*This column was originally published in The Sports Fan Journal.
Close your eyes. Now shake your San Diego beach-themed snow globe until your body orbits back to Dec. 9, 2012. On that day, fans of the Tampa Bay Rays were shaking their heads at the team trading right-hander James Shields, who was an All-Star for the Rays and also helped them reach their first World Series in 2008. Out in Kansas City, Royals fans were shedding tears for the loss of uber prospect Wil Myers, who was traded to the Rays to make Shields a Royal.
That same season, the San Diego Padres finished fourth in the National League West, going 76-86. The next season saw the same win total with last season producing one more win and another season of mediocrity.
Shields went on to win 27 games in two seasons for the Royals with a 3.18 ERA, 127 ERA+, 1.209 WHIP, and was the team’s ace on the way to K.C.’s first World Series appearance last season since 1985. Myers, on the other hand, showed his huge upside in 2013 by winning the American League Rookie of the Year after hitting .293/.354/.478 with 13 home runs in 88 games played.
Now open your eyes to the present-day Padres led by the new king of wheeling and dealing, A.J. Preller. The Padres have gone from the mid-tier of the NL West, known as Tim Lincecum’s personal no-hitter team, to acquiring names such as Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks, Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson this offseason. Now, two other names will be seen with the “SD” on their hats at Petco Park as a reconnection: James Shields and Wil Myers.
After his highly optimistic 2013 season, a wrist injury limited Myers to only 87 games where he hit a lowly .222/.294/.320 with just six home runs. Preller jumped at the chance to buy low on Myers, who was traded two years and 10 days after his first blockbuster trade, this time in a three-way deal full of minor league players in which he was clearly the biggest name to be moved.
The thought of Myers wearing a different jersey in 2015 seemed like a slim-to-none chance, while the consensus was that Shields would no doubt be too expensive for the Royals to retain. Then, he became too expensive for anyone to sign.
Since 2007, Shields has thrown at least 200 innings in eight straight seasons as Mr. Reliable. He’s a coach’s dream, knowing that he will always toe the rubber every fifth day and give you a chance to win. Teams love having a horse as a pitcher, but when that horse is 33 years old with 1,910.1 regular-season innings hanging on his right arm, they begin to look the other way when you’re a free agent. To make matters worse, reports came out that Shields was set on a five-year contract asking for around $115 million. Rumors came and went on who would sign Shields, yet the rumors were only nibbles and no bites.
Less than two weeks to go until the first spring training workout on Feb. 19, Preller once again made his move on buying low on his newest prize. Shields is now the latest big name of baseball’s most wild offseason team, signing a four-year contract with a fifth-year option for between $72 million and $76 million. At that price, Shields could have gone to any team he wanted to, and in the end, maybe this is exactly what the Southern California native wanted the whole time.
The location is second to none, and the San Francisco Giants may as well not even try to repeat as World Series champions in an odd year, making it the perfect time for the Padres to pounce at the opportunity for baseball glory. On Dec. 9, 2012, Shields going to the Royals for Myers swapping jerseys in Tampa Bay seemed like a win-win for both teams. A little more than two years later and across the country, the San Diego Padres have won the Shields for Myers trade, putting the two in the same uniform.