It’s not always easy to pinpoint exactly when things began falling apart. In most cases, there are multiple incidents and causes that make shining the spotlight on one specific moment too broad of an oversimplification. But every so often, you find that perfect example. That one shining data point that makes everyone agree that, yeah, that’s exactly when it happened. When looking back and trying to figure out what day the White Sox took that last step that would ultimately force them to finally go into a hard rebuild, it’s not very difficult to find: June 4, 2016. The day they traded for James Shields.
Shields was supposed to bolster the back end of a rotation starring Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon. A veteran presence on what was supposed to be a contending ballclub. In his first start for Chicago, Shields gave up 7 runs in 2.1 innings. Things didn’t get prettier from there. The trade was already a bust before Fernando Tatis Jr turned into a mega-prospect seemingly overnight. Winter came and the teardown with it. James Shields was now veteran ballast on an intentionally sinking ship, bailing out water to save the future arms from unnecessary stress and injury.
2017 initially seemed to be going a bit better. Shields changed his pitching strategy, as all aging pitchers eventually must do, throwing his curveball more and having somewhat better results. Hitters only managed to hit .153/.275/.339 against him in his first three starts and fanciful dreams of potentially getting value back in a trade for him filled the minds of hopeful Sox fans. And then he hit the disabled list with a strained right lat. So it goes.
Shields returned in mid-June and proceeded to pitch like it was still 2016, surrendering 12 home runs over his next eight starts, striking out 28 hitters while walking 20. August and September were kinder to Shields, but the dream of selling high was shattered. 2017 was a massive improvement on 2016, but only because 2016 was so dire and depressing that the only two ways this season could have gone were up or being designated for assignment. Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito will be in the starting rotation this spring. Rodon should be back from another injury. There’s still space for Shields, as Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, and Dane Dunning aren’t knocking down the door just yet. But 2018 is looking more and more like it will be Big Game James’ last season in the sun.
Lead Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports