Dallas Keuchel remains on the free-agent market, but he isn't the only available veteran starter teams are considering. Rather, they're also weighing the merits of James Shields, who ranks fifth among active pitchers with more than 2,600 career innings pitched. Shields has in recent weeks thrown in front of an audience including officials from the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, and Texas Rangers, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. While Shields isn't close to signing, he does make sense for some teams as an alternative to Keuchel.
"Some" is the key word in the preceding sentence; by "some" we mean rebuilding clubs, or teams who are otherwise unlikely to contend this season. Shields has his merits -- he posted a 94 ERA+ and a strikeout-to-walk ratio around 2.00 last season -- but he's an older and appreciably worse pitcher than Keuchel is these days. (Shields does have the better nickname, as the "Astronaut Lion.") A contender who prefers Shields to Keuchel is a contender who also prefers money to wins. (It's fitting, then, that Cleveland is the best team of the three named -- ownership has done its best to knock them off from the top of the American League.)
Shields stands to provide his future employer with multi-pronged value, albeit, perhaps, in nuanced ways. He's a workhorse from a past era when front-of-the-rotation arms were expected to regularly cross the 200-inning mark. Shields did so last year, giving him 10 such seasons for his career. His innings-per-pop ratio of 6.2 would rank 15th in the majors this year, were he to replicate it. How well Shields pitched on any given night would be anyone's guess -- he's not too far removed from a season-plus-long stretch where he looked done -- but a team indifferent to the results could count on him to pitch six frames each time out, barring a rain out. And remember, someone has to throw the innings, be it Shields, a younger arm, or a reliever -- as such, there's some value in merely being available and able to do it without any big-picture ramifications.
Additionally, said team could count on Shields to be a positive role model and helpful mentor for younger charges. He has a well-earned reputation for assisting and advising pitchers throughout the league with their pitches and gameplans -- an attribute that presumably makes him even more appealing to the Rangers ( Jeff Mathis over the winter) and Tigers (who have a number of talented starters coming, including Casey Mize).
Shields's desired terms and proximity to being ready for game action are unknown. It seems more likely than not, however, that he'll get the opportunity to add to his 405 career big-league starts.