On June 17, the Royals took sole possession of first place in the American League Central, as they stood a half game up on Detroit in the division race. Since that date, the Royals have gone 10-17, while the Tigers have gone 18-10, and Kansas City now finds themselves in third place, seven games behind the Tigers and a game and a half behind the Indians. They’ve even fallen to sixth in the AL Wild Race, which isn’t exactly overflowing with dominant teams at the moment.
As things stand today, our Playoff Odds model gives the Royals a 2.6% chance of winning the division and a 7.9% chance of winning a spot in the Wild Card game. A Wild Card game that would almost certainly be on the road, against either the A’s or the Angels, inarguably the two best teams in baseball to this point of the season.
In other words, even if they manage to sneak past Cleveland, New York, Toronto, and Seattle — and hold off the charging Red Sox and Rays — their reward would be a road game against a significantly better team. Anything can happen in one game, of course, but when deciding whether to buy, sell, or hold at the deadline, the realistic upside has to be evaluated, and the Royals best case case scenario is still a probable loss in Game 163.
However, there’s a lot of upside in being the team selling a fall-back plan to the teams who lose out in the David Price sweepstakes. According to most reports, the Mariners, Dodgers, and Cardinals are the most interested teams in Price, and at least two of them are going to be disappointed that they didn’t get him. And when they look around for alternatives, they’re going to find… A.J. Burnett? Bartolo Colon? John Danks?
The market is ripe for the Royals to step in and fill the void with an available starter who is a legitimate upgrade for most contenders. The final two months of Shields’ contract will be far more valuable to another team than they will be to Kansas City.
Shields projects for about +1.4 WAR over the rest of the season, which is not quite Price-like but is far ahead of guys like Colon or Burnett. Because Jeff ran the numbers on a Price trade last week, we can crib off his data and estimate that acquiring Shields would lead to something like a 10% boost in playoff odds for nearly 10 teams. Even if we cross out the Indians, Yankees, and either the Mariners or Cardinals — assuming one of the two pays the David Price tax — then there’s still a half dozen teams who could significantly benefit from having Shields in their rotation for the final two months, plus a much more likely playoff series.
Maybe 10% doesn’t sound like a lot, but for many of these teams, the addition could easily end up being the difference between playing in the Wild Card game and getting a pass through to the division series. For a team like the Orioles or Blue Jays, they have a real chance to host a couple of postseason games, and reap the the revenues that come along with a playoff berth. Some estimates have the revenue gains associated with a postseason run at between $20 and $70 million, depending on how deep a team goes and how much the playoff push can invigorate a fan base.
For instance, the Pirates are up an average of 3,000 fans per game this year compared to last year. Even as TV money takes a larger role in a team’s financial picture, an extra 250,000 tickets sold at an average price of $40 apiece is $10 million in extra revenues. Sure, a good chunk of those fans would have still bought tickets this year even if the Pirates hadn’t made the division series last year, but there’s no question that their 2013 playoff run led directly to a revenue boost in 2014.
There’s a reason the A’s traded one of the game’s very best prospects for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. For mid-market teams who can’t count on getting to the postseason every year, it is imperative to take advantage of opportunities when they come. Those are the very same teams, however, that probably can’t afford to trade the farm for David Price, and are not going to see a big enough improvement to justify giving up real prospects for the back-end starters other teams are selling.
Even with Shields having a mediocre first half, he would fill a significant void in the market and give the Royals a legitimate chance to recoup a lot of the talent they gave up in acquiring Shields in the first place. They’re not going to get Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi back, but they might land a couple of good prospects that could turn into good players sooner than later.
The odds of the Royals re-signing Shields this winter are slim. Realistically, given their payroll, they shouldn’t even really be that interested in keeping him for his decline years. And other teams will pay more in value than the draft pick they’d get next summer by making him a qualifying offer and letting him leave via free agency.
It might be a tough pill for the Royals to swallow, given where they were just a month ago, but the right move for the Royals franchise is to put Shields on the market and play for 2015.
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