By: Blake Tarrants, KCOU Sports
After the 2013 season, the Royals, coming of an 86 win year and missing the playoffs by less than a series, did everything they could to lock up their rotation early by extending a qualifying offer to Ervin Santana, who was a great acquisition of the 2012-2013 off-season. They were also willing to explore the terms of an extension with him, but his lofty salary demands and decline of the qualifying offer basically ended talks between the two sides.
Santana had always been known as a durable, consistent, poised veteran pitcher, and his stellar 2013 campaign, in which he finished with an impressive 3.24 ERA, and pitched 211 innings, giving him five seasons with 200 innings or more. However, his five-year, $100 million asking price scared away all potential bidders, and he was forced to settle for a one-year, $14 million deal with Atlanta.
The 2014-2015 off-season featured an almost identical story. The Royals high-risk, highly controversial trade in December 2012, acquiring James Shields and Wade Davis from Tampa Bay in exchange for top hitting prospect, Will Myers, as well as a couple of minor-league pitching prospects ended up working out in the Royals favor. Kansas City was willing to extend the same trust and commitment to Shields, but his contract demands made this impossible. Shields is even more of a success story than Santana. In 2014, he pitched 227 innings, marking the eighth consecutive year that he reached the 200 plateau. This remarkable accomplishment, as well as his workhorse mentality and his leadership skills make Shields one of the best all-around players in the game.
However, Shields appears to have hit the same brick wall that Santana did; he overestimated his own worth. His reported asking price is somewhere in the neighborhood of five years, $125 million, which would place his salary up near the likes of John Lester, who recently signed a six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs, and not much further behind the best right-handed pitcher in baseball: Max Scherzer’s record-setting seven-year, $210 million contract.
Despite his high character and tremendous work ethic, Shields is 33, three years older than Lester and Scherzer, and his massive workload would tend to send up red flags to any team considering a long-term expensive commitment. And it has. There was one team—it remains undisclosed which one—who reportedly offered him a five-year, $100 million deal, but the two sides could not come to an agreement. Outside of that, the highest offers any team seems willing to extend are more in the neighborhood of four-years, $75-80 million. This is still a great contract for a starting pitcher who has nowhere to go but down from where he is right now, but Shields has now almost run out of time.
With only two weeks left until many teams’ pitchers and catchers report, he will now have to settle for the best offer he can find, or risk missing out on spring training, which, for a pitcher, would be highly detrimental to his success in 2015. The $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Royals is probably looking better and better as the days without a deal creep by, because now he has to hope for not only years of commitment from a franchise willing to invest in a veteran arm, but they must sacrifice their first-round pick in next year’s draft. Hopefully for James Shields’s sake, he gets something resembling the number one starter deal he wanted, and is not forced to settle for a desperate signing simply to maintain a job.