Mensching: Shields could help Tigers at right price

By Kurt Mensching, Special to The Detroit News

Let's face it: Max Scherzer's career as a Tiger should now be spoken about in the past tense. Scherzer made a big bet on his future this spring when he turned down the Tigers' offer -- reported to be worth $144 million -- and some general manager somewhere will shower Scherzer with riches for that bet.

The Tigers shouldn't even try to match the amount of money he's going to get. Scherzer's a great pitcher, but the contract's going to look bad at the end, and a few too many deals like that can hamstring a club like it has the Phillies.

This brings up a problem, naturally. If not Scherzer, then who?

How confident can the Tigers feel going forward if they have to count on inconsistent rookie left-hander Robbie Ray stepping into Scherzer's shoes?

Not very.

And the goal in Detroit continues to be a World Series title, not just another year punching their card in the playoffs.

Enter James Shields.

Shields, who is scheduled to start the World Series opener for the Royals on Tuesday, has the personal disadvantage of being number three on every team's starting pitcher shopping list, behind Scherzer and former A's/Red Sox lefty Jon Lester.

That's bad for Shields, but good for Detroit.

Sure, the Royals have the first shot at him. They'll probably even make a qualifying offer, which is a nice way to get an extra draft pick for a player you can't afford. The Tigers will do the same with Scherzer, allowing them some flexibility.

Executives expect "Big Game James" to net a five-year deal worth from $80-110 million, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star wrote earlier this month.

While that kind of contract might sound awfully scary to the Royals, who've never given out that much money, it's the kind of deal the Tigers can afford to make without batting an eye.

Shields hasn't had the best run during the 2014 postseason. He's given up 10 runs in 16 innings, picking up a win to go along with two no-decisions.

However he's been a pretty consistent starter over the past few seasons, both in Tampa Bay and Kansas City, and he'd help fill a rotation of David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello out nicely.

Shields has thrown more than 200 innings for eight consecutive years. Although he's 32 years old (he'll turn 33 in December) and his strikeout rate has fallen a bit, to 19 percent of plate appearances ending in a K this year from near 24 percent a few years ago, his rate of walks has decreased to 4.7 percent as well.

Couple that keeping the ball in the park -- even in those hot Kansas City summers that tend to favor batters -- and you've got a pitcher aging well, with an ERA of 3.15 in 2013 and 3.21 in 2014.

Shields is someone the Tigers should keep an eye on this offseason. He's not necessarily a must-have. If bidding reaches the nine-figure mark, the Tigers should probably pass and look for lower-cost alternatives.

But if they can get him into the fold on a contract similar to Sanchez's -- five years, $80 million with an option for sixth year -- that's exactly the kind of deal that would keep the Tigers' window open for longer without coming at the cost of a mortgaged future.

Now, if Detroit can just find a defense to put behind him.

Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.