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James Shields, future Diamondback?

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With a payroll already capped out, can the D-backs get creative and sign an ace?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Statistics: 227 IP, 34 GS, 3.21 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 180 K, 1.181 WHIP, 1.7 BB/9, 3.3 bWAR/ 3.7 fWAR
2015 Age: 33 (born 12/20/1981)
Position: Right-handed starting pitcher

It's no secret the Diamondbacks are looking for starting pitching help this off-season, and with good reason. After finishing 2014 with a cumulative starting pitcher ERA of 4.44, 4th worst in the MLB last year, Dave Stewart has made it a priority to improve the rotation, one way or another. And wouldn't you know it, he went out and traded for Jeremy Hellickson. But a recent report from Ken Rosenthal has confirmed the D-backs' interest in Big Game James.

James Shields would easily slot in as the #1 pitcher for the Diamondbacks in 2015. After an unlucky 2010, Shields has been the a model of consistency since. His ERA has been under 3.52 and he has thrown at least 227 innings in each of the past 4 seasons. Plus he has thrown at least 200 innings since he started pitching full-time for the Rays in 2007. If James Shields were any younger, he'd be getting a much larger deal than he is currently projected.

MLBTradeRumors has projected a 5-year deal worth $95 million. Definitely not chump change for an organization that is coming off its franchise high in salary. Kansas City offered him a Qualifying Offer which he declined earlier this off-season, meaning the Diamondbacks would need to give the Royals their 1st pick in the 2nd round in order to sign Shields on top of the high salary he would command.

The Diamondbacks are currently approaching their threshold for salary in 2015 and we've heard that figure to be as low as $80 million and as high as $110 million. But with the 1st overall pick, and the rising prices that will accompany higher picks in each round, Derrick Hall came out and clarified, "90 million is probably a number that makes a lot of sense right now." With a lot of dead salary in the form of Cody Ross, Aaron Hill, and Trevor Cahill, plus the now pedestrian deal for 3 year/$40 million for Miguel Montero, finding suitors for one or all will be difficult without taking on a significant portion of what is owed. But if they were able to get creative and attach a prospect with the contract like they did last year with Heath Bell, that'd be a way to shed unwanted salary.

But is he worth it? There's no doubt he's been a very dependable pitcher, having never gone to the disabled list as a pro. (He did have major shoulder surgery as a minor-leaguer, but there have not been any issues with that shoulder that I can find.) But we're already paying someone who was a lock for 200 innings to rehab for most of 2015. Looking at some of his age-based similar pitchers, it doesn't bode well for James' future performance.

Courtesy of baseballreference.com

Every pitcher that matched up well with James Shields to this point age-wise not named Kevin Brown failed to continue pitching at the level they were at after hitting age 33. In fact, Bruce Hurst is quite the comparison for Shields. Hurst was consistently over 200 innings for 9 out of 10 seasons with Boston and the Padres but once he hit his age-35 season, he tore his rotator cuff and was never the same afterward. Does this guarantee that he'll fall off a cliff performance-wise or become seriously injured? Of course not. But like Bronson Arroyo, it's just one more thing to think about when you talk about signing supposed durable pitchers. At some point, they just break.

In the end, it will come down to if they can shed any of their large contracts, if they're comfortable paying for the decreased performance toward the end of his contract, and if they expect him to be injury-free throughout the life of the contract. If they are willing to take their chances, expect the Diamondbacks to throw their hat in the James Shields' bidding. But with 2 other top options still available in Lester and Scherzer, don't expect Shields to just rush into a contract without letting the market get a little anxious.