In his first season in Kansas City, James Shields faces his toughest challenge yet. Is it pitching in the AL Central? I don't think so. What about not laughing at Jeff Francoeur? Not what I'm looking for. Leading the Royals to the postseason? Good answer, but no. Single-handedly changing an entire clubhouse culture? Ding, ding, ding.
After years as a leader in the Rays' clubhouse, James Shields will look to fill the same type of role with the Royals. But as he told Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports "It's different here." In Kansas City, Shields is the guy and that's it. In Tampa Bay, Joe Maddon created an atmosphere of freedom and open discussion. For the Royals, Ned Yost has more of a desire to control his players and keep them in line. In Joe Maddon's clubhouse, there were several leaders and Shields was just one. Now Shields is the leader who commands any respect with the others either too young (Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas), too quiet a personality (Billy Butler and Alex Gordon), or simply not good enough of a player (Francoeur). Can Shields alone change the Royals' entire clubhouse dynamic from uptight to loose and relaxed?
"This is a lot like '08. There's big-time similarities. We have the talent to win. In 2007 in Tampa, we had the talent to win and didn't. And then ..."
Shields can do a little bit better than that. A revamped starting rotation led in part by a pitcher (Matt Garza for the '08 Rays) acquired in a controversial trade for a star outfield prospect (Delmon Young). Third baseman and catchers with plenty of talent who still had not broken out in the major leagues. A star outfielder who began to excel after moving from the infield (B.J. Upton and Alex Gordon). A manager in his mid-fifties who still had never won much- and apparently allows his pitchers to audible the defensive shifts on the mound like the Rays. Shields considered that a key in terms of team chemistry.
"When you have good chemistry, it brings the best out of every individual. Let's say I have a man on second and I want [second baseman Chris] Getz to move over two steps to the right. I can look at him and give him a head nod, and he knows exactly what I'm talking about. If he doesn't understand where I'm coming from, next thing you know I give up a hit in the 4-hole. Chemistry is thinking similarly, being one unit, really knowing each other."
It won't be easy for Shields to turn the Royals into an AL Central equivalent of the Rays, especially with little help. It's going to put his leadership abilities to the text and answer the question is whether he became a leader because of the Rays' great clubhouse dynamic started by Joe Maddon or whether it was him who played a part in creating that feeling and it's something that he can start somewhere else. And even if Shields can change everything in the Kansas City clubhouse, will it be enough to help the Royals secure their first playoff berth since 1985?
As Rays fans who experienced the magic of 2008, we're reluctant to want another team to pull of a similar feat and put a damper in the glory at least a little bit. But if there's anyone we can root for to do something like that, it's James Shields, who gave the Rays everything he had for his seven years with the team and was a huge part of turning the Rays into a perennial contender and one of the best teams in baseball. Can't say we believe wholeheartedly that Shields will accomplish his goal for the Royals, but it's going to be awfully interesting to see him try.
Here are your links for today:
- The Rays will move Evan Longoria into the third spot in their order on a regular basis, at least against lefties. Longoria told Marc Topkin that the third spot is where he's most comfortable and Joe Maddon said that the move will help him get pitches to hit and end his early-season power outage.
- The Rays had their first themed road trip, letterman jackets, and they clearly had a blast.
- Cubs top prospect Jorge Soler almost pulled a Delmon Young, running towards an opposing dugout with a bat in his hand intending to do damage (and not at the plate). His teammates stopped him before he did, but he was justifiably suspended for five games for his actions. Cubs GM Theo Epstein said that "We condemn the act of what took place, but we support the player," saying that it's the Cubs' responsibility to make sure Soler keeps his emotions in check and this doesn't happen again.
- The Rays' Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls, shut out the Orioles-affiliated Norfolk Tides 9-0, with Alex Colome pumping 95-96 MPH fastballs (per Adam Sobsey) on his way to 6 shutout innings, allowing just 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 7. The consensus has been that Colome will likely head to the bullpen, but he's shown flashes of glory and if he can sustain that he could be a really good MLB starting pitcher.
- In that same game, Wil Myers went 0 for 2 but drew 3 walks without striking out, which should be a cause for celebration among Rays fans. Elucidating the magic of a small sample size, Myers' strikeout to walk ratio went from a horrifying 9-2 to a rock-solid 9-5 all after one game. Speaking of Myers, Topkin noted that Myers has been in the minor leagues long enough for the Rays to keep him for a 7th year of team control. No signs of that happening quite yet, but the Rays have the option of calling him up now, and we'll have to see whether some combination of his strong play and their offensive struggles could be enough for them to call him up before the late June deadline for Super Two eligibility.