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Mistakes Were Made: James Shields for Fernando Tatis, Jr.

There are some trades you might want to take back.

James Shields by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Mistakes Were Made: James Shields for Fernando Tatis, Jr.


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Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

On June 4th, 2016, the San Diego Padres were 22-32, fresh off a win against the Colorado Rockies. The Padres had been struggling to find their groove all year, and after a disastrous May that saw their team batting average dip below .220, something had to be done. Something had to change.

The Chicago White Sox, on the other hand, were in the throws of a midseason backslide. After beginning the season hotter than Bryce Harper’s ESPN Body Issue photo shoot with a 17-8 record through April, the White Sox began to slip.

The team that showed their resilience after the Adam LaRoche and Son fiasco was now staring down the barrel of slipping below .500 for the first time all year. A week removed from their fall from the top spot in the AL Central, the South Side Sox were also looking for a change.

Luckily for both teams, they found each other on the trade market.

James Shields was once a top pitcher in the MLB, coming up through the Tampa Bay system that also brought us David Price. His 2011 season in particular, saw him finish inside of the top 3 for AL Cy Young, and earned him the sole All-Star selection of his career. But like most star pitchers in Tampa Bay, his time as a Ray had to come to an end.

After another solid season in 2012, the Kansas City Royals traded for Shield’s services, sending Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi and soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Wil Myers to Tampa, in exchange for Wade Davis and Shields.

With Kansas City, Shields continued his normal routine of throwing 200+ innings and keeping his ERA in the low 3.00s. However, after a tough offseason that saw the Royals looking for an Ace to help them defeat the San Francisco Madison Bumgarners, Kansas City granted Shields free agency.

Instead, Shields found a new home at PetCo Park with the struggling San Diego Padres.

The Padres offered Shields something both parties seemed to be looking for: somewhere Shields could be the star. In full rebuild mode, bringing in a veteran with solid credentials and postseason experience was a way for them to stabilize the Padres organization. That leads San Diego to ink Shields to a 4-year, $73 million dollar deal.

All of that now seems very funny in hindsight.

Shields did not live up to expectations in San Diego. Wait, perhaps that’s an understatement. The James Shields the Padres thought they signed never showed up. Instead, the James Shields of 2010, who was regularly roughed up in Tampa Bay, showed up to PetCo. This unwelcomed Shields doppelganger saw his WHIP jump from 1.181 a year prior to 1.334. Shields also began giving up longballs at an alarming rate, leading the league with 33 home runs surrendered.

The most famous of these home runs came in 2016 when Shield faced the New York Mets at home.

On May 7th, 2016, at the age of 42, Mets Starting Pitcher Bartolo Colon did the unthinkable. After 19 seasons, 3172.1 innings pitched, 233 Wins, and a Cy Young Award, Bartolo did something no one ever thought he could do.

He hit a home run.

And he did it off James Shields.

Like the pitchers during the Home Run Race, you don’t want to be forever enshrined in a moment of offensive history. Giving up a memorable moonshot is the MLB’s version of being posterized. Forever and ever, as that video is played James Shields’ reputation shrinks more and more.

That loss against the Mets would be his fifth of the season. Things would only get worse, and by June 4th, Shields was sitting at 2-7. With his ERA ballooning to 4.28, and coming off a month where opposing hitters owned him at a .318 clip, Shields had to go. When things get that bad, you gotta leave town.

Chicago saw James Shields struggling. So after two years of playing against him, they saw their chance to snag him. It’s not their fault. The White Sox were one of the 9 teams in the league that Shields held a winning record with.

But what do you give up for a guy like James Shields? How do you trade for a guy who is struggling in San Diego?

You send them a guy who hasn’t picked up a bat for your team.

When your father is the only man to hit two grand slams in one inning, you’ve got big shoes to fill. Luckily for Fernando Tatis, Jr., his dad wore a size 10, and he was drafted wearing a pair 13s. Fernando Tatis Jr. was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 2015. However, he never played in a minor league game for Chicago before he was shipped to San Diego. It’s an interesting way to begin your career, but that didn’t stop Tatis, Jr.

Not. One. Bit.

In his first season in the minors, Tatis, Jr. showed up hitting .273, with 60 hits in 55 games in 2016. The following year the improvements didn’t slow down, as Tatis, Jr. went into hyper speed. Stealing 32 bases, knocking 22 home runs, and racking up 135 hits in 131 games, the kid was on fire.

And I mean “kid” literally. Fernando Tatis, Jr. just turned 20. Like, a few days ago.

This kid has only gotten better from there. As of publishing, Tatis, Jr. is in the top 3 MLB prospects for MLB.com, Baseball America and RotoChamp. The guy is a stud, and will certainly be a focal point for the Padres moving forward. The Padres are so all-in on Tatis, Jr. and his future contributions, they told the Mets he was off the table when discussing a swap for Noah Syndergaard.

James Shields did not help the Chicago White Sox right their ship in 2016, or in 2017 or in 2018. During his time in Chicago, Shields’ ERA never dipped below 4.50, and his WHIP never landed below 1.330. After last season, the White Sox granted the -4.3 WAR pitcher free agency, opting to buy him out of his final year.

If the White Sox had kept Tatis, Jr. they could have had one insane middle infield duos. Yoan Moncada and Fernando Tatis, Jr. are a double-play tandem that dreams are made of. With all the rebuilding they’ve done through trades in recent years, it’s odd to see such a backward step. Then again, sometimes you need to take a step back to take two steps forward.

But it still sucks to trade a top prospect for a guy who serves up dingers.

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      Todd

      August 30, 2019 at 5:56 pm

      That trade probably keeps Hahn up at nights. It looks like an awful trade now, but, at the time, it made sense.

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