50 Shields of Gray: Pursuit of Free Agent Pitcher Isn’t Black and White

Anxiety is not a foreign concept for Cubs fans. At any point we can tap a reservoir of angst that would make Prudhoe Bay look like a puddle.

Never had this been more clear than with the team’s pursuit of various free agents this offseason. The Masahiro Tanaka bidding produced plenty of chewed fingernails, but that was nothing compared to all the emergency pedicures tied to Russell Martin and Jon Lester.

But I had thought the hire-emotional wire over, assuming that the Cubs were done. Until, that is, James Shields’ status remained unresolved for an extended period. Thought to be the next domino to fall after Lester’s mega-deal, Big Game James has remained on the market like a valuable item at a swanky garage sale.

But is he too good to be true? Is there something wrong with him? Why else would a proven starter remained unsigned only two weeks before pitchers and catchers report?

Baseballheads across baseball are asking these questions as more while cryptic reports perpetuate the notion that Shields will sign somewhere soon. As the situation stretches to Lesterian proportions, Cubs fans are weighing in; many tout his merits while more downplay his true value.

My boy, Gunther Dabynsky, had an excellent look at Shields’ relative worth, or lack thereof, surmising that he’d only add a win or two. And Dabynsky’s not alone, as more have joined this chorus. I too have sung along, albeit off-key. But am I just trying to dictate myself (that’s delude yourself, dummy)?

After all, adding Shields to the rotation would certainly protect the Cubs, pushing Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks to the last two slots. A young Greg Maddux *ducks the flying rocks and tomatoes* in the 5 spot? Yes please. That’s a first-world problem of epic proportions.

The caveat many appear to be putting on their own endorsement of a play for Shields is that it could hamper similar attempts to land one of next year’s prizes. But does anyone really think Theo Epstein would risk a shot at David Price just to land James Shields? I hope not.

If the Cubs land this guy, it’ll be at a price that won’t cost them, well, Price. In fact, the addition of a former teammate could be added incentive to the free-agent hurler come November. That’s not to say he’ll take a discount, just that you can never have enough ancillary benefits. Joe Maddon, Shields, and the chance to win in Chicago is a mighty sweet trifecta.

Still, it seems inevitable that the former Ray and Royal will end up a Cetacean Ladyparts’ Father (sorry to those not fluent in Burgundese). And who can blame him? He’s got the Pacific Coast instead of Michigan’s lakefront; TJ rather than Gary as a southerly neighbor.

Part of me, an embarrassingly large one actually, wants to see Shields end up in San Diego with the Cubs as the reported “second-highest bidder.” Oh, the fun we could all have with the meatballs that news would roll up. But wouldn’t that just be so Cubbish?

What other team could go from spend-thrift cheapskate losers to deep-pocketed contenders and back, all in the space of a single offseason. Only the Cubs.

I wish I could explain why Shields seems to be so criminally underrated at this point. Perhaps it’s his most recent playoff performance with KC, though to knock the guy for such a small sample is completely asinine.

At the end of the day, I’ll be fine regardless of the outcome, though the addition of James Shields would certainly help to galvanize a team that still has a lot of questions, a lot of gray area. He’s not the final piece of the puzzle, but could be the kind that brings the image into better focus.

So c’mon, Theo, go get him. It’d be a hell of lot nicer birthday gift for Maddon than a cheap bottle of red from Publix.


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