Are Expectations too High for James Shields in 2013?

By Brian Wille
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

When the Kansas City Royals sent mega-prospect Wil Myers—among others—to the Tampa Bay Rays to acquire James Shields and Wade Davis, the team took a large risk. They were—for the first time in a long time—sacrificing the future for the present. It has been said that prospects can only be prospects for so long and you can only have so many of them before they need to become more than that. The Royals’—indeed—do have a lot of prospects, but many of their former prospects are starting to come into their own at the big league level. Guys like Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have all come through the Royals’ farm system and all of them look like they have perennial all-start talent. Would Myers have been the next Royals’ player to follow that same path in the majors? Unfortunately for Royals’ fans, they will have to watch from afar to see the answer to that question unfold before their eyes over the next few seasons.

Regardless of your personal feelings on the trade, the fact of the matter is that Shields is now a Royal and he is expected to perform as the ace of the staff. Giving up a big-time prospect like Myers is a great risk, but the team believes it is worth the gamble for the type of pitcher that Shields is. The issue that I seem to struggle with is this: is Shields actually an “ace” caliber pitcher in the majors?

There is no doubting that Shields is definitely a top-of-the-rotation type of pitcher, but I struggle to see how he is the best pitcher in the rotation. In context, Shields will likely be the best pitcher in the Royals’ rotation this season, but in terms of all the pitchers in the league, Shields would seem to fit as more of a number two starter in very good rotations. Unfortunately for Shields, the Royals are going to be expecting more since they traded away their best prospect for him. Shields very well could produce “ace” like results in Kansas City and Myers could fizzle out with the Rays, but that will be one of the storylines to follow over the next few seasons.

As far as this season goes, what should realistic expectations be for Shields? Must he win 17, 20 or 25 games in order to justify the trade for Myers or will he have to do more than that over a span of three to five seasons? In my opinion if Shields can annually produce 18-23 wins over the next five seasons and the rest of the rotation can mature along with him, then the trade was worth it. It isn’t as important to me how well Shields’ performs individually, but it is important to see the effect that he has on the pitchers and players around him. It isn’t unheard of to see a pitcher transform an entire rotation and Shields must do that if he is to step out of the shadows of this blockbuster deal.

I believe some baseball experts and fans are going to focus merely on the statistics that Shields puts up individually—and will also point to how the Royals finish in the division over the next few seasons—when judging how the trade ultimately panned out. It is unfortunate that Shields may be held to unreasonable standards, but that’s the price you pay when you are acquired in a blockbuster trade. I believe Shields—when it’s all said and done—will have a fine career with the Royals and will bring instant credibility to their underwhelming pitching staff over the past decade; but in the end it will be how well he stacks up to the production of Myers that will ultimately judge his career during his time in Kansas City.

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