How James Shields helped White Sox change direction and rebuild roster
Bummed out about the Chicago White Sox's rebuild?
Feel free to blame James Shields.
On second thought, give Shields some credit.
He's a stand-up personality, and the 36-year-old starter has been nothing but good to all of the young pitchers coming up through the system.
Shields represents how the White Sox once did business, a flawed approach steeped in desperation.
Two months into the 2016 season, the Sox were sliding in the AL Central standings and in dire need of rotation help.
The farm system was predictably bare, so general manager Rick Hahn had to look outside the organization and hopefully roll the dice on a helpful acquisition.
Hahn found Shields, who was clearly on the downside of a solid career.
He acquired the right-hander in a June 4 trade from the San Diego Padres, and the cost was mammoth.
In addition to sending once promising pitcher Erik Johnson to the Padres, Hahn also parted with Fernando Tatis Jr. The 19-year-old shortstop has blossomed, and he's ranked No. 9 overall in Baseball America's 2018 Top 100 prospects list.
The Shields trade was the latest in a long line of missteps by White Sox management, but it did serve a purpose.
Instead of continuing to patch the roster together with washed-out vets, Hahn traded relief pitcher Zach Duke to the Cardinals for minor-league center fielder Charlie Tilson on July 31, 2016. The move officially signaled a change in direction.
Shields is one of the few players over 30 years old still wearing a Sox uniform, and he's in the final year of his contract. The White Sox are paying $10 million of his $21 million salary, with San Diego picking up the rest.
Shields also has a $16 million club option for 2019, but the Sox are undoubtedly going to pay the $2 million buyout fee.
To say Shields has struggled in his two seasons with the Sox would be an understatement. In 43 starts, he's 9-19 with a 5.99 ERA.
An adjustment he made late last year has given Shields hope for this season.
"I feel really good this spring training," he said. "My goal is to have a great year this year and win ballgames for this ballclub. I know we have a lot of young guys and I'm really excited about that. I think that the White Sox have a bright future and the fans should look forward to the next few years."
Shields will not be part of the Sox's future, but he's hoping to go out on a much better note.
After dropping his arm angle down during an Aug. 5 start at Boston, Shields was effective over the final two months.
"It was something that I was just trying out," Shields said of the mechanical adjustment. "I got some really good reviews and reactions to it, and the hitters were having a little tougher time with that arm angle so we'll check it out, see what happens."
Shields' performance on the mound isn't going to be his most important attribute this season. Mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Carson Fulmer is going to measure his true value.
"You know, I like to think I rejuvenate them a little bit," Shields said. "I try to bring as much energy as I possibly can to this clubhouse every day. Hopefully, you get the same guy every day from me. I'm here to help these young guys out as much as I possibly can with the experience factor.
"As a starting staff we're going to try to be a unit this year. We have some really, really good pitching and we have some good pitching coming up as well. I'm excited."