Insider: Shields Finishes Third in Cy Young Vote

A day after Jeremy Hellickson was named American League rookie of the year, another member of the Tampa Bay Rays’ rotation was recognized for his exceptional performance in 2011. After an awful 2010 campaign, the James Shields regression tour made one final stop…the AL Cy Young award ballot.

Shields finished third in the voting behind unanimous winner Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and runner-up Jered Weaver from the Los Angeles Angels. The 29-year-old anchor of the Rays’ staff set career-highs in wins (16), innings pitched (249.1), ERA (2.82), and led the league with 11 complete games – another career best. Odds are Shields will not repeat these marks in 2012; however, even with some regression, he should be a top-15 American League pitcher with fantastic control rates and a dependable right arm.

In late October, the Rays made the easy decision of exercising the $7 million club option on Shields for the 2012 season. The option actually increased to $7.5 million based on incentives tied to innings pitched. Because of his salary compared to the team’s operating budget, there will be continued trade speculation surrounding the right-hander. That said, unless the team is blown away by a proposal, it is likely he remains with the team as pitchers with his ability and durability are not easily attained; especially for under $10 million per year.

Earlier this week, I speculated that winning the rookie of the year award would boost the future earnings of Jeremy Hellickson. While we do not know how much he gained – if anything at all – we do know James Shields received financial benefit from the Cy Young award voting. Thanks to another bonus negotiated in his 2008 contract extension, Shields will receive an extra $500,000 bonus – the same amount Verlander received for winning – for his top-5 finish, raising his 2012 salary to $8 million.

Though the overall figure remains a huge bargain, the Rays will end up paying an extra $1 million in bonuses to Shields. For a team operating on a limited budget, an additional seven figures cannot be overlooked. By including the clauses in the contract, the team knew there was a chance he would reach the incentives, but they were not guarantees. Meanwhile, the fact that these bonuses were related to good performance means they are likely welcomed even if the outcome were unexpected.

By no means will $1 million cripple the organization; however, the baseball operations team may need to pinch pennies in other areas to cover the difference. Although we will never know exactly where the impact was felt, the extra money could have been included to lure a free agent or perhaps thrown toward the extension of a younger player. In its’ simplest form, the million dollars could have covered the 2012 salaries of two names from the following list: Matt Joyce, Jeremy Hellickson, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Moore, Reid Brignac, Sam Fuld, John Jaso, Jake McGee, and Brandon Gomes.

Like Hellickson’s win, Shields’ third-place finish in the Cy Young vote should be commended; even more so when you consider how his 2010 season ended. Without their contributions, the team likely does not win the AL Wildcard race. There is also little debate that the Rays are a better team in 2012 with Shields than without him – a trade for Joey Votto-type withstanding. Still, the fact remains that even the smallest financial impact from award voting is relevant for a team with low-revenue streams.