When the calendar marked May 1, the Chicago White Sox were 18-8 with a three-game lead in the AL Central. Everyone was surprised, myself included. Entering Sunday, they are just 11-19 since, their lead in the AL Central is gone, but they’re still only three games back of first.
Chris Sale is an ace (duh). JosA� Quintana is pitching like an ace (it’s been coming). The White Sox are sixth in team ERA (3.53) and ninth in FIP (3.89). Meanwhile, they reside in the bottom half in the following categories: runs scored (21st), batting average (17th), OBP (20th), slugging percentage (25th), OPS (25th), and wRC+ (24th).
So naturally, they went out and traded for pitcher James Shields. Now before I judge too harshly, they are getting him at a discount. The White Sox will cover $27-to-$31 million of the remaining $58 million on his contract. I hope he was worth the first round pick San Diego forfeited to the Royals last year. Yikes.
But here’s the thing: was this sorely a position of need? While you can never have too much starting pitching, we’re not looking at 30-year-old James Shields anymorea��even if one start has skewed the numbers unfavorably for him. It’s not as though he was stellar in his first season with San Diego last year. General Manager Rick Hahn says they’re not done adding on, which is okay, but they could have traded these prospectsa��Erik Johnson and Fernando TatA�s, Jr., in this casea��in a package for a bat instead of Shields.
Okay, okay; so their rotation outside of Sale and Quintana hasn’t been all that fruitful. Reclamation project Mat Latos got off to a red-hot start, but now has a 4.02 ERA to go with a 5.28 FIP, 5.22 DRA, and putrid K/9 rate of 4.9 (31 strikeouts in 56 innings). Comparatively, he’s walked 21 batters for a BB/9 rate of 3.4. Carlos Rodon has a 4.41 ERA with a 4.50 FIP and 3.90 DRA, but his K/9 rate of 8.4 (59 strikeouts in 63.1 innings) is quite solid. His walk rate, while still a little high at 3.4 per nine, is down from 4.6 last season.
Shields will fill out their rotation, but last year he finished with a 3.91 ERA, 4.48 FIP, and 4.22 DRA. His K/9 (9.6) marked a career high as he struck out 216 batters over 202.1 innings. On the flip side, he set a career-worst BB/9 rate of 3.6a��a mark he’s unfortunately replicated thus far in 2016. The strikeout rate has fallen to 7.6 per nine so far this season (57 strikeouts in 67.1 innings), but that’s not the problem. The walk rate is; the ERA (4.28), FIP (4.43), and DRA (4.75) are.
When the Padres signed him last offseason, he was supposed to be their ace, even if they weren’t signing the same guy we saw in Tampa Bay or even Kansas City. Here’s the wrinkle: Over his first 10 starts, Shields surrendered earned run totals of 3, 4, 2, 3, 1, 1, 4, 0, 2, 2. A couple of blips, but overall pretty good. Then May 31 arrived and Shields didn’t make it out of the third inning, surrendering 10 earned runs and striking out a season-low one batter.
We’ll assume the White Sox aren’t trading for that James Shields. We’ll assume that start was nothing more than an untimely blip. Because if he gives Chicago similar production to his first 10 starts, it’ll be a heckuva lot better than what they’re getting out of Latos and Miguel GonzA?lez.
The White Sox got off to an unexpected start and predictably fell off the pace a little, but the AL Central racea��with the exception of Minnesotaa��is wide open. Just three and a half games separate the first-place Royals from the fourth-place Tigers. The White Sox are currently competitive, right in the thick of the divisional race even though we have well over half a season remaining. Adding talent at the cost of prospects will always hold potential risk, but if you’re in position to go for it…
But adding 34-year-old James Shields? Even putting the May 31 start aside, I cannot confidently say Chicago made the necessary move. Not yet.