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Kansas City Royals' James Shields: Part of the solution

Hart alum James Shields wants to help make Kansas City a contender just like his old team

Posted: March 10, 2013 10:25 p.m.
Updated: March 10, 2013 10:25 p.m.
Kansas City Royals pitcher James Shields, a Hart High graduate, gets ready to throw during a Spring Training workout last month in Surprise, Ariz. Kansas City Royals pitcher James Shields, a Hart High graduate, gets ready to throw during a Spring Training workout last month in Surprise, Ariz.
Kansas City Royals pitcher James Shields, a Hart High graduate, gets ready to throw during a Spring Training workout last month in Surprise, Ariz.

The Tampa Bay Rays won 90 or more games in four of the last five seasons.

They made the Major League Baseball postseason, including the 2008 World Series, three times in that time span.

In the same span, the Kansas City Royals have lost at least 90 games in four of those seasons, with their best finish coming last year — third place in the American League Central Division with a 72-90 record.

Hart High graduate James Shields was traded in the offseason from the Rays to the Royals, and according to his words and the positivity in his voice, it appears he is elated.

How could that be?

“You see the talent across the field. Every time you play them you think how good they could be. They’re one of the hardest hitting teams to face,” Shields says. “Their offense is really, really good. To me it’s one of those things where it reminded me of the 2007 Devil Rays going into the 2008 Rays. We always had the talent. It never really clicked. We never put it together. Then we figured it out.”

Shields says he sees that with the Royals and it’s a major reason why he is so excited to be with Kansas City.

The 31-year-old right-hander was traded Dec. 9 with fellow starter Wade Davis for a package that included the Royals’ top prospect Wil Myers and ironically 2008 Hart High graduate and left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery.

Montgomery idolized Shields in the past.

“It’s kind of weird.
Especially since his dad was my math teacher,” Shields, a 2000 Hart grad, says of being traded for Montgomery.

But the elder Hart graduate knew the circumstances.

Small-market Tampa Bay, which has regularly drawn the least fans in the American League, wasn’t going to be able to hold onto Shields for the long term with his escalating contract value and a possible big payday after the 2014 season when he becomes a free agent.

The Rays found the perfect trade partner in prospect-rich and pitching-poor Kansas City.

In this offseason, Kansas City assembled a starting five that potentially makes the Royals a postseason dark horse.

They traded for former Los Angeles Angels starter Ervin Santana, who at his best is an All-Star pitcher with no-hit stuff and at his worst is a liability to a rotation.

Davis won 22 games as a starter in 2010 and 2011, and was strong out of the bullpen last year.

Jeremy Guthrie flourished after a midseason trade from Colorado last season and was re-signed this year to a three-year deal.

Kansas City’s offense is considered one of baseball’s up-and-coming ones with young sluggers Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and All-Star Billy Butler, who hit 29 home runs and knocked in 107 runs last season.

“Realistically, I think we definitely have a chance to make the playoffs and make a little run for it, and obviously that’s a bold statement,” Shields says. “We’re the underdogs. I like to be the underdogs all the way through the Devil Rays days and the Rays. We have a great young team here. Every day I sit here at Spring Training and look at the players we have and the talent we have and every day more and more I get excited about what could happen here.”

Shields is a major reason for that excitement.

The word “ace” has been attached to Shields since the trade went through, and it’s undeniable that the 2011 A.L. All-Star is that.

His first full big league season was 2007.

Since that year, he ranks fifth in the A.L. in wins (81), third in innings pitched (1,330), fourth in complete games (18), tied for first in shutouts (eight) and fourth in strikeouts (1,146).

The names above him in those categories are Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver — universally known as four of baseball’s best pitchers.

“It means a little,” he says of being called ace. “But to me, honestly I don’t care about being an ace. Yes it’s a prestigious thing being the ace of the staff, but for me I’m all about winning. To create a good winning atmosphere whether or not you’re pitching in the No. 1 spot, it’s all about winning.”

And that’s the reason why Kansas City got him — to win — a lot.

Confidence has never been a problem with Shields and he’s confident that these Royals will win.

His first two seasons in Tampa Bay and every season prior, the team lost at least 91 games before a turnaround that saw the Rays become a perennial playoff team.

Maybe the Royals will figure it out with his lead in 2013.


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