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.

Oakland Athletics reverse course: will continue to pay minor leaguers

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Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher has reversed course and will continue to pay minor leaguers. Fisher tells Slusser, “I concluded I made a mistake.” He said he is also setting up an assistance fund for furloughed employees.

The A’s decided in late May to stop paying paying minor leaguers as of June 1, which was the earliest date on which any club could do so after an MLB-wide agreement to pay minor leaguers through May 31 expired. In the event, the A’s were the only team to stop paying the $400/week stipends to players before the end of June. Some teams, notable the Royals and Twins, promised to keep the payments up through August 31, which is when the minor league season would’ve ended. The Washington Nationals decided to lop off $100 of the stipends last week but, after a day’s worth of blowback from the media and fans, reversed course themselves.