ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jon Lester may be Plan A, but James Shields won’t be that far behind.
While most are rightfully focusing on the Red Sox‘ chances of bringing back Lester via free agency, according to sources, the team will be eyeing the current Kansas City ace, a familiar name in American League East circles, this offseason.
Shields won’t get the haul of a Lester or Max Scherzer, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that a four-year deal is in the offing for the 33-year-old righty.
It should come as no surprise that any run at Shields won’t come cheap, but, according to those who know him best, he might be the best alternative if the Sox miss out of on Lester.
Just ask Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, who had to live through his team dealing the pitcher who had helped the Rays to the postseason in 2008, ‘10 and ‘11.
“You knew he would still be good for years to come,” said Maddon prior to his team’s game against the Red Sox Friday night. “There was going to be no drop-off. He’s still absolutely young enough. He’s kind of in the prime right now of what he’s doing. He takes such great care of himself. He’s so highly competitive. And the ancillary benefits to the rest of the staff are incredible because of the way he is.”
While the built-in caution for Shields remains pitching on a contract while in his mid-30′s, there is plenty to identify as reasons why he will be a worthy offseason target.
On the field, Shields has been remarkably consistent, currently trending toward pitching more than 200 innings for an eighth straight season. His ERA for ‘14 is 3.45, coming off a ‘13 campaign in which he totaled a 3.15 mark.
His secondary stuff is almost as important as the fastball, having thrown his changeup 20 percent of the time this season and curve 14 percent.
Shields hasn’t had near the success within the American League East Lester has ‘ totaling a 43-42 mark with a 3.83 ERA ‘ but the familiarity with pitching in such an environment doesn’t hurt his cause.
And then there is the make-up.
“He’s not afraid to say what he thinks and he’s not afraid to be confident,” Maddon said. “He’s not afraid to be outwardly confident. I’m not saying arrogant, but outwardly confident. You have to be good to back that stuff up. It’s not quite Joe Namath-esque, but it’s a level below that. He’s not guaranteeing anything, but he likes to say things in an attempt to force himself to do those things. It’s like he has a self-motivating method, which I’ve always loved about him. A lot of guys are afraid to do that.
“It’s not unlike Jonny Gomes. He’s not afraid of high expectations, whether you heap them on him, or he heaps them on himself. He’s doesn’t run away from expectations.”
Shields was credited for setting he tone and tenor for a Tampa Bay staff that evolved into one of the best in the AL. And, since being traded to Kansas City prior to the ‘13 season, he has implemented the same mentality for the young Royals starters.
“He’s got a ton of energy, he’s a tremendous competitor, and he’s a great communicator, and you couple all that together,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost recently told the Kansas City Star. “He’s always talking to guys, he’s always encouraging guys, he’s always upbeat with guys.
“And he’s in it for the team more than he’s in it for himself. Guys see it, they recognize it, they go with it.”