless Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus and Derek Holland are healthy and performing up to reasonable expectations. 

Operating beneath that assumption, Jon Daniels has only two ways (excluding doing nothing at all) to play the rest of this winter: he can either gamble on health and a return to normalcy from the players above, spend the residual $10-12 million left in the budget on inexpensive place-holders -- notably at catcher, right field, and another starter -- or add one significant piece and hope those extra wins carry the team over the top. 

Towards the end of the winter meetings, one name fitting the latter criteria was James Shields, whom the Rangers have met with according to Chris Cotillo

Getty Images

Getty Images

Shields, 33 in five days, carries with him more perceived value than anything else, as his "Big Game" moniker during the postseason has been worth a 5.46 ERA over 59.1 innings. By virtue of a lifetime 3.72 ERA (3.61 xFIP) and the fact that he's averaged 223 innings pitched per season since 2007, there isn't a doubt James Shields is a fine pitcher. The only shade I throw is in saying he has never been a #1 starting pitcher, and more than likely will not produce to the standard of a true #2 over the life of his next contract. 

In October when FanGraphs did a crowdsourcing project, the fans had Shields's next contract pegged at an AAV of $18.3 million over an average of 4.7 years. Let's call it $90 million over five years. Carson Cistulli, who conducts these crowd sources, writes that last year the fans "typically missed by 37% on overall contract value and is most likely to underestimate the overall contract figures of the most high-profile free agents."

Shields obviously falls into the category of "high-profile free agent," and there's really no reason to assume he won't get more than 5/90. After all, Jon Lester -- a low #1/high #2 starting pitcher -- set the market for pitching this winter at six years and $155 million, an average annual value approaching $26 million. If we concede the knowledgeable FanGraphs audience low-balled Shields the same way they low-balled Lester -- whom they had projected at six years and $128.1 million back in October -- there's a decent probability Shields commands closer to $20 million AAV on the open market, whether it's for five years or six.

James Shields couldn't have hit the market at a better time. He was the headline pitcher on a team that just won the American League pennant, is clearly the third-best pitcher of an expensive troika of starters this offseason -- along with Lester and Max Scherzer -- and did nothing over the past two years, generating +8.2 fWAR, to hinder his value. He is more innings-eater than he is ace, but pitching is and always will be scarce, and he is going to get paid a pretty penny this offseason. One way or another. 

The question here is, does this make sense for the Texas Rangers? 

Shields has an accomplished resumé, but it's undeniable he produced his career numbers in two of the better pitchers parks -- Tampa Bay and Kansas City -- in MLB. The Ballpark in Arlington is no longer a hitter's park... now it's more neutral, but it's akin to a pitcher going from a neutral park to a hitter's park. There's also the matter of his age. If he's given a five year contract, it will cover his age-33- through age-37 seasons. Since 2006 he's been an excessive bargain, producing +31.6 fWAR -- 6th-most in the AL -- while earning just a hair over $39 million.

The deal he signs this winter is going to be worth roughly two and a half times more than that figure, and it will span his decline years. Would you pay $100 million for a #3 starter over the next five or six seasons? And more importantly, should the Rangers?

There isn't a doubt James Shields would immediately improve Texas by three to four wins in 2015. It's a decent bet he produces as much in 2016 as well, which is important since it may be Yu Darvish's final season as a Ranger. We can't forget about the championship window. 

To sign Shields would take a bit of creativity from the front office, as the club has little to spend right now. Signing him to a five-year, $100 million contract, let's say, would mean the club would get him at a discount in 2015, but would be on the hook to pay him about $23 million over the final four years of the deal. It's not impossible, but it would take some serious faith from Jon Daniels. 

That, in essence, is what the prospect of James Shields in Texas comes down to. If they value creating a dynamic rotation over the next two years -- one that will feature Darvish, Holland, Martin Perez and Shields, potentially -- they can convince ownership to fork over the cash in the short- and longterm. If they would rather table that money, spend it on cheap parts to fill out the roster this offseason or during the trade deadline, then it's reasonable to assume they have bigger aspirations for the future. 

Whatever contract Shields signs this offseason will reflect a #2 starter, which he once was but won't be over the next half-decade. If the Rangers decide they want to be that team, they are doing it to win a championship over the next couple years; it's the same reason they traded for Fielder and signed Choo last offseason.

