If Padres sign James Shields, will it be enough to win the NL West?
The final domino in the 2015 free agent pitcher bonanza appears poised to fall and the San Diego Padres might be poised to win. Multiple reports are indicating that former Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals ace James Shields will make a decision on his 2015 team on Monday. MLB.com William Boor reports that multiple sources indicate the busy San Diego Padres are the ‘favorite’ to land the big right hand pitcher.
Several teams and dollar amounts have been linked to Shields throughout the winter, but as of Saturday, the Padres have emerged as the front-runner, according to MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro.
USA Today also reported the Padres as favorites to land the right-hander, but added that several teams are still in the hunt.
The Friars have been a surprisingly active team this offseason. They have completely overhauled their outfield, landing All-Stars Justin Upton and Matt Kemp, as well as 2013 Rookie of the Year Wil Myers via trade. They also upgraded at catcher with a trade for All-Star backstop Derek Norris from the Oakland Athletics.
But is all this enough, even if they land Shields? The National League West has the defending World Champions in the San Francisco Giants (who have won three in five years plus have the Sports Illustrated 2014 Sportsman of the Year in Madison Bumgarner). The Division also has the high payroll Los Angeles Dodgers ($260M projected in 2015) who have the best pitcher in baseball and reigning National League MVP in Clayton Kershaw.
The Padres finished 8-games under .500 in 2014, to make a leap to 25-30 games over and win the West will require three things to happen.
1) The new sluggers (Kemp and Upton) will have to be healthy and adapt their game to pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Kemp has been hampered by injuries, including one that almost nullified the trade, although many would be surprised to know he played 150 games in 2014. It might also surprise you to know that Justin Upton has only exceeded 30 HR once, a number likely to dip in the spacious outfield of Petco Park.
2) The Padres will need to get some consistent pitching from the top of their rotation: (presuming) James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Tyler Ross, and Ian Kennedy. After Shields, there aren’t big names, but all were effective in 2014 (all with ERA under 4.00). With emerging Omar Despaigne filling out the last spot, they probably have more depth than their NL West competition.
3) Who is the closer? After years of relying on Huston Street, they dealt their veteran closer at the deadline last year. Right now, uneven Joaquin Benoit is the guy, but just ask the Detroit Tigers whether that is a reliable option. In what is expected to be a tight race in the West, you can’t afford to give up many in the ninth.
It will also depend on how healthy the Dodgers and Giants stay. It is an odd number year, where the Giants usually fizzle. The Dodgers have unloaded some of their talent (Kemp and Hanley Ramirez) so they may not be as good as they were in 2014 when they won the west.
So the answer to the question: Yes they can but signing James Shields isn’t the end-all, things will have to go their way. The NL West will be one of the more fun races to watch in 2015.
– David Whitlock