Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Royals Must Re-Acquire James Shields

Danville, Kentucky -- Folks, few experiences are as magical as reuniting with a childhood friend. In 1999, the stars aligned for a chance meeting between myself and my childhood best friend, Rhett. Rhett and I go way back. As kids, we'd play stickball out in an old alley on weekends. As teenagers, we rose through the Danville baseball system together, eventually playing together in High School. Rhett was reliable both on and off the field. Rhett was the best 3rd baseman a pitcher like myself could ask for. I could rack up Ks by reaching back for 89 miles-per-hour in a pinch, but more often than not I trusted Rhett and my other teammates to convert batted balls into outs. Rhett dutifully manned the hot corner behind me for years, including during my no-hitter. When I encountered Rhett at an old Danville watering hole one day in the Winter of '99, I was dumbstruck. We talked for hours over watery beer and pretzel crumbs, about our life ventures that worked and the many more that didn't. Our lives had come full circle.

The World Series Champion Kansas City Royals™ have a chance to bring their story full circle by making a man from their past part of their future. Unfortunately for the good-natured, barbecue-loving people of the greater Kansas City area, the boys in blue have stumbled out of the gates in their journey to re-retake the crown. As of writing this, they are second to last in the American League in runs scored, only 3 runs ahead of the lowly Twins. The Royals starting pitching staff eats innings like I eat kale, hummus, and other liberal foods: not at all. The Royals starting pitchers have pitched the 3rd fewest innings in entire MLB, beating only the Twins and my pathetic Cincinnati Reds. They trail both the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox in the standings. Something needs to be done. Fortunately, there is a move the Royals can make to instantly fix these problems and boost their chances of appearing in their 3rd straight World Series.

Why the Royals Need Big Game James

The Royals need a man to anchor their rotation. They need a man to go deep into games to give the bullpen a rest and prevent the three-headed monster from blowing out their arms mid-season, Greg Holland-style. The Royals need James Shields. James taught the Royals how to win on their way to a World Series appearance in 2014. Now he can take them to winning post-graduate school. Big Game James has pitched more than 200 innings every year since 2007. In 2015, the only Royal pitcher to hit the 200 inning mark was Edinson Volquez. In the past, the Royals have had reliable innings eaters like Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched 200+ innings in 2013 and 2014. No such relief appears to be on the horizon in 2016. With playoff hero Chris Young and intriguing bounceback candidate Kris Medlen on the disabled list, the Royals need stability in their rotation. The Royals don't need the ace-level Shields of 2011-2014; the young Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy will eventually round into form to form a potent #1 and #2. Big James, a 10+ game winner every year since 2007, will be a stabilizing presence in both the clubhouse and on the diamond. 

Fortunately for the Royals, the San Diego Padres have a man who could fix Kansas City's run-scoring woes as well. Dayton Moore should inquire about proven slugger Matt Kemp, whose 29 RBIs so far in 2016 would lead the team were he to join the Royals (Salvador Perez has 21, while Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain have plated 20 runs each). The Royals need a man who can drive in leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar and clear the bases with extra base hits. Kemp, who has already hit 10 home runs this year, could provide power hitting from a corner outfield position, which the Royals have lacked so far in 2016. Moreover, Kemp would offer insurance at the Designated Hitter position in case Cuban bomber Kendrys Morales continues to struggle. Importantly for the Royals, trading for Matt Kemp would solve their DH dilemma for years to come, as he is signed through 2019. I personally think the Royals should make a move for Billy Butler, but landing Big Game James and perennial MVP candidate Matt Kemp in one deal is more enticing than the Aussie Chicken Tacos at Outback Steakhouse.

Everyone knows to get something, you have to give something. It's true of divorce settlements and also true of baseball. What could the Royals offer baseball genius A.J. Preller and the San Diego Padres for James Shields and Matt Kemp? Unfortunately, the Royals don't have Wil Myers to offer this time around, although the Royals might inquire if Mr. Myers could be thrown into the deal as well. The Royals could start negotiations by offering Raul Mondesi; the Padres will need young power-hitting bats as they rebuild for the future, and Raul has shown he is determined to chug as much cold medicine as it takes to reach his dinger-blasting potential


My own reunion with Rhett was not as magical as a potential Royals-Shields reunion would be. In 1972, Rhett left me awed by his ability to nimbly dance around the hot corner, converting hard-hit ground balls into outs. In 1999, he left me outraged and burning with jealousy when I discovered him dancing with my wife, singing romantic Barry Manilow songs together during a Karaoke night at Applebee's. I found myself crying into a plate of quesadillas and onions rings that night. But this sense of failure and inadequacy doesn't have to be the fate of the 2016 Kansas City Royals. If they pull the trigger to land Big Game James and Matt Kemp, the only rings they're likely to encounter will be of the championship variety. 

Shields & Kemp: the 2016 Royals saviors