James Shields forgot to be a domino.
He was supposed to sign right after Jon Lester finally stopped selfishly clogging up the news stream by making his life-changing, multi-multi-million dollar career decision.
He hasn't. At least not yet.
The market for Shields seems somewhat limited based on the kind of contract he should command. That and the Royals' other offseason moves makes a reunion highly unlikely. Which is, of course, a bummer. He quickly became a fan favorite despite the controversial nature of the trade that landed him in Kansas City, leading some to cling to a sliver of hope that might re-sign with the Royals.
There is no shame in being a hope-clinger. It could happen. Who knows how much money David Glass has socked away from his first profiteering decade as team owner? Still, a return is very unlikely -- despite the fact that Glass seems to have opened the vault, at least temporarily, this offseason.
But just because Shields is likely to sign elsewhere doesn't mean Kansas City fans don't have a preference on where that might be. Here're a few tiers ranked from worst-case to the very best-case scenario.
The divisional rivals
Imagine Shields roaring into the visitors' dugout 15 times a year. No? Fair enough. I don't want to either.
The all-swallowing money monsters
In some ways, it would be even worse to see Big Game James in pinstripes -- or another one of the cash-smothering, major-market monoliths -- but since our exposure to such an unfortunate outcome would be limited by the schedule, these teams would be slightly less unfortunate than those within the American League Central. And since these teams typically sign most of the notable free agents in a given offseason, the pain of seeing Shields in one of their uniforms wouldn't come with the caustic sting of being unexpected.
Some Royals fans actually like the Cardinals. Other don't really care much one way or the other. But the Royals fans that do dislike St. Louis really dislike St. Louis. In some circles, Shields deciding to sign with the Cards would immediately dissolve any residual admiration for the former Royals ace and cast him as an evil, hex-wielding devil magician. Unfortunately, for that specific group of fans, Shields-to-the-Cardinals is a distinct possibility, according to Travis Durke of the Sporting News.
The glum throes of recency
In addition to reminding everyone in Kansas City of San Francisco's recent World Series victory, Shields signing with the Giants would be bad for Royals fans who hate puns. There would inevitably be a throng of headlines containing "James and the Giant(s) _____." Having to watch him pitch elsewhere will be bad enough, let alone having to do so while wading through a septic tank of wordplay that would make Roald Dahl himself want to snuff it.
For James' Sake
11. Miami Marlins
12. Houston Astros
Working for Loria, Luhnow, and Amaro might be considered a lateral move, but for Shields' sake, the Royals fans that became endeared to him might be hoping he gets the chance to work for a better organization -- if such a thing exists. That is, unless he'd like to come back to Kansas City.
15. Tampa Bay Rays
17. New York Mets
18. Seattle Mariners
Something would have to go pretty wrong for Shields to end up with one of these clubs. The Mariners might be able to maneuver their way into the conversation, but for the most part, the teams in this tier would only have a chance at Shields if his asking price dropped dramatically. After two excellent seasons in Kansas City, Shields deserves to get paid -- and if, for some reason he doesn't, Royals fans will probably be pretty upset to see him pitching on an affordable deal somewhere else.
Seems like an odd choice, but okay, I guess
19. Texas Rangers
21. Cincinnati Reds
23. Colorado Rockies
Most of these teams don't have a great shot at signing Shields, but even if they did, it'd be a little odd to see him chose a club that plays in a hitter-friendly park. It's not like Shields would be terrible at Coors or Chase, and this is likely to be his last big payday anyway, but since he can chose a park that would favor him, maybe he should. Of course, if he ended up struggling with one of these clubs, a narrative claiming that letting him leave was the right thing to do would be easier to construct. However at this point in the rankings, we've reached the mildly acceptable destinations -- with an obvious preference for teams in the National League.
26. Atlanta Braves
28. Chicago Cubs
29. San Diego Padres
Speaking of a preference for teams in the National League, here's a shortlist of clubs that have no real rivalry with Kansas City and will only appear on their schedule intermittently over the next five or six years. Also, if Shields signs with one of these teams, he'll often be pitching against several of the teams that rank much higher on this list. If he absolutely has to pitch somewhere else, it'd be ideal if it was for a team that could stroll into and back out of town over the course of a weekend.
It's not going to be fun to watch Shields pitch for another team. He was a huge part of what made 2013 and 2014 two of the best seasons in the last three decades of Royals baseball. Obviously, this means he should come back -- no matter the financial losses he'd have to withstand in order to do so. After all, isn't being a regional sports legend more important than money? Since it isn't my decision to make and none of the consequences of such a decision would affect me in any real way, I say yes. Hey, maybe the Royals could just give him whatever is left of the money Gil Meche left behind.