Royals fans soak up spring fever as snow falls
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Royals ace James Shields is open to staying in Kansas City beyond this season.
That news should make the thousands of fans, already flying high over the team's strong finish a year ago, feel even better as they turned out for their annual FanFest on Friday.
The Royals exercised their $13.5 million option on Shields's contract shortly after going 86-76 last season, their best finish since 1989. The durable right-hander was a big reason behind the success, going 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA in an American League-leading 228.2 innings.
Shields told a small group of reporters at Bartle Hall that he was willing to discuss an extension, but he said those talks with general manager Dayton Moore have not taken place.
''I'd definitely be open-minded to it,'' Shields said. ''A player in my position, where I have one more year left before free agency, I mean, I'm definitely open to it. I like Kansas City. I like the organization and I like the direction we're going.''
If Shields went to the open market, it's unlikely that the Royals would be a player in the chase. There were reports this offseason that he would seek a contract similar to that of former Royals star Zack Greinke, who signed a $147 million, six-year deal with the Dodgers last season.
''That's absolutely not true at all,'' Shields said. ''I have no clue where he got that from, to be honest with you. I've had no discussions with Dayton at all.
''If Dayton wants to talk about it, I'm more than willing to sit and talk about it. But during the season, my main focus is trying to win games and get some wins for this team.''
Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Surprise, Ariz., for the start of spring training on Feb. 14. The first full-squad workout is Feb. 20.
Most of the Royals' key pieces return from last season, when they contended into September for the first time in a decade. Their two biggest holes were filled by trading reliever Will Smith to Milwaukee for right field Norichika Aoki and signing Omar Infante to solidify second base.
''I didn't think our defense could get any better,'' Shields said, ''but they're definitely filling some holes that we had. And they're great additions to our lineup.''
Then there's the starting rotation, where Ervin Santana has become a free agent. While the right-hander has yet to sign elsewhere, the Royals appeared to move on when they signed left-hander Jason Vargas to a contract early in the offseason.
Along with Jeremy Guthrie, the first three spots in the rotation are set. That leaves two up for grabs among a handful of candidates, including starters-turned-relievers Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar, veteran Bruce Chen, left-hander Danny Duffy and flame-thrower Yordano Ventura.
''I've just been working hard, resting my arm,'' said Ventura, who had a 3.52 ERA in three late-season starts in Kansas City. ''I've just been getting ready because I want to get out there and make the team.''
That doesn't figure to be an easy task given the glut of competition.
''It's a competitive game anyway,'' Davis said. ''Why not do it from within a little bit?''
Davis said that he spent the offseason in the weight room, and pronounced himself more ready for this season than any previous year. He also said that he's already been throwing some bullpen sessions, giving him a head start on reporting for spring training.
''I'm definitely going in to start,'' said Davis, who began last season in the rotation but was demoted to the bullpen when he proved ineffective. ''Hopefully I get that opportunity.''