The Kansas City Royals made a franchise altering trade in 2012, acquiring an ace pitcher to push them into the plus side in the win column. For two seasons, James Shields was the ace pitcher the team had so long coveted.
James Shields’ outstanding performance for the Kansas City Royals pushed the franchise into their first playoff appearance in 29 years, earning him the designation as the best starting pitcher for the Royals in the 2010s.
James Shields was drafted in the 16th round of the 2000 amateur draft out of William S. Hart High School (California) by the Tampa Bay Rays. After six consecutive seasons of 200+ innings for the Rays, the Royals made a huge decision to trade for Shields in the 2012 offseason.
The Royals sent top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi along with former top pitching prospect Mike Montgomery and minor league infielder Patrick Leonard to the Rays in exchange for Shields, Wade Davis and a player to be named later (veteran infielder Elliot Johnson).
At the time of the James Shields trade, the sports media in Kansas City as well as the national sports media strongly questioned the move. Many felt the Royals mortgaged their future by dealing promising prospects Myers and Odorizzi for a starting pitcher who may be at risk of injury due to all of the innings under his belt.
Davis, at the time, wasn’t considered to be a successful starter and the trade was destined to fail for the Royals in the long run. It’s stunning how successful this trade worked out for the Royals in hindsight.
Even though he was entering his age 31 season, Shields was exactly what the Royals needed to take advantage of weak AL Central division. He was the Royals number one starter during his two seasons with the Royals and became the team’s most dominant pitcher immediately after his acquisition. His statistical line for the Royals were the most dominant for any Royals starter in the decade and the best of his career.
- 68 games started
- 3.18 ERA, 1.209 WHIP, 376 Ks in 455.2 innings (3 complete games, 1 shutout) – 7.5 WAR
- 2013 – 3.15 ERA, 1.238 WHIP, 196 Ks in 228.2 innings (2 complete games) – 4.1 WAR
- 2014 – 3.21 ERA, 1.181 WHIP, 180 Ks in 227.0 innings (1 complete game shutout) – 3.5 WAR
Shields was never selected to an All-Star game, but he finished 11th in the 2013 Cy Young award voting and 18th in the 2014 MVP voting. He led the AL in innings pitched in 2013 and finished eighth in ERA, and tenth in pitching WAR.
In 2014, Shields mimicked his production off the pitching mound and was the starter in Royals first playoff game in 29 years. Shields’ reliability and consistency throughout the regular season earned him that playoff game start and while his playoff numbers were a bit unsightly, the Royals were still able to win three out his five starts in the magical playoff run of 2014.
James Shields’ most dominating and memorable moment came against the San Francisco Giants on August 9th, 2014. These same Giants would go on to terrorize Shields in the World Series, but on August 9th, “Big Game James” was in complete control, throwing a complete game four-hit shutout for the Royals. The team was starting to surge in the second half of season fighting for a Wild Card playoff spot, so this performance really put the boys in blue on the map.
James Shields owns two (#2 and #4) out of the top five pitching performances (based on WAR) in a season for the Royals during the decade. He routinely lived up to his role as the staff ace and was the model of consistency for the Royals pitching staff during his time in a Royals uniform.
The trade for “Big Game” James was exactly what the Royals needed to get over the hump and start a playoff run. Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura benefitted in their development from having Shields as the staff ace.
Had Ventura not tragically passed away, he would have been a strong candidate to dominate as the Royals best pitcher of the decade and while Duffy has contributed the most innings for the Royals during the decade, his inconsistencies leave him off the top position in my opinion.
The Royals lost Shields to free agency during the 2014-2015 offseason when he signed with the San Diego Padres. The Royals received draft pick compensation for the loss of Shields to free agency and used the #33 pick in the 2015 draft to select pitcher Nolan Watson, who hasn’t made it above A+ ball in his development.
James Shields would also be involved in another franchise altering trade before retiring from the MLB following the 2018 season. In June 2016, the Padres traded James Shields along with cash to the White Sox for Erik Johnson and Fernando Tatis Jr.
Yeah, the same Fernando Tatis Jr. who developed into the game’s top prospect shortly after the trade for the Padres and had an outstanding first year performance. Tatis appears to be a star in the making at shortstop for years to come for the Padres.
After all of the moves and prospect development the White Sox have made this offseason, this trade will likely go down in their history as their biggest mistake. One can only imagine how devastating a lineup the White Sox could have produced with Tatis playing in the infield for them, especially considering how little Shields did for them in the long run.
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Even still, he was the best starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals in the 2010s.
To complete our series we’ll discuss the reliever of the decade in my next article.