The long-term ramifications on the Royals from that big trade executed last December with Tampa Bay? Debate that all you want; the answer might not be clear for years to come.
This much, though, is hard to argue: Veteran right-handed pitcher James Shields provided the Royals with just about everything they envisioned and wanted throughout the 2013 season.
Check the numbers, and it’s easy to see why Shields is this year’s winner of the Joe Burke Special Achievement award in a vote by members of the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“His record doesn’t begin to reflect what he’s meant to our team,” manager Ned Yost said. “He’s a true No. 1 starter. Someone like that has an impact on the rest of your rotation, your bullpen and your entire club.
“That’s what James Shields has meant to us.”
The Royals made it official later Thursday that Shields will return next year by exercising the $13.5 million club option in his contract. There was never much doubt of it happening.
“Well, yeah, I was hoping,” Shields said, laughing. “I feel good about it. I feel I pitched well for them last year and, obviously, over my career, I’ve proven I can eat a lot of innings. I’m just excited to be back and to be a Royal.”
Shields minimized the likelihood of a entering discussions with the Royals on a long-term deal in the near future.
“I’m not anticipating it, no,” he said. “I’m just enjoying my off-season. I don’t really think about those things too much. I’ve been asked that question a few times now. And if they want to talk, then great. If not, no worries.
“I’m here to do my job; pitch every five days and win some ballgames. I’m really not worrying too much about it.”
Shields, 31, went 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA as the front man of a rebuilt rotation that helped the Royals lead the American League in earned-run average for the first time since 1986.
“I felt I grinded it out the last two months,” he said. “Overall, I’m pretty happy with my season. I logged a ton of innings and had a lot of quality starts.”
Shields led the American League with 228 2/3 innings and in delivering 27 quality starts. Just as important, perhaps, were his contributions in importing a winning culture to the clubhouse.
“Just being around a guy like Shields helps everyone,” All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon said. “In the past, you saw him as an opponent (at Tampa Bay). You heard about his impact.
“But you don’t really understand until you see him as a teammate.”
Shields said it wasn’t difficult to handle the leadership role the Royals thrust upon him despite being new to the club.
“I came with the attitude of not trying to be a leader,” he said .”Just be myself and try to help out guys as much as I can. Just be a good teammate. I feel it comes natural to me, and I enjoy every minute of it.
“The guys were great. You come into a new clubhouse, and you don’t know what to expect. They welcomed me with open arms.”
Shields helped fuel a 43-27 surge by the Royals after the All-Star break that carried them to an 86-76 record — their best mark since 1989. He was 9-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 14 post-break starts.
“The second half,” he said, “we pretty much figured it out. We figured out how to win, and what it takes to win on a daily basis. And to not put too much stress on ourselves.
“Unfortunately, it took us the whole first half to figure that out. Going into next spring training, I think we’ll all have that good frame of mind and, hopefully, we’re going to have a really good season next year.”
The Burke award dates to 1971, but it is not presented every year. It seeks to recognize a player who performed beyond expectations or an individual deemed deserving for other contributions.
The Royals acquired Shields in a seven-player deal on Dec. 9, 2012, that sent outfielder Will Myers, then the consensus minor-league player of the year, to Tampa Bay.
It was, as general manager Dayton Moore admitted at the time, a signal the Royals, finally, believed they were ready to shift gears from a development mode to becoming a legitimate postseason contender.
That catch, of course, was the Royals only controlled Shields for two years, while Myers, who emerged as a strong candidate to be the AL’s Rookie of the Year, will be under the Rays’ control through 2019.
“I believe, and it’s my hope,” Moore said at the time, “that (the trade) is going to set us on a different course whether Shields is here in 2015 or not. That’s what I go back to all of the time with that deal.”
A year from now, barring a new deal, Shields will be a free agent, but he also sees himself as a good long-term fit in the Heartland.
“The one thing I do know is I love the city,” he said. “The organization is great. I’ve been here for one year, and I’ve seen tremendous strides.
“Their willingness to want to win is what really intrigues me about this organization. I’ll definitely be thinking about that after (next) season is over, and I definitely wouldn’t mind making it a home.”
Burke award recipients are not limited to players, but no non-player has won it since umpire Steve Palermo shared the 1991 honor with infielder Bill Pecota. Shortstop Alcides Escobar was the 2012 recipient.
The Les Milgram Player of the Year and Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year will be announced next week. Previous Burke award winners include seven individuals subsequently inducted into the franchise’s Hall of Fame.
Burke is also a member of the Royals’ Hall of Fame.
He served as the club’s general manager from 1974-81, a period that coincided with its rise from an expansion franchise to a perennial postseason participant. He became club president in 1981 and served in that role until his death in 1992.