AL champ Royals extend qualifying offer to Shields; staff ace set to test free-agent market

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KANSAS CITY, Missouri — The Royals extended a $15.3 million qualifying offer to right-hander James Shields, which assures Kansas City of draft pick compensation if its staff ace signs a major league contract with another team before June 8.

Shields has until Nov. 10 to accept, and it is expected he will not. In the past two years, none of the 22 free agents given qualifying offers have accepted.

The Royals also exercised a $7 million option for next season on reliever Wade Davis and selected the contract of outfielder Paulo Orlando from Triple-A during a busy Monday.

Over the weekend, the Royals elected to pay designated hitter Billy Butler a $1 million buyout rather than exercise their $12.5 million option. The decision was widely expected, and Butler said he hopes he'll be able to agree with the Royals on a new contract.

It's unlikely the Royals will be able to do the same with Shields, who helped them win the AL pennant after reaching the playoffs for the first time in 29 years. With higher-payroll clubs in the market for pitching, Shields is expected to sign elsewhere.

If that happens, the Royals would receive a compensatory draft pick between the first and second rounds of next year's amateur draft by extending to him a qualifying offer.

General manager Dayton Moore said recently he expects the Royals to be in the market for pitching, too. But it will likely be a starter carrying a much smaller price tag, similar to deals signed by right-hander Jeremy Guthrie and left-hander Jason Vargas in recent years.

"We're going to have to make some tough decisions with our roster, and you know we'll continue to look to add players that fit in," Moore said, "but we're going to have to certainly look to add starting pitching. We'll continue to try to put it together the way we have."

Shields, who arrived along with Davis in a December 2012 trade, went 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA in his first season in Kansas City. He was 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA this year, logging more than 200 innings for the seventh time in eight years.

Perhaps the heavy workload took its toll in the playoffs. Shields was battered by Oakland in the AL wild-card game, which Kansas City rallied to win in 12 innings. He fared better against the Angels in the division series, but was pounded again by Baltimore in the AL Championship Series — though the Royals once again picked up him during their four-game sweep.

In two World Series starts against the San Francisco Giants, Shields went 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA. He only lasted nine innings over the two outings, outdueled each time by Madison Bumgarner.

"I'm not too worried about my free agency right now," Shields said after the Royals lost Game 7 last week. "Obviously I have to think about that and we'll see what happens."

Davis earned his option — a significant raise from the $4.8 million he made this season — by having one of the best seasons by a relief pitcher in major league history.

The hard-throwing right-hander, a middling starter, went 9-2 with a 1.00 ERA in a team-high 71 appearances. His ERA led all big league relievers and was the eighth-best ever by an AL relief pitcher. He mostly handled the eighth inning ahead of Greg Holland, but also recorded three saves while filling in as the closer late in the season.

Kansas City also has an $8 million option for next season with a $500,000 buyout. If the Royals exercise it, they would have a $10 million option for 2017 with a $250,000 buyout.

By exercising their option on Davis, the Royals will bring back the dominant back of their bullpen intact, though Holland and seventh-inning star Kelvin Herrera could both get hefty raises through arbitration after stellar seasons.

Holland, an All-Star the past two seasons, had a 1.44 ERA with 46 saves in 65 appearances this season. He saved two games against the Angels in the ALDS and joined Dennis Eckersley as the only pitchers to save all four games in an ALCS against the Orioles.

Herrera was 4-3 with a career-best 1.41 ERA in 70 appearances this season.

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