I'm not counting on James Shields being a Ranger in 2015, but it's a sensible move given the current state of the roster. 

Rangers Acquire Ross Detwiler from Nationals for Two Minor Leaguers

It was a quiet Winter Meetings in Rangers Land, at least ostensibly, as the only real trade Texas pulled off was netting LHP Ross Detwiler from Washington for 2B Chris Bostick and RHP Abel de los Santos. 

Detwiler will be playing in his age-29 season in 2015, and will be a free agent after the year ends. The #6 overall pick in the 2007 draft, Ross has split about half of his major league service time between the bullpen and rotation, starting in 69 of his 132 career appearances with a 3.82 ERA (4.41 xFIP) in 471 innings. 

He should compete for a spot in the Rangers rotation next season.

I've always liked Detwiler, and think he is a clever pickup being the only player of any consequence the Rangers will be losing is Bostick, whom the club acquired along with Michael Choice from Oakland in the Craig Gentry trade last year. Ross is slated to earn around $3 million in 2015 and, should he log around 120-150 innings in the rotation, could supply a reasonable amount of surplus value as a #4 starter. 

This is a classic buy-low move from Jon Daniels with the hope that Detwiler can produce as a starter in a contract year. Also with this pickup, it sends a pretty clear signal that the Rangers are not done in their search for a #3 starting pitcher. 

Andrew Cashner is Ideal Target for Texas

With work still left to do, the Rangers enter the Winter Meetings with a specific focus, writes Evan Grant. That focus? Prying away Andrew Cashner from the San Diego Padres.

With limited resources, which Grant speculates is "$15-17 million," Texas's front office are in the market for a MORP or an impact bat, though Justin Upton remains a long shot at this point. He and Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmerman are probably the two most attractive pieces worth acquiring from the Rangers' vantage point, but the downside is they are both playing on expiring contracts in 2015, are both expensive (Upton makes $14.5 million and Zimmerman $16.5 million), and both figure to demand a strong return in prospects. 

There is no doubt they would immediately make Texas about four wins better, but it's difficult to ignore how un-Jon-Daniels-like a trade of that nature would be. 

Cashner is more of a reasonable trade target since he is only projected to earn $4.3 million in 2015, per MLB Trade Rumors, and won't become a free agent until after the 2016 season. He would strengthen the 2015 roster and improve the Rangers' playoff chances in '16 as well, pitching in a formidable rotation featuring Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. 

A high-strikeout pitcher in the minor leagues and early on in his big league career, Cashner has transformed into more of a control pitcher the last couple seasons, striking out only 18.1% and 18.4% of hitters in 2013 and '14, respectively, while walking 6.7% and 5.7%, also respectively. The added bonus he would bring to Texas is an excellent ground ball rate (career 50.9%), which figures to play pretty well in front of a defense featuring Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus on the left side of the infield. 

One idea I'm not very fond of is Ken Rosenthal spitballing about the Rangers and Padres possibly aligning on a trade featuring Jurickson Profar. It's not even that I expect Cashner or RHP Tyson Ross or any number of Padres (Yusmani Grandal?) coming to the Rangers for free, it's that any trade involving Profar would be selling him on the super cheap. Last year the bright and shiny 20 year-old Rougned Odor came on the scene to play second base, and lost in translation many forgot that Jurickson was baseball's #1 prospect in 2013. That's number one. In all of MLB. 

The fact that Profar was hurt during all of 2014, and didn't exactly set the world on fire when he was 19 and 20 (.231/.301/.343), doesn't play particularly well in memory, either. But make no mistake: albeit a wild card given his missed time last year, Profar's ceiling is still as an MVP candidate middle infielder. I'm as guilty as anybody for falling too in love with prospects, but moving Jurickson this winter screams of desperation in the most win-now sense imaginable. And I don't think the Rangers are in that position with the roster as it currently stands. 

If anything -- and don't get me wrong, I don't think any of Texas's middle infielders will be traded this offseason -- Elvis Andrus is the player you move, not Profar or Odor, who combined will make under 7% of what Elvis is due in 2015. Even if Texas trade Andrus now, they are essentially just dumping his salary, and won't get a meaningful return. Rougned is the only one of this troika who the Rangers could cash in on this winter, and at this exact moment is the most valuable of three, what with Elvis coming off a down year and earning so much money, and Profar with injury concerns. 

