With Clayton Kershaw signed to a seven-year, $215 million extension and the Tigers' Max Scherzer reportedly going to be offered his own at some point in 2014, next winter's free agent class is starting to look a little thin already. What should have been a market with starters Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, and Kershaw will most likely just include James Shields and possibly Jon Lester, with Homer Bailey the best combination of youth and talent available. That's good, but it's not awe-inspiring like it could have been.
While the extensions of Kershaw, Verlander, and Felix will likely bring up the market a bit for starting pitchers, they're so good and with so few peers that the change won't be as significant as some might believe. It's far more likely that whatever deals Lester and Shields sign will inform that of the other, as they're closer (although not close) in age and skill level. While both have had an off year or two in their career, they can generally be penciled in for above-average pitching over a significant number of innings -- that's not necessarily an easy thing to find, which is why both will end up getting paid either on extensions or free agency.
That's why it's noteworthy for Red Sox fans when Shields tells his current team, the Kansas City Royals, that he would like something akin to the Zack Greinke deal in order to stick around -- Peter Gammons reported as much at Gammons Daily on Wednesday. Greinke signed with the Dodgers for six years and $147 million last winter, and Shields, like Greinke, will be one of the best, if not the best arm available on the market, so it's understandable he would aim there.
Now, there are some slight differences here that might keep Shields from a deal of that length and total money. Shields is two years older than Greinke, and won't be a free agent for another year, so the chances of him pulling in a $147 million contract that will still be paying him when he's 38 years old seem slim. With that being said, it wouldn't be a shock to see Shields agree to a deal for something like four years, $90 million with an option for a fifth, or a straight five years for $100 million or so. Then again, if Matt Garza pulls in something similar to that before this off-season ends, maybe Shields will be capable of pulling in something closer to $120 million by next year.
You might remember Ken Rosenthal reporting back in October that Lester would similarly be looking at a deal for around the same as Zack Greinke once he hits the market. The chances of Lester achieving that goal are higher than they are for Shields, as he's the same age as Greinke is now and would be 36 years old upon its completion rather than 38, but it's still tough to see him getting that from the Red Sox, specifically. Lester is aware he will have to take less total money to re-sign with the Red Sox, and is, by his own admission, balancing his desire to stay with that fact at present. So, while Greinke money is a possibility, it's unlikely to occur in Boston, where he's more likely to sign for something like five years for $100 million, or six for $120 million.
Either way, Shields and Lester should be very interested in what the other is doing, as, once Max Scherzer signs an extension (or is traded and signs one), they become the top options available in next winter's free agent class. It's hard to see either pitcher actually reaching Greinke levels of pay given Shields' age and Lester's likelihood of remaining with the Red Sox, but, with the way the market keeps moving, that's an educated guess at best from anyone not directly involved in negotiations.