First and foremost -- if we didn’t know it already -- the Cubs have cash to spend, possibly more than they’re letting on. Even at a reduced rate, Shields would have cost the Cubs over $50 million. According to multiple reports, he signed with the San Diego Padres for four years at about $75 million on Monday. The Cubs, reportedly, offered three years. Just the idea of the Cubs getting back into the pitching market after signing Jon Lester and Jason Hammel this offseason further proves their commitment to upgrade that position from outside the organization. And the pursuit of Shields came after the Cubs publicly said they probably weren’t in the market for another big-ticket player.
The second thing we can take away from their pursuit is that Shields would probably be a Cub if they hadn’t signed Lester. At the time Lester was being pursued by Chicago, league sources indicated Shields was on their radar as a backup. There were no such whispers regarding Max Scherzer, for example. So the Cubs must feel Shields will be durable and effective into his mid-30s, but weren’t comfortable going all-out for him as they did with Lester. It’s pretty obvious they would have liked to add him on their terms, but he was able to get a little more out of his hometown team, the Padres.
The only question that probably won’t be answered is if the Cubs would have still hit the free-agent market next offseason if they had landed Shields -- along with Lester and Hammel -- this winter. As has been well-documented, next winter’s starting pitching free-agent class is very good and very deep. We won’t know until this season is over how much the Cubs may or may not need another top-of-the-line pitcher, but the idea of Lester, Shields, Hammel and another stud free-agent pitcher all coming to the Cubs over the course of two offseasons is tough to swallow.
Finally, going after Shields is also a reminder that sometimes you have to strike when you have the chance. If the market was drying up for him, and the Cubs thought they could swoop in, then it might have been worth the risk. You can’t know what next winter will bring. A handful of those free-agents-to-be could sign with their current clubs or be traded and sign with their new teams. Maybe the market will be too expensive.
Ironically, there’s probably mixed reaction to the Cubs losing out on Shields. He isn’t as good as several pitchers who are younger and should be available next year; and if his signing prevented the team from spending max dollars down the road on Jordan Zimmerman or David Price or Jeff Samardzija, then many are probably satisfied with the current outcome. However, Shields has proven to be durable, throwing over 200 innings in eight straight seasons. The Cubs could use that consistency, but they had the luxury of asking for his services on their terms, not his, so ultimately he’s not here.
More than anything, the Cubs continue to show the baseball world they are serious players moving forward. In this case, they didn’t acquire the frosting for their offseason cake, but it's fun watching them try after years of being on the sidelines.