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Could the Shields Era be Coming to an End Soon in Tampa Bay?
The number 55 can be symbolic to a number of people. We all know it is in the title of the song by musician Sammy Hager, “I Can’t Drive 55!”. We all know it was the posted National speed limit designated by huge signs along the nation’s Turnpikes and Interstates for a huge portion of our lives. Some gaming enthusiasts also know the number is associated with an astute “Call of Duty” clan of seasoned perfectionists who fight their battles on television screens everywhere.
The number “55″ within the realm of the Tampa Bay Rays history books holds a very unique place, but it is also a dangerous place. Going into Monday’s night game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, the Rays would collectively bear witness to seeing the current Rays All-Time leader in victories, and Angels Starter, Scott Kazmir battle to preserve Kazmir’s weakening hold on the Rays All-Time career mark currently set at, you guessed it…55.
Kazmir will oppse the Rays in that contest against his former Rays teammate and friend, James Shields, and with a Shields win, Kazmir will have to acknowledge another part of his short legacy with the Rays will fall. It is extremely unusual for a pair of young guns like Kazmir and Shields to be fighting for the right to hold the Rays All-Time career mark. It does seems like such a low, low number, this “55″, but the solid reality is that life as a Rays pitcher does not always have a solid foundation or expanding future.
There can be several reasons for this, but the biggest is simply that the dollar signs sometimes makes a Rays pitcher a trade commodity way before his pitching expiration date. Recently, Shields has begun to hear the increasing mumbles and ground level grumbles around the Rays ballpark that he might be nearing the ultimate end of his long reign as the Rays King atop the Rays rotation. We soon forget as Rays fans, just how fast and short the escalation of the pitching exiting process here in Tampa Bay.
For a firm illustration of past quick exodus of the Rays winning pitchers’, you only have to look at the next four slots within the Rays career victories list to see former names of Rays pitchers like Victor Zambrano (35) Esteban Yan (26), and Albie Lopez (26) to show the Rays have not held onto their pitching stars for very long. Zambrano was traded for Kazmir, but when Zambrano left the Rays, he was the team’s career leader in victories.
Funniest part is that Shields is not even the highest paid pitcher currently on the Rays roster. That designation goes to teammates Rafael Soriano ($7.25 million), Dan Wheeler ($ 3.5 million) and fellow starter Matt Garza ($3.35 million). Shields will jump to $ 4.5 million for the 2011 and be in the current Top four of the returning members of the Rays roster. That high salary by itself could become Shields downfall. Sonnanstine (29 wins) who trails Shields in the Rays active victory tour will only see his salary rise to possibly $ 1.5 million due to his first stint at salary arbitration.
But it might be another Rays teammate that makes Shields expendable. Garza’s estimated salary arbitration has him garnering a possible $ 5.25 million salary for 2011, and that total could send the Rays searching high and low for a team willing to take on Shield’s and his 2011 salary. In 2011, Shields could find himself just like Kazmir, on the outside looking in at the next wave of Rays pitchers who will strive to take his name off the Rays pitching mantle. Shields has also not done himself any favors recently with some of his erratic pitching, and clouds of doubt have begun to fly all around the stands as to Shield’s effectiveness.
Surely the pitcher who has logged over 200+innings over the last two years and has been one of the only Rays pitchers’ not to go down for the count on the DL will be spared from this worry. But can the Rays gamble that same level of consistent return again in 2011? On the positive side of the equation right now is two solid performances where Shields won twice, plus he logged 7+ innings for just the second time this season. Maybe Shields had a bit of a dead arm and instead of complaining he fought through it and has gone 5-2 now over his last 7 starts. The signs are there that Shields might have found his second wind in 2010 and that we should not count him out…just yet.
Still stuck firmly in the back of my mind was that horrendous day in Toronto when Shields surrendered 6 Home Runs, becoming only the third pitcher to produce this type of hurling disaster in the last 70 years. Even though Shields did push some of the blame on himself for the debacle, Shields also tossed his young catcher, John Jaso firmly under the buses’ wheels and pushed a mountain load of the blame firmly towards his catcher and his play calling. That was uncharacteristic of Shields, and might have been a defense mechanism, but it was still an ugly side of Shields the Rays had never seen surface before. If Shields felt that way on the mound on that horrendous day, why didn’t he shake off Jaso’s signs?
That one instance doesn’t make Shields expendable, but the rubber arm and his consistency will come to a crashing end in the future. Will the Rays take the gamble and roll the dice with Shields, or will another starter who is waiting in the Rays system like Jeremy Hellickson take his turn in the Rays merry-go-round. If the Rays moved Shields this off season, it would save up to $ 4.5 million the Rays could use to entice another offensive weapon to join the Rays for 2011. With Garza also getting a substantial pay raise through arbitration, the Rays (after Garza’s salary) could effectively only have to spend around $2.525 million for their other four possible starters (David Price, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson) in 2011.
That makes Shields very expendable, even with only the second highest starter’s salary on the team. We might be seeing the everlasting glow before the sunset of Shield’s time with the Rays. Considering Shields has already been here about 5 years, maybe his time has come for him to seek another opportunity elsewhere. Another interesting sidebar to last night’s game, Shields and Kazmir became only the second pair of former Rays Opening Day starters to meet in a Rays game.
Ironically, the first time this happened was when Kazmir met Oakland starter and former Ray Joe Kennedy back on May 5,2007 at Tropicana Field. Maybe it is time for Kazmir to pass that Rays torch to Shields and let him shine brightly before his Rays tenure begins to dim. But then again, that is what we have come to expect out of “Big Game”.
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