Since the moment he arrived in the big leagues, James Shields has given the Rays everything he has. He has been the workhorse starter the Rays never had before. He has been durable and gone out every fifth day no matter whether he has been going well or whether he’s been embarrassed the last few times out. He has been the veteran presence on a young rotation. He has been the pitcher the Rays could do to when games mattered most time after time, season after season. He’s the franchise leader in wins, losses, innings pitched, games started, strikeouts, homers allowed, hit batsmen, complete games, shutouts, and countless other categories. He’s seen it all with the Rays and been an integral part of the evolution of the Rays from a team that couldn’t escape the cellar to a perennial contender. It was Shields who played a key role in the Rays’ decision to make developing the changeup an emphasis throughout their organization, something that will continue to influence every pitcher who spends time in the Rays organization. Shields’ time in Tampa Bay will resonate throughout Rays history. Someday, they’ll retire his number. But is this the end for Shields in Tampa Bay?
In his final start of 2012 on Tuesday night, James Shields pulled out all the stops. He went the full 9 innings, striking out 15, the most in franchise history (and another record for Shields) without walking a single batter, and he allowed just 2 hits. Shields made a couple mistakes, as everyone is prone to do, with the big one resulting in a long solo home run by the Orioles’ Chris Davis. He wasn’t perfect, but he undeniably delivered an incredible start. But the Rays could not live up to their end of the bargain. Shields lost 1-0 as the Rays could not score him a single run.
Shields has given the Rays so much. What have the Rays given Shields? They have stuck with him. In 2010 when he struggled through a horrific season, they still started him in Game 2 of the ALDS. And the exact opposite has been true as well. When Andrew Friedman and the Rays have received trade offers that made them seriously consider dealing him, they have said no. They could have easily traded him for some topflight prospects and no one would have had a problem with them. But they didn’t. At the trade deadline the rumors were rampant, but the Rays kept Shields and he delivered a shutout for them on July 31st. But what about now? The 7 million dollars Shields made this season was a lot by Rays standards, but now he’ll make 9 million dollars in 2013. After an incredible second half with two option years left on his contract, Shields’ trade value is right around its all-time high. How could the Rays justify holding onto him? But at the same time, how could they trade him after everything he has done for them? Shields has lived up to his end of the bargain. He has pitched well, been an incredible presence in the clubhouse, and the fans love him. Are the Rays going to end that?
The Rays don’t get sentimental. We have already seen them trade Scott Kazmir, their first true star player, without hesitation. We know that the Rays can’t get enough of James Shields- but if in the grand scheme of things, the Rays figure out that the best course of action is to trade him, they’ll do it. The fans will be upset for a while, but the Rays will continue winning. Maybe this start, as depressing as it was, will be Shields’ last as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. Maybe his departure from Tampa Bay will leave a bad taste in the mouths of Rays fans after this last start and more generally that the Rays missed the playoffs this season. But we do know is that the Rays are going to do what’s best for their franchise. Somehow Andrew Friedman will make it all work out. We will miss Shields when he departs from the Rays. However, the Rays will keep going and find a way to continue the legacy that Shields will leave.