Royals ace pitcher James Shields has previously said he's open to a contract extension to stay in Kansas City beyond 2014, when he is eligible to hit free agency. While he has denied the reports he is looking for "Zack Greinke-money", there is little doubt that he is looking for a large payday. Shields would headline the list of free agent pitchers available next winter, and if Justin Masterson signs an extension, the only other comparable pitchers would be Jon Lester and Max Scherzer.
Shields, however, may prefer money in the bank now, especially after seeing how the market has treated former teammate Ervin Santana. He is open to a negotiation extension, but has put a deadline on when an extension can be completed, saying he won't do contract talks during the regular season.
The Royals have yet to engage in talks and seem non-committal on whether negotiations will occur at all.
Here in the first week of March, the Royals have yet to engage Shields’ representatives regarding a extension, according to people familiar with the situation. The team has yet to give any indication it plans to do so. Team officials refuse to rule out attempting to retain Shields, but it appears that attempt will not occur until next winter, when rival executives expect him to fetch a contract in excess of $100 million.
Jim Bowden confirms the Royals have no plans to discuss contract with James Shields at this time. So it looks like Big Game James is hitting free agency.
In the aggregate, it looks as though Shields could reasonably expect to top out at five years, with a $20MM AAV a seeming longshot at that term. On a four-year deal, Shields might land in the $75MM to $80MM range, perhaps with a vesting/club option of some kind attached on the end. But barring a massive jolt to the market that leaves Shields as the unquestioned prize with multiple suitors, it is somewhat difficult to imagine him reaching the $100MM threshold -- if he is able to get a guaranteed fifth year at all.
Are the Royals making the smart play here? Perhaps Shields will find a deflated market as Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana did and the Royals can entice him back in February of 2015 with a smaller deal. Or perhaps they're just content to let a 33 year old with a ton of innings on his arm walk, rather than commit 4+ years to him.
Will this sit well with fans? Andy McCullough imagines as PR-nightmare if Shields walks.
From a public relations standpoint, the Royals set themselves up for criticism if Shields walks. The organization traded a sizable package of prospects, headlined by 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, to Tampa Bay for only two seasons of Shields. The two-year window places a great deal of pressure on the 2014 club to reach October.
The trade was already seen by many stat-nerds as a terrible trade. If Shields walks and the Royals have just a pair of eighty-some win seasons to show for it, the Facebook fans could be on board too.