UPDATE: Padres still favorites for James Shields, but several teams remain “heavily involved”

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UPDATE: Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Padres remain the favorites for Shields and “want him badly,” but several teams remain “heavily involved” in the bidding.

For what it’s worth, the Marlins, Cubs, and Blue Jays are among the other teams who have been linked to the free agent right-hander in recent days.

3:44 p.m. ET: This story isn’t over yet, apparently. According to Scott Miller of Bleacher Report, there is now an “impasse” in talks between the Padres and Shields following a “flurry” of talks over the past several hours. The “ball is in Shields’ court,” per Miller.

2:33 p.m. ET: Joe Frisaro of MLB.com confirms that the Padres are indeed the favorites, “if not a lock already,” to sign Shields.

12:08 p.m. ET: We’re less than two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to their respective spring training camps and right-hander James Shields is still sitting out there in free agency. Is this saga finally reaching a conclusion? Well, maybe:

The market for Shields has been a mystery for most of the offseason, but the Padres have emerged as a realistic landing spot in recent days, with Bob Nightengale of USA Today writing on Thursday night that they “have to be considered favorites.” Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler indicated to Dennis Lin of UT-San Diego this week that the team still has wiggle room with their budget. New Padres general manager A.J. Preller has already upgraded the team’s offense in the big way this winter by acquiring Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Myers, but adding Shields could vault them to frontrunner status for one of the Wild Card spots in the National League.

Shields once looked like a candidate for a $100 million contract, but it doesn’t appear that he will get it at this stage of the offseason. In fact, no free agent pitcher has ever received a $50 million after February 1. Shields should beat that, but the question is by how much.

Shields, who turned 33 in December, posted a 3.21 ERA (124 ERA+) and 180/44 K/BB ratio in 34 starts with the Royals last season. He has averaged 223 innings over the past eight seasons.

Blue Jays clinch playoff berth with Orioles’ loss to Red Sox

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TORONTO — The Blue Jays clinched a postseason berth Thursday without taking the field.

Toronto was assured of an AL wild card berth when the Boston Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-3.

If Toronto holds its current position as the first of the AL’s three wild cards, the Blue Jays would open a best-of-three wild-card series at Rogers Centre next week.

“These guys are excited to be in this position,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said after Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees. “You’ve got three really good pitchers lined up against a good Boston team, playing at home. So I think it’s more excitement more than it’s nerves or anything. I think the guys are going to come out and be ready to roll on Friday night.”

Toronto became the fourth AL team to clinch a playoff berth, joining division champions Houston, the Yankees and Cleveland. The Astros and Yankees have first-round byes.

The Blue Jays last went to the playoffs in 2020, when they were knocked out with two straight losses to Tampa Bay.

Eight of the 12 berths in the expanded postseason have been clinched: The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis earned division titles, and Atlanta and the New York Mets are assured no worse the wild cards while still competing to win the NL East. The Dodgers have a first-round bye.