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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Comfort, security spur deal
Without HAVING to do it, the Rays and James Shields opt for a long-term commitment.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 24, 2008
ST. PETERSBURG - The Rays and pitcher James Shields had their reasons for agreeing on a seven-year, potentially $44-million contract.
Shields, 26, wanted to stay with the team he's convinced is headed for success, as well as the financial security of a guaranteed $11.25-million over the first four years. The Rays liked the idea of keeping him around, willing to reward him for what he has done and how he has done it, and considered him worthy of the investment, limiting their exposure with much of the money in three option years and incentives.
"They're committed to me, and that's great. I love it. And I'm committed to them," Shields said, humbled and admittedly overwhelmed, at Wednesday's Tropicana Field announcement.
What made the deal - potentially the longest and richest in franchise history - unusual, and apparently unprecedented, were the reasons they could have not done it.
- There was no rush.
With Shields two seasons from arbitration and five from free agency, the Rays could have set his salary this season and next, then spent the next three in the arbitration process. No pitcher with that little service time 1 year, 125 days had gotten this long of a contract, agent Page Odle said.
But Shields felt strongly enough about wanting to stay that in late October he had Odle ask the Rays about a long-term deal.
"There's many people that think a frontline pitcher shouldn't tie himself up for seven years," Odle said. "But it was truly his idea of wanting to be here and his commitment to winning that drove this thing."
The Rays hadn't planned on a deal this offseason, executive VP Andrew Friedman said. But impressed with his "talent, work ethic and character," they were open to it, figuring they could add him to their core players under long-term contracts while furthering the message that ownership was committed to winning and providing an example to their other young players.
- Both sides had to give.
The Rays were willing to spend, guaranteeing the $11.25-million to a pitcher with 18 career wins, with another $28-million in the options and $6-million in bonuses, despite being deep in young pitching. But they wanted something in return, specifically Shields' first two free-agent years, so they pushed for the seven-season term.
"For us, when we do a pre-arb(itration) deal, the most important thing is for us to get free-agent years," Friedman said. "Some teams do it for the cost control, and that's not a big factor for us. Through the arbitration process, the better they perform, the more money they make, and (it's a) we're-happy-to-pay-it type thing."
Shields, with a wife and daughter, valued the security, and he'll get a little more money - $1-million this season instead of about $410,000 - but could be giving up even more. With reasonable salaries of $9-million and $12-million in his free-agent years, he might be able to command twice that on the open market, but didn't care.
"At the end of this contract, I'll still only be 32, 33 years old. I'll still be young as far as I'm concerned," Shields said. "There's going to be more years to come after that. So no worries to me."
- Stuff happens.
There's no way to be sure Shields won't get hurt, or get comfy and not try as hard.
But the Rays felt very comfortable with him and felt that with his impressive past performance (a career-high 215 innings last season) and dedication to training, combined with their medical staff and injury prevention programs, the odds were good.