Last season, the Kansas City Royals shocked everyone by making it to the World Series. The last few seasons, James Shields has been a model of consistency. This past season, he went 14-8 and finished with a 3.24 ERA with 180 strikeouts, but should the Royals re-sign him?
In terms of big-name pitchers, this off-season has seen some mega-contracts. Jon Lester signed with the Chicago Cubs on a six-year/$165 million deal, and Max Scherzer signed with the Washington Nationals on a seven-year/$210 million contract. Lester and Scherzer are both younger, better in the playoffs, and have a lower career ERA than Shields. Shields just turned 33 in December, and he’s reportedly looking for a $100 million contract, which means the team that decides to sign him will be committing long-term to a pitcher who, although has been good, is now 33.
Not that Shields isn’t a good pitcher, he’s a very good (regular season) pitcher. For being named “Big Game James,” his playoff numbers are deplorably bad. In 11 playoff starts, Shields has a 5.46 ERA, with the exception of that World Series game in 2008 where he was lights-out. Other than that, his numbers are unacceptable. Now, in 17 IP in this year’s World Series against the Giants, Shields gave up 25 earned runs, which is an ERA of 6.12. If a team is going to invest $100 million into a player, it’s crucial that player has solid postseason numbers.
But the question remains the same, are the Royals better off without him?
Well, they’re looking at a 2015 rotation is shaping up:
1.Yordano Ventura-(Pre-Arbitration eligible/no contract yet)
2.Jason Vargas-($8.5 million)
3.Danny Duffy-(Arbitration eligible/no contract yet)
4.Jeremy Guthrie-($9.5 million)
5.Edinson Volquez-($7.5 million)
6.Kris Medlen-($2.5 million)
From top to bottom, that’s a solid and very inexpensive six-man rotation. However, if Shields does get a $100 million contract from the Royals, he’s looking at a maximum of six-seven years, which would be in between $14-16 million per year for the next six to seven years (unless it’s back-loaded, in which case, it would be a truly horrendous deal.)
Last season, the Royals pitching staff was just above average, but not far above average. Their team OPS wasn’t very good, and they were the only team in baseball that didn’t hit 100 home runs, but they had one of the highest team batting averages in baseball. With the additions of Kris Medlen and Edinson Volquez , they already made their rotation much better than it was last year, pending injuries. The Royals aren’t a big market, and there was no true superstar of the staff last season, so paying Shields like a superstar would only work as a disadvantage for a team that is up and coming. Shields is very good, but with his playoff history, and being 33, the return on the investment wouldn’t be what it could be if they used that money to help other spots of the lineup.
So the Royals most definitely are better off without James Shields, especially with a $100 million price tag. Even if he was willing to take less money, the Royals should be committed to re-signing younger players long-term, rather than signing older players and hoping they last, which it seems like they’re doing i.e. Billy Butler. If the Royals work on getting their OPS up, this staff seems very solid, there’s no telling what they are capable of when the playoffs come around.