SAN DIEGO -- Following about 10 days of negotiations, the Padres finalized their trade with the White Sox Saturday afternoon, sending right-hander James Shields to Chicago in exchange for a pair of Minor Leaguers.
For Shields -- who signed the richest free-agent contract in Padres history two offseasons ago -- San Diego received 26-year-old right-hander Erik Johnson and 17-year-old infielder Fernando Tatis Jr. The Padres will also pay more than half of the $58 million remaining on Shields' contract, with Chicago doling out $5 million this season, and $22 million more if he does not opt out during the offseason.
"It's never easy to make a trade and trade a guy that you think a lot of in James Shields," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller, who said he fielded calls on Shields from four or five other clubs over the past week. "But on the flip side, you get two players you're really excited about -- and some flexibility."
Off to a solid start to the 2016 campaign, Shields was roughed up his last time out, allowing 10 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings Tuesday against the Mariners. That outing sent his ERA skyrocketing to 4.28.
In two seasons with the Padres, Shields went 15-14 with an ERA of 4.00. He brought his trademark durability with him to San Diego, but more than anything, Shields struggled to find consistency since signing a four-year deal worth $75 million last February.
At the time, the Padres viewed Shields as one of the final pieces on a contender. He signed during an offseason in which they also traded for Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Craig Kimbrel (who has since been dealt to Boston). But with Shields now gone, Preller skirted the notion that the Padres are in rebuilding mode.
"It wasn't necessarily that we were going into it all-in on this one-year period," Preller said "It was more of a situation where it was, 'Hey, let's see if we can take a shot and compete and contend,' knowing that if that didn't work out, at a point down the road we had the ability to pump the brakes and go a different direction. We were going to have some assets that were going to be attractive to other clubs."
Indeed, the Padres have several viable trade assets before the Deadline. Jon Jay and Andrew Cashner are in the final year of their contracts, and the Shields' swap indicates that the club could be looking to move other big-money salaries like those of Kemp and Melvin Upton Jr.
For now, however, Preller said he expects the club to be quiet on the trade front until closer to the Aug. 1 non-waiver Deadline. He called this trade "unique," because the White Sox were eager for an immediate boost in an effort to contend in the American League Central.
As for the Padres' return, Johnson, once a highly touted prospect, has largely struggled at the big league level. In parts of four seasons with the White Sox, he posted a 4.50 ERA and a 1.714 WHIP. He's been solid in eight starts for Triple-A Charlotte this season, where he notched a 2.94 ERA in 49 innings.
"He's a guy that they had some high hopes for that haven't materialized," Padres manager Andy Green said. "I think you see that quite frequently where a guy gets a change of scenery and things click for them. We're hoping that's the case with him."
Green hinted that Johnson will most likely take Shields' place in the Padres' starting rotation, but he won't be called up immediately. Shields was slated to pitch Sunday night's game against the Rockies, but Johnson -- who pitched seven innings for Triple-A Charlotte on Thursday night -- isn't available to take his place. Instead, the Padres will use their bullpen to get through the day -- though they haven't yet decided who gets the ball first. (That will depend on Saturday night's results.)
Said one scout, who is familiar with Johnson: "[He has] good stuff, but like many, there's an inconsistency with him repeating quality strikes."
In that sense, Johnson would seem to be another reclamation project for Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley, who, in recent years, has helped revitalize the careers of Tyson Ross and now Drew Pomeranz.
But, at least immediately, it'll be very tough for Johnson to match the durability of Shields, who has pitched more than 200 innings in each of the last nine seasons. As a result, Green said the club will mull the option of using an eight-man 'pen to make up for Shields' absence.
As for Tatis Jr., he is the son of former big leaguer Fernando Tatis, who spent 11 seasons in the Majors -- and actually played with Green in 2009 for the Mets. (Tatis Sr. is most well known for the distinction of being the only player in Major League history to hit two grand slams in the same inning.)
The White Sox signed Tatis Jr. at the start of last year's international signing period. The Padres were impressed by his smooth defense, strong arm and pull-side power. Tatis has yet to make his professional debut, but will likely do so either in the Arizona League or with Short Season Tri-City.
"He's got the big league pedigree," said Preller. "He's a very intelligent kid, he's got good feel for the game. He's a shortstop, and he's a bigger-bodied player that's a pretty good athlete."
Following Shields' most recent start, Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler called out the team for its poor performance and singled out Shields for his woeful start in Seattle. But Preller said the trade was already well in the works and that those comments had no impact.
As for the current club, the Padres players and their skipper were adamant that their focus remains on the field.
• Padres react to trade
"The goal right now for us didn't change," Green said. "It's exactly the same as it was when I got up this morning and didn't know James was traded at that point in time. It's to win a baseball game today."
Of course, that doesn't mean they aren't going to miss Shields, a veteran presence and a clubhouse leader.
"He's a class guy," Green said. "Gave everything he had. I have tons of respect for him."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Even though Shields adds a useful workhorse to the White Sox rotation, Saturday's trade may diminish his fantasy value. The right-hander disappointed owners during his Padres tenure, posting a 4.00 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP and a 1.4 HR/9 rate across 44 starts. Now set to face deeper lineups in the AL with the backdrop of homer-happy U.S. Cellular Field rather than pitcher-friendly Petco Park, the veteran could struggle to post stats worthy of a consistent mixed-league roster spot. However, AL-only owners should be happy to make a significant investment in a starter with a 9.1 K/9 rate since the outset of 2015.
In San Diego, Erik Johnson could soon get a long look in the rotation. The right-hander should remain on mixed-league waivers for now given his 4.50 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP across 18 big league starts, but he's had solid Minor League success (career 3.23 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) and could contribute in deeper formats later this summer.