James Shields didn’t have an incredible or even All-Star worthy season this past year, as a 3.52 earned run average (ERA) isn’t anything to celebrate. In spite of that fact, Shields could be in a different uniform come next year, mainly because the Rays have a surplus of starting pitchers who are roughly all under control for more years than Shields.

Here are three possible destinations for the right-hander:

Minnesota Twins

Perhaps the Twins lack enough resources to acquire Shields, but no harm would be done by at least making an attempt. They do have a few pieces that could entice the, don’t get me wrong. Rays’ center-fielder Denard Span could interest Tampa Bay as a replacement for Upton. Top prospect Eddie Rosario could also be a piece in a potential trade for Shields. Given the Twins’ solid outfield depth, Rosario was moved to second base this season to prepare to fill a need sometime in the future. He shouldn’t have a problem switching back to his natural position.

However, it’s safe to say that Minnesota’s rotation needs some repairing. They posted the worst starters ERA in 2012 with a 5.40 mark. The rotation’s common collapses naturally upped the workload for their bullpen, which logged an inflated 558.2 innings this year. Luckily for the Twins, though, their bullpen didn’t falter too much because of that, quietly posting a respectable 3.77 ERA. Usually in that type of situation, the said rotation’s struggles pave the way for their respective bullpen to collapse due to an increased workload.

So with a need for a starter that can log some innings at a not Zack Greinke-esque price, Shields makes perfect sense. Since 2010, “Big Game James” has logged 679.1 innings; the third most in baseball. The only two pitchers ahead of him in this category are Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez. I’d say that’s a reputable group. For reference, Scott Diamond pitched the most innings for the Twins in 2012 with a mere 173. Let’s just say that Shields would bring something new and refreshing to the table.

Shields doesn’t come at an expensive tab either. He has a club option for nine million next year and 12 million in 2014 with buyouts of one million and 1.5 million, respectively. For Minnesota, the first two figures are much better than paying $16 to $25 million per year for Anibal Sanchez or Greinke, who Shields might outperform anyway.

Miami Marlins

With Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Anibal Sanchez distance memories, it’s safe to say that the Marlins need one, perhaps two major league ready pitchers. Maybe even an ace. Because at the moment, Ricky Nolasco takes over as the ace of the staff, but there many several questions marks after him. The 22-year-old Nathan Eovaldi could assume the number two spot in the rotation, or possibly Jacob Turner.

Are you starting to see a flaw? I would hope so, as the names being tossed around don’t have much experience. Yes, they do have a considerable amount raw talent, but that’s only a fraction of big picture. Even Nolasco’s status is up for debate seeing that he’s posted a 4.68 ERA since 2009. That doesn’t quite justify him as an ace. But on the 2013 Marlins it will. That speaks to how depleted their rotation is.

Shields would at least give them some type of stability every five days. However, the Marlins’ defense could leave him vulnerable much like Tampa Bay left him vulnerable.

See, Shields’s overall ERA of 3.52 this year was a bit of a disappointment, especially after he posted a career-best 2.82 ERA in 2011. According to his Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP), however, he ran into some bad luck, as his overall FIP was 3.47. FIP basically extracts all facets that a pitcher doesn’t have control over, such as defense, and produces what said pitcher’s ERA would be.

The Marlins, though, are far from Gold Glove status as a team. They posted the seventh worst Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in baseball this year with a -21.2 mark. So Shields could foreseeably find himself with a wobbly defensive unit behind him, again. A unit that is vastly worse than his current unit in Tampa Bay. That is, if he wound up in Miami.

The thought of the Marlins trading for Shields is a bit more then a passing whim. They are simply on this list because they have money to spend and have a need for a proven starter. Although, after committing millions last offseason in one big gulp, ownership may be hesitant to make any headline-garnering moves after that disastrous season.

Now, none of their notable additions that they signed in one gulp no longer wear a Marlins’ uniform. Perhaps this realization will prevent them from making any massive trades this offseason.

Kansas City Royals

I saved the most likely landing spot for last. The Royals already have interest in Shields. They will even go as far to trading their top prospect Wil Myers. So in other words, the two sides are in conversations, which is a good indication that a deal could be completed in the near future if talks remain consistent and positive.

Either way, Royals’ general manager Ned Yost is wise to pursue more starting pitching. The writing was on the wall at All-Star break that Kansas City’s rotation needs a facelift. They weren’t able to entirely accomplish that goal during the season, but Yost and his crew did add Jeremy Guthrie, who posted a 3.16 ERA with KC in 14 starts, and they were also able to resign him for three more years a couple of weeks ago. Ervin Santana was traded to the Royals this offseason as well.

So Yost obviously has a fairly obvious plan in mind, and it involves bolstering his roster with pitching, pitching, and more pitching. And Shields would be the icing on the cake to that mission because unlike Santana and Guthrie, he has proven to be a consistent asset.

Furthermore, Guthrie’s late season success last year is certainly intriguing for the Royals entering 2013. However, an encore 2013 campaign is