There has been no greater riddle this offseason than James Shields, the marquee free agent nobody wants.

OK, “nobody” is an overstatement. But while other elite arms—Jon Lester, Max Scherzer—have fallen off the board, the market for Shields remains a puzzling mess.

Add the Arizona Diamondbacks to the list of teams that say they’re out on the 33-year-old right-hander.

On Jan. 13, general manager Dave Stewart indicated to Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic that the D’Backs were interested in Shields, opining that the ex-Kansas City Royals ace “probably sees us as a true baseball team [versus] some of the other teams out here that are geared more toward analytics and those type of things.”

On Thursday, Stewart walked those comments back (the ones about being interested in Shields, not about who is and isn’t a “true baseball team”), per Piecoro:

San Francisco Giants GM Brian Sabean recently told Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News that he wasn’t planning any more “high ticket” additions. Plus, the Giants are now reportedly in pursuit of Ryan Vogelsong, per the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Henry Schulman, which would fill their rotation to the bursting point. 

The Boston Red Sox, another oft-speculated Shields suitor, are “utterly disinterested,” according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald

So who’s left? At present, Shields doesn’t appear willing to budge from his five-year, $100 million-plus demands, which squeezes out mid- to-low-level spenders like Arizona and the Miami Marlins.

High-rollers like the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers, meanwhile, have been MIA.

Still, someone‘s going to sign him…eventually.

Let’s run down the top three potential landing spots for the winter’s last unsigned star and handicap the odds that he’ll end up in each.


Milwaukee Brewers

From the moment Milwaukee sent Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers for a trio of prospects, they became a realistic player for Shields, per CBS Sports‘ Mike Axisa:

[The] trade frees up a significant amount of cash for the Brewers. Their payroll has sat right around $100 million the last three years and their 2015 payroll was at $99 million before the Gallardo trade. They’re paying $4 million of his salary, so the $9 million they saved could go to a big ticket free agent, specifically James Shields, the only big ticket free agent left.

Shields’ asking price could break the Brewers’ bank, even with Gallardo’s $13 million off the books, but as Axisa points out, that’s what back-loaded contracts are for.

The National League Central is stacked, with the young and hungry Chicago Cubs and dangerous Pittsburgh Pirates nipping at the heels of the defending division champion St. Louis Cardinals.

If Milwaukee wants to insert itself into the mix, it’ll need to upgrade the roster. Shields looks like as good of an option as any.

Odds: 25 to 1


San Diego Padres

No one has been more active this offseason than the Padres, who have swung deals to revamp their outfield and beef up an anemic offense.

Their starting rotation is already a strength, anchored by budding studs Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. But the old “you can never have too much pitching” bromide applies doubly in the cavernous confines of Petco Park.

The Friars have the chips to eingineer a trade, and an array of ace-level names—the Philadelphia Phillies’ Cole Hamels, plus Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals—are at least theoretically being dangled.

Or San Diego could hold onto its prospects and simply sign Shields, a durable innings-eater who might even make them favorites in the NL West.

That’s not pure speculation, either; Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports the Pads are “on [the] periphery of [the] Shields sweepstakes.” 

As with Milwaukee, it’d take some financial creativity. So far, new Padres GM A.J. Preller has been nothing if not creative. 

Odds: 10 to 1


Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto shot out of the gate this winter, inking catcher Russell Martin and acquiring All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Oakland A’s. 

Since then, things have been mostly quiet north of the border.

But it’s entirely possible the Jays, who figure to be a serious contender in the wide-open AL East, have another move up their feathered sleeve. 

Toronto, Rosenthal recently noted, is “not actively negotiating with Shields’ agent,” but is “discussing the pitcher internally.”

Shields would immediately become the Blue Jays’ No. 1 starter, headlining a rotation that features veteran workhorse Mark Buehrle, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and young right-handers Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison. 

A boomerang to the East would be a homecoming of sorts for Shields, who spent the first seven years of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Will the prodigal son return, this time with a bird on his cap? We’ll find out…eventually.

Odds: 5 to 1


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted. 

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