James Shields, who has already been traded once this season, may be on the move again. By itself, that's not surprising, as he's an asset with some value on a Chicago White Sox team that's going nowhere and looking to flip the players who can be flipped. Since winning the American League Central in 2008, the White Sox have had a hard time getting organized. That team existed so long ago that, in the years since, Ken Griffey Jr. has had time to go from that team's active roster to the Hall of Fame. They've rarely been better than mediocre since; in 2013 the bottom fell out, they lost 99 games, and it's been all losing since then.
The Sox have had some very fine players in that time, and have a pair now in pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, but it's probably best to think of this epoch in White Sox history as the Years of Dayan Viciedo. My computer wants to autocorrect that name to "Dang Void Don't," which is exactly right.
A young defector from Cuba, Viciedo reached the majors in 2010 and spent most or all of the next five seasons playing the Cell's outfield corners like he was looking for an address, hitting the occasional home run, and reaching base not quite 30 percent of the time. Prior to playing his way to Japan, Dang Void Don't was one of a number of strange, ill-matched parts the club employed, players of whom it was fair to ask, "What exactly is it that he does?" There were aging franchise greats like Paul Konerko, busted first-round picks such as Gordon Beckham, painfully inconsistent hitters like Alex Rios (who had back-to-back full-time seasons in which he hit .227/.265/.348 and .304/.334/.516), a revolving door with a handwritten "Do Not Use" sign on it at third base, and the angry ghost of Kid Gleason, who befogs manager Robin Ventura's mind at key moments, thereby causing him to make random, nonsensical bullpen moves.
This year was going to be different, not for any real reason but because the team started the season 23-10 through May 9th. When a team posts a winning percentage of nearly .700 over 30 games, that's not "going to be different"; it usually is different. When the White Sox started to slide back toward the mean, the most urgent reason was that the starting rotation revealed itself to be Sale, Quintana, and three reasons to watch the Cubs. The Padres, looking to unload veteran starter James Shields, were willing to make an early deal. On June 4th, the White Sox had played 23 games since May 9th, and gone 6-17. GM Rick Hahn, who has been trying to figure this team out since Fall 2012, sent a teenager light years from the majors and a meh pitcher to the Padres in exchange for a free agent signing the Padres regretted almost immediately. The Padres will cover $31 million of the $58 million still due to Shields between now and 2019.
If Chicago's freefall was to be arrested, "Big Game James" would have to be the one to do it. Instead, he picked up where he left off with the Padres, getting blasted again and again. In his last start with San Diego, he gave up ten runs in 2.2 innings. In his first four starts with Chicago, he gave up 24 in 13.2. That's a 15.80 ERA.
But then he got better. Much better, actually, and he has stayed at that level. In six times out, beginning June 29th, he's had a quality start every time. His ERA for that span is 1.71. There are reasons to be nervous, as Shields has struck out only 4.5 batters per nine during those golden 42 innings; his BABIP of .206 hints at the correction to come.
Still, good is good until it's not. As it happened, Shields' turnaround comes too late for the White Sox; instead of being the team's savior, he was something like the final nail in its coffin. The White Sox have gone 27-41 since their May 9th peak, and 21-24 since the trade. Eight games behind the Indians, six away from a wild card, the White Sox will throw their mighty Shields for whatever return they can get. Shields has been an excellent pitcher in his career, but this might be what the rest of that career looks like. For the White Sox, it's back to the drawing board, and trying to piece together the puzzle of yet another weird roster. Dang Void Don't is gone, but his era continues.
Want to read more stories like this from VICE Sports? Subscribe to our daily newsletter.