James Shields is open to an extension with the Royals, but he won't negotiate with the team during the season. So, unless he agrees to a new deal sometime in the next two and a half weeks -- which is unlikely (cool hashtag Bowden, #FreeAgentNintendoFear) -- he will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market next winter.
That's good news for just about everyone but the Royals.
Sure, there's some risk in extending a 32-year-old pitcher at a top-of-the-market AAV, but the Royals knew how good Shields was when they traded Wil Myers -- and Jake Odorizzi, Patrick Leonard, and Mike Montgomery -- for him.
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If Shields leaves Kansas City after the season -- or during, if they struggle -- Kansas City will be left with only Wade Davis to show for the deal, and the Rays will be laughing their way through pennant chases with the 23-year-old holding down the middle of their batting order.
Furthermore, Davis -- and his career 4.57 ERA as a starter -- might not even be a Royal past 2014. Rays general manager Andrew Friedman was praised for acquiring Myers for James Shields after the deal became official on December 9, 2012, but maybe he should have gotten more credit than he did for unloading Davis.
In 2011, Friedman made a rare mistake. He signed Davis to a four-year extension worth $10.1 million. That part of the contract wasn't horrible (and Tampa Bay only paid $1.5 million of that amount anyway thanks to the trade). The problem was the escalating options thereafter. Next season, Davis' contract enters into a series of escalating team options that begin at $7 million in 2015 and end at $10 million in 2017 -- Davis' age-31 season.
The 28-year-old has all but solidified himself as reliever -- when the results he's posted out of the bullpen are held up against his ERA as a starter, it's an easy choice. Friedman couldn't begin to consider paying Davis that much, and the Royals probably shouldn't either. Major-market clubs can afford to pay their 7th-inning guy $7million to $10 million (if they want to), but small-market clubs like Kansas City and Tampa Bay can't -- at least not in a way that's conducive to building a winning roster. So Friedman covered his mistake well while bringing in one of the best hitting prospects in the game and he only gave up a pitcher he couldn't afford anymore anyway.
The Royals can't afford him either -- apparently. Since they have no plans to negotiate a deal with Shields, they will be left with the microscopic window for discussion that bridges the end of the World Series to the official beginning of the offseason.
In other words, it's probably not going to happen if it doesn't happen before the 2014 season starts.
That will not be well received by Royals fans. Shields has become immensely popular in his short time with the Royals, and unless Myers literally disappears into thin air, KC fans will have to watch what could have been in duplicate for the foreseeable future when Shields signs elsewhere.
Not that the resentment from the fanbase will really affect the Royals' front office in any way. Why would it? Criticism is so incredibly easy to take when you're reading it on the hologram screen of your own personal spaceship ... or something like that. Who knows what the absurdly rich outright owners of American culture actually have at their disposal.
C'mon Mr. Glass! Let us eat cake!