In 27 days, James Shields intends to stand atop the mound at Comerica Park in Detroit as the Royals’ opening-day starter for the second year in a row. He will also cross a self-imposed deadline for any contract negotiations: signed only through 2014, Shields has said repeatedly he does not want to discuss an extension once the season begins.
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.
General manager Dayton Moore stressed the Royals view Shields as a player they hope to retain past this season. But he declined to elaborate on any sort of timetable.
“It doesn’t benefit the Kansas City Royals, or anyone involved, to talk about this stuff publicly,” he said.
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As Moore has in the past, he defended his organization’s record of extending its own players. His track record in this area is strong. The team locked up homegrown talent like Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Salvador Perez on a string of affordable contracts.
But Shields presents a different challenge. His roots here aren’t as deep. He grew up in the Rays organization. He sounds nonchalant about the situation, and unperturbed by the pressure to showcase himself this season.
“I don’t really like to worry about it,” Shields said earlier this spring. “I’m not that type of person that says, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go out there and have a good year.’ I really just try to pitch my game and have fun.”
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.
But in reality, a preseason pursuit of Shields would require a sizable financial commitment — perhaps one greater than what Shields will seek next offseason on the open market. The cost to keep Shields off the market likely exceeds the Royals’ comfort zone.
When Robinson Cano negotiated with the Yankees last May, his agents sought a package worth more than $300 million, in part because free agency is viewed as a privilege few players in the game achieve. In order to give up that opportunity, the team needed to pay more, and the Yankees declined to meet his price. During the subsequent winter, Cano agreed to a $240 million deal with Seattle.
Both Shields and members of his camp have denied a report saying he seeks a contract similar to Zack Greinke’s six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers. But Shields compares favorably to Greinke, and his lone competition at the top of the market is Max Scherzer, Detroit’s reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.
“I don’t know why he’d taken any short-term, hometown deal,” one rival American League executive said. “These are his golden years.”
At 32, Shields appears financially secure. The Royals owe him $13.5 million for 2014, the final year of a lengthy deal he signed with the Rays. There is little reason to settle for below market value.
“I feel like if I get my job done,” he said, “the way I know how to do, everything will take care of itself.”