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Royals pick up option on Burke Award winner Shields

Right-hander immediately became staff leader in first season

KANSAS CITY -- Busy day for James Shields in Royalsville -- he won an award, had his 2014 contract option picked up and hinted he would not mind making the place his permanent home.

Shields' special brand of leadership in his first Kansas City season, plus his exceptional pitching ability, was recognized Thursday as he was voted the 2013 Joe Burke Special Achievement Award by the Kansas City chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The Royals' front office took the occasion to exercise the club option on Shields' contract for $13.5 million next year.

The move surprised absolutely no one.

"Well, yeah, I was hopin'," Shields said with a chuckle. "I feel good about it; I feel like I pitched well for them last year, and obviously over my career I've proven that I eat a lot of innings, and I'm just excited to be back and be a Royal and have a good season next year."

Shields, talking to reporters on a conference call from San Diego, was asked if he would be discussing a contract extension with the Royals.

"I haven't really thought about it," he said. "Definitely when that time comes, I'm going to be focused on it. One thing I do know is I love the city, the organization is great, I've been here for one year and I've just seen tremendous strides. Their willingness to want to win is what really intrigues me about this organization.

"So, yeah, I'll definitely be thinking about it when the season is over, and I definitely wouldn't mind making it a home."

The Burke Special Achievement Award annually goes to an unsung player who contributed above and beyond what was expected, or someone the writers felt deserved recognition for an outstanding season. The award honors Joe Burke, a member of the Royals Hall of Fame and the team's general manager from 1974-81 and president from 1981-92.

The Royals' Pitcher of the Year will be announced Monday and the Player of the Year on Tuesday.

Shields brought with him a flair for dealing with his fellow players when the Royals obtained him last winter in a whopper trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. It was Shields who instituted a rousing in-house celebration after each of the Royals' victories during a season that included a stretch run in pursuit of a Wild Card playoff berth.

The noisy eruptions included lighting of a neon sign, clouds of steam, shaving cream pies and bonding among the players that seemed to last. It was unusual in baseball, but Shields thought it helped relieve pressure off players.

"The players in the organization were putting a lot of pressure on themselves to win every single day," Shields said. "When you get back to having that Little League attitude -- that when you're younger, you just don't care, you just want to play baseball. One-hundred and sixty-two games is a grind, and I just wanted to bring in something a little unusual, just to keep our minds off it. Whether or not we went 0-for-4 or I gave up five or six runs, as long as we win the game that's all that really matters.

"And that's the gist of the whole celebration. Obviously the characters in the clubhouse kind of created that atmosphere, and I just wanted something that bonded us together as a team. You saw it last night with Boston. Every single person that you see and hear in the interviews after the game said the same thing about brotherhood, bonding and chemistry, and that's what got 'em there. So I feel like that's what we needed to do here in Kansas City."

Shields also became leader of the pitching staff, and, despite running into tough luck early in the season, finished with a 13-9 record and a 3.15 ERA. He led the American League with 228 2/3 innings and in quality starts with 27, most by a Royals pitcher since Kevin Appier's 29 in 1993. It was in the second half when Shields' season really picked up. After the All-Star break, he had a 9-3 record and a 3.06 ERA in 14 starts. Shields also had the AL's best ERA in road games, 2.07, with a 10-3 record.

Another of the pitcher's special attributes is the ability to pick off runners. Despite Shields' reputation, three runners fell victim this year. Shields has 27 pickoffs since 2006, the most in that span by a right-handed pitcher. In the final month, Shields had a 4-1 record that included the 100th victory of his career, a 6-1 win over the White Sox on Sept. 27 in Chicago.

In Shields' view, the Royals just needed a bit more time to really succeed.

"The second half, I think we pretty much figured it out and figured out how to win and what it takes to win on a daily basis -- and not put too much stress on ourselves," he said. "And I think the second half we proved that. Unfortunately, it took us the whole first half to figure that out. So I think going into the next Spring Training, we all have that good frame of mind, we have that good attitude and hopefully we'll have a really good season next year."

Shields said he hoped the Royals would re-sign free-agent pitchers Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen.

"As a baseball player, you definitely got to understand the business aspect of the game, but we would definitely love to have them back," he said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for
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