When the offseason began, there was all the talk surrounding the big three pitching free agents. With Jon Lester signing with the Chicago Cubs and Max Scherzer going to the Washington Nationals, James Shields is still out there on the free agent market with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in about two weeks.
Now, this article is in no way going to suggest that the Nationals should sign Shields and add to their super rotation. They have enough starters as is. However, that doesn’t mean that Nats’ fans shouldn’t be paying attention to the race for Shields. There is one team in the NL East that could bolster their rotation if they land the 33-year old.
The Miami Marlins have been the NL East team that has been linked to Shields. His former general manager in Tampa, Dan Jennings, is now in South Beach as the Marlins’ GM. Jennings was the GM in Tampa when they picked Shields in the 16th round of the 2000 MLB Draft.
The latest rumors out of South Beach is that the team has a zero percent chance of adding Shields, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Shields’ market has been interesting when you consider there haven’™t been many teams who have come out and said they are interested in signing him.
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Miami has made improvements to their rotation this winter with trades for Mat Latos and Dan Haren (depending on whether he reports or not). Plus, the team will get a full season out of Jared Cossart after they acquired him in July of last year. With Jose Fernandez hopefully returning before the All-Star Break after Tommy John Surgery, the Marlins should be better than the 4.04 starter ERA they posted last year (fourth lowest in the National League).For the record, the Nationals had the top ERA amongst starters in the NL at 3.04.
So, could Miami be a serious challenger in the NL East if they landed Shields? I asked Ehsan Kassim, the co-editor of Marlin Maniac for his thoughts to this question:
"“If the Marlins added Shields, they’d squeeze ahead of the Mets as the second best rotation in the NL East. They wouldn’t be on the same level as the Nats in my opinion. Shields is a top of the rotation arm in my view, but a lower end one. Fernandez and Latos have questions surrounding how they’ll do coming off offseason ending injuries in 2014. It’s questionable if Alvarez can repeat his 2014 success without ratching up more strikeouts, as his FIP sat a full run above his ERA last season. I like Koehler or Cosart as 5 guys, but not much higher.”"
Last season, it wasn’™t the Marlins or the Mets that gave Washington problems. It was the two teams projected at the bottom of the NL East (Braves and Phillies) in 2015 that the Nats couldn’™t beat. Against the Mets and Marlins in 2014, Washington went a combined 28-10. Against Atlanta and Philadelphia, the Nats were 17-21.
While Shields would make Miami a tough team to beat, Washington should be able to win the NL East as long as they don’™t suffer a significant injury. That being said, if this team is going to top their 96 win total from a year ago, they need to advantage of the games they have against the Braves and Phillies and finish above .500 against those teams.