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James Shields To Padres: What Does It Mean For NL West?

Andrew Schultz |
February 10, 2015 | 9:27 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Shields is just the latest in a long list of off-season improvements the Padres have made under new GM A.J. Preller. (Zimbio)
Shields is just the latest in a long list of off-season improvements the Padres have made under new GM A.J. Preller. (Zimbio)

The San Diego Padres continued their productive offseason, signing SP James Shields to a four-year, $75-million contract, with an option for a fifth year.

The deal gives them a reliable, consistent starter at the top of their rotation. Shields leads the majors in innings pitched since 2007 with 1785 2/3, and has pitched more than 200 innings in every season in that span.

This is only the most recent headline-making transaction by new general manager A.J. Preller, who has also added outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers, catcher Derek Norris and infielder Wil Middlebrooks. Shields will lead a rotation that also includes Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and Odrisamer Despaigne.

The Padres are clearly in win-now mode, looking to compete against the NL West-favorite Los Angeles Dodgers and the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants. They look a lot different from the team that finished third in the NL West last season at 77-85 and had one of the worst offenses in baseball, as they hope to get the city closer to its first ever World Series title.

San Diego has a chance to make a strong first impression in the regular season, as they’ll start the season against the Dodgers on Monday, April 6 at 1:10 pm. They will likely start Shields against reigning NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, with Kemp playing his first game at Dodger Stadium in another uniform.

The big question on everyone’s mind, especially Padres fans, is whether or not this makes the Padres the Dodgers’ biggest threat in the division.

The Shields deal pushes the Padres into the playoff conversation, giving them a very strong top-of-the-rotation starter and a player that has playoff experience, having just pitched in the World Series. He’s coming off a solid season, going 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 180 strikeouts in 227 innings with the Kansas City Royals, and is also likely ready to get back at the Giants for taking the Series.

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Combine the Padres’ acquisitions with the fact that the Giants have question marks in the rotation after Madison Bumgarner and Jake Peavy, and that they whiffed on any major free agent signings besides Peavy, and it’s a perfect time for the Friars to make a move.

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections have the Dodgers winning the NL West for the third straight year with a record of 97-65, also giving them three consecutive seasons with 90 or more wins, as well as leading the Majors in wins. The Padres are projected to finish second with an 85-77 record, 12 games behind the Dodgers, followed by the Giants with an 84-78 record, as both teams will meet in the NL wild-card game, with the winner facing the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs.

Adding an ace like Cole Hamels to the staff would help close the gap between the Padres and Dodgers in the NL West. (Wikimedia)
Adding an ace like Cole Hamels to the staff would help close the gap between the Padres and Dodgers in the NL West. (Wikimedia)

Despite the vast improvements on offense the Padres have made, along with the acquisition of one of the top free-agent pitchers, they will be more porous on defense, which might cause problems with a rotation of pitchers not known for striking out 200+ a season, including Shields. Compare this to the Dodgers’ offseason, where they let Kemp, Dee Gordon, and Hanley Ramirez go, acquired Jimmy Rollins, Yasmani Grandal, and Howie Kendrick, and moved top prospect Joc Pederson to the outfield to strengthen their defense, and they’ll be only a few wins closer to a team that will likely equal its pace from last year, if not slightly exceed it.

San Diego will need all of their acquisitions to perform at or above expectations in order to win the West, although it’s possible they’re not finished yet. Before the Shields deal, the Padres were considered front-runners to acquire Cole Hamels from the Phillies if they were willing to trade him. While the chances of the deal happening are slimmer now that Shields is on the West Coast, Preller is likely very intrigued by a possible rotation of Hamels, Shields, Cashner, Kennedy, and Ross, especially with the Dodgers’ rotation of Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, and Brett Anderson ready to stare them down on Opening Day.

Signing Shields to a contract makes the Padres a better team, vaulting them over the Giants as the second-best team in the division. However, they still need more big-name talent or production from their current roster to catch the Dodgers at the top.

One thing is for sure, however: there’s a three-headed monster in the NL West, and it’ll be a lot of fun to watch come spring.

Reach Staff Reporter Andrew Schultz here or follow him on Twitter @SChultz315.



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