The Rays signed several extensions during the 2008 calendar year. The one that gets the most ink belongs to Evan Longoria; however, the one signed by James Shields on January 23, 2008 remains one of the more underrated contacts in baseball. At the time of the deal, Shields was 26-years-old and had just completed his first full big league season. He had 52 career starts with an ERA of 4.21.
There was no rush to sign Shields to a long-term deal. He had not yet completed his team controlled years and was a few seasons from being arbitration eligible. Still, the team decided he was worth extending; a move that likely saved them some cash in the long run.
The terms of the deal were not earth shattering. The Rays guaranteed four seasons to Shields at a combined total of $11.25 million. Of the $11.25 million, $9.25 million is made up in salary with another $2 million in buyout for a 2012 team option ($7 million). The team actually holds three team options (2012-2014) which - if exercised – could bring the deal to a total of $38 million for seven seasons. There are also performance bonuses built in based on innings pitched, starts, and Cy Young votes (according to Cots Contracts) that give the contract a maximum value of $44 million.
Counting 2011, Shields has earned the $9.25 million of the original $11.25 million guarantee. At this point in his career, had Shields gone year-to-year, he would have been right in the middle of his arbitration eligible seasons. Even with his down season of 2010, Shields entered 2011 with a career record of 56-51 and an ERA of 4.25. He has three opening day starts and came in as the franchise’s all-time leader in several categories including wins which still plays up in arbitration. With the makings of a career year in 2011, it is likely Shields would have cleared the $9.25 million mark in salary arbitration over the course of his eligibility.
Whether he is traded this offseason or not, the 2012 option for $7 million will almost certainly picked up. There is a fair chance the Rays shop Shields in the offseason considering his price tag, age (30 in December), and available replacements ready in the system (Alex Cobb and Alex Torres for 2012). On the other hand, at the cost of $7 million, he will likely be a bargain if the Rays decide to keep him.
Regardless of what the Rays do, the extension of Shields will ultimately end as successful venture for Andrew Friedman’s front office. As mentioned, Shields would have likely make more than $9.25 million through the arbitration process. In terms of free market dollars, Shields’ production is the equivalent of $70.1 million coming into 2011. With the season he is having, that mark will soon clear $80 million.
If the Rays do deal Shields this winter, they will have received six-plus years of above-average starting pitching for around $10 million of salary and recoup an attractive package of players in return for his remaining years if service. If they choose to keep him, they’ll get the best pitcher the franchise has produced thus far, for the cost of a win and a half on the open market.