The key word to this offseason has always been creative. Jon Daniels has to be creative with how he improves the Rangers since he is so limited financially. Andrew Cashner is probably going to cost Nomar Mazara, which is going to sting, but not nearly as much as a guy like Jurickson Profar, who hasn't even scratched the surface of what he's capable of. 

Colby Lewis re-signs with Texas for one year, $4 million

As expected, the Rangers and free agent Colby Lewis have agreed to a one-year deal, reportedly worth $4 million, likely with room for incentives. Cobra finished 2014 with a team-high 170.1 innings pitched and an ERA of 5.18 (4.36 xFIP), though was about a run and a half better after the All Star Break (3.86 ERA). 

At the end of October I speculated that "[last year] Cobra earned $2 million, and given some innings-reached thresholds in his 2015 contract, I suspect we're looking at something in the range of $3-4 million." When it appeared Lewis and the Rangers were at odds, propelling Colby to test free agency in the first place, I was worried that he was seeking something in the $7-$8 million range. Whether he couldn't find that figure on the open market (which was probably the case) or he just really, really wanted to come back to play for Texas (which probably wasn't the case), it's a very good thing that he signed on the cheap. 

With their #4 starter now signed and squared away, the Rangers will now focus their offseason attention on procuring another starting pitcher to slot with Yu Darvish and Derek Holland at the top of the rotation, and a corner outfield/DH bat. Assuming the organization plans to stay within the realm of a $20 million budget this winter, that leaves the club about $15 million to fill those holes. 

This can work.

Of Torii Hunter, Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis

Bob Nightengale tweets that the Twins "win the Torii Hunter sweepstakes," which I guess is one way of putting it. The deal is reported to be $10.5 million for 2015. Ken Rosenthal chimed in to say Minnesota's offer was higher than the Rangers, restoring a little bit of faith in this jumbled offseason blueprint. So much for Torii Hunter wanting to play for a contender. 

- According to all the local beats, the Rangers have non-tendered Adam Rosales, Michael Kirkman and Alexi Ogando, immediately making them all free agents. This comes on the heels of Evan Grant writing that Texas were expected to tender contracts to Ogando, Neftali Feliz and Mitch Moreland prior to the 11:00 deadline on December 2nd. That they opted against offering Alexi a contract should send off alarm bells, being that he was only projected to earn $2.6 million this winter. It isn't that $2.6 million is nothing, but it's close to nothing given Ogando's track record as a #3 starter (when healthy) and dominant high-leverage relief pitcher.

Ogando was instrumental out of the bullpen in each of Texas's two World Series runs, posting a 2.37 ERA in 19 postseason innings with a K/UIBB ratio of 23/10, and on the whole was wildly successful for the Rangers over parts of four seasons. A converted outfielder whom the Rangers acquired from Oakland in 2005, Alexi threw 406 innings in Texas between 2010-'14, posting a 3.35 ERA (4.11 xFIP) in 183 games (48 starts), generating +6.7 fWAR. After only 25 innings on the bump in 2014, Ogando was shut down for the remainder of the year, and refused a winter ball assignment. He's an intriguing bounce-back candidate, yet Steamer only projects him to throw 10 innings in '15.

- I posted this T.R. Sullivan article last night, but it's worthy of its own space, as he notes Colby Lewis's yearning to return to Texas and Texas's yearning for more warm bodies in their rotation. After a sketchy first half of 2014 Lewis found his legs down the stretch, providing a 3.86 ERA (4.42 xFIP) after the All Star break, which included about a 3/1 K/UIBB ratio (60/22) and in 10 of his 13 starts he went at least 6.0 innings.

I don't have high expectations for Cobra in 2015, which is really to say I don't have high expectations for most any back of the rotation starters in their age-35 seasons. A fair benchmark is an ERA around 4.00 in 150 innings or so, and if he can provide that I think most of us will be pretty satisfied. As for the contract, it shouldn't be much more than $4-$5 million for next year, leaving the Rangers with around $15 million to spend on a corner outfielder/DH and starting pitcher. The further this offseason goes, the more it looks like they'll acquire both via trade.