Atlanta Braves Trade Rumors: Overpaying to Land James Shields Would Be a Mistake

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 26:  James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles on July 26, 2012 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

His last name may evoke thoughts of protection, but James Shields hasn't kept many leads safe this year for the Tampa Bay Rays.

But that hasn't stopped Major League teams from showing serious interest in the right-hander as the trade deadline approaches. According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Atlanta Braves are in that mix:

The Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals are among the other clubs with varying levels of interest in Shields, according to major-league sources.

Here's the thing: though the Braves could use a top-of-the-line starter, Shields hasn't been that guy this season. Overpaying to acquire his services would be a major mistake for Atlanta.

Shields is currently 8-7 with a bloated 4.52 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and 123 strikeouts. He's given up four or more runs in six of his last seven starts, and he has just one quality start in July. 

Trying to determine who Shields is as a pitcher is tricky. He was fantastic in 2011, finishing 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 225 strikeouts. But that was by far his finest season—before 2011, he had never struck out more than 200 batters or had a sub-3.50 ERA. 

In all, his ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, innings pitched (249.1), complete games (a whopping 11), shutouts (four) and batting average against (.217) were all easily career highs. 2011 has "aberration" written all over it.

Of course, take Shields out of the heavy-hitting AL East and put him in the National League, and who knows what happens?

Maybe he could find his 2011 form again.

But what would you pay to find out? How much of a price would you pay to land a pitcher with one elite season, a couple of solid years and a current campaign that is mediocre, at best? Surely, you wouldn't overpay for that, right?

Rosenthal mentions in his article that Shields might be a little unlucky this year, noting "Opponents, benefiting in part from the Rays’ surprisingly shoddy defense, are batting .342 on balls in play, nearly 50 points above the league average."

But he also notes Shields is giving up a "career-high 2.9 walks per nine innings," and the fact that one scout said he is relying far too heavily on his cut fastball.

Put it all together, and Shields is a pitcher who I wouldn't overpay for. I would inquire, but if the price got too high, I would back out of negotiations quickly. If I wanted a stud and was willing to pay for one, I would push my chips toward Zack Greinke.

I'm afraid Shields doesn't make me feel all that safe these days.


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