James Shields was all smiles on Tuesday during his first day with his new team.
While he wasn’t anticipating a trade when he initially signed a four-year, $75 million contract with the San Diego Padres in February 2015, Shields has been around long enough to know things change quickly in this business and he’s happy to find himself on a team in the thick of the playoff race.
“I’m really excited to be here in Chicago,” said Shields, who was acquired by the White Sox for minor leaguers Erik Johnson and Fernando Tatis Jr. over the weekend. “I’ve always played against Chicago and loved the city, love the town, my kids love the town. So I’m excited to do some things here.”
In his 11-year career, Shields is 129-104 with a 3.76 ERA. He’s also reached the postseason four times.
The White Sox are hoping that adding a player of Shields’ caliber can give the White Sox a boost, not only in the rotation, but also in a way to help alleviate some of the pressure off the bullpen by eating up innings.
“There are different times when you bring in a veteran guy who brings something else to the table,” manager Robin Ventura said. “There are intangibles that come with him that are helpful.
“It’s going to be good to have him in the rotation. Not only the physical stuff, of him going out there and pitching, but seeing him from the other side you admire what he brings to the table as far as his persona, work ethic and all of that stuff. I think that’s always been big for him.”
After starting out the season 23-10, the White Sox have lost 18 of their last 24 games and, entering Tuesday, stand at 29-28 – three and a half games out of first in the division.
It wasn’t a secret that the White Sox were looking to strengthen their weaknesses, which included pitching.
Aside from Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, the White Sox have been inconsistent in their pitching rotation. Mat Latos started off the year hot, but his numbers have trailed off despite his 6-1 record. Carlos Rodon continues to have a shaky sophomore season, and after John Danks’ departure, the team has been trying to solidify a fifth man to the rotation.
They’re hoping Shields can help fix that.
“With James we wanted to help stabilize the middle and back of that rotation,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “We think he improved our overall staff, first from the standpoint of giving us a nice, dependable starter in there to lengthen the rotation and also take perhaps a little bit of the burden off the bullpen by having a guy who, more likely than not, is going to give you an effort deeper in games and take a little bit of the load off the bullpen, which quite frankly has been taxed pretty heavy over the last six, seven weeks.”
Ironically enough, Shields essentially turned out to be Danks’ replacement in the White Sox rotation. What’s even more ironic is that Shields and Danks squared off in his first postseason start in 2008 when Shields served as the ace for the Tampa Bay Rays
It turned out to be his first win in October baseball.
“I actually played pretty well in that game,” Shields said. “They have a lot of tradition here in Chicago and the White Sox organization. My cousin actually played in the 2005 World Series, Aaron Rowand, I’m sure you guys know him. So I got a lot of history myself in my own family here in the White Sox organization. I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Although some White Sox fans have been hoping Shields can be their savior, Shields isn’t trying to bring too much attention to that. He just wants to focus on his game and help the ball club get back in the win column.
“I’m here to do my job and that’s to pitch once every five days and post,” Shields said. “I’ve been on a lot of teams where we’ve gotten a new guy, sometimes having a new face in the clubhouse will change the atmosphere a little bit, kind of change the mood a little bit.”
Hahn knows that the White Sox still need to improve in other areas, and he’s hoping the Shields trade is the tip of the iceberg for more acquisitions.
Not surprisingly, the Shields trade signals that the White Sox are all in on this season. But this isn’t just a move for this year. It’s for the future as well.
“We made a deal that we felt was in the best interest of the White Sox,” Hahn said. “It made sense for us both in 2016 but as importantly, likely in '17 and '18, that he can fit in and ultimately elect to exercise the player option and not opt out, that he's a nice fit for us going forward at a price point that we can make other things work around.”
The potential is there for the White Sox to make a run at their first postseason berth since 2008. Shields saw it from an outsider looking in.
Now he’s looking to help make it happen.
“I think this team has been great,” Shields said. “Looking from afar, they look like they have a blast. They have fun, which I’m really excited about.”