Here in the American League Championship Series, James Shields is the last great free-agent pitcher standing.
He will start game one for the Royals against the Orioles on Friday night, which provides him yet another opportunity to showcase himself for the other 29 teams in baseball.
His two counterparts on the market, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, have both gone home for the winter. The Royals came back to beat Lester and the Athletics in the American League Wild Card Game. Scherzer and the Tigers were swept by Baltimore.
So only Shields remains.
At 32, he figures to be the most affordable of the three. Kansas City is expected to at least attempt to retain him, even after Shields rejects a one-year, $15 million qualifying offer, but the competition in the market should be fierce. Boston has emerged as the early favorite for his services, but plenty of other clubs should be in the mix.
Rival executives expect him to fetch a five-year deal worth somewhere between $80 million and $110 million. The largest contract in Royals franchise history was their $55 million pact with Gil Meche. The team did not attempt to engage in contract negotiations with Shields before this season began, and have made contingency plans for his potential departure.
When he arrived two winters ago with Wade Davis, a duo were acquired for a package that included top prospect Wil Myers, Shields altered the culture of the Royals. He served as a mentor to younger players. He provided leadership in the clubhouse. And his performance on the field was solid.
Shields has thrown 200 innings in the last eight seasons. He posted a 3.21 ERA across 227 frames in 2014 (though he did yield 14 unearned runs). He held the Angels to two runs in six innings of game three’s clincher.
So his appeal to other clubs is obvious.
Shields hails from Southern California and lives outside San Diego. Both the Angels and the Dodgers could be in the market for starting pitching. The Red Sox and Yankees both like Shields, who could market himself as a more affordable alternative to Lester and Scherzer. Shields is battle-tested in the American League East.
He’ll have another chance to show his mettle on Friday at Camden Yards.
“I’ve trained myself over the last few years of being able to handle this,” Shields said Thursday. “So as of right now my body feels great. Everything’s right on track where it needs to be, and I’m ready to go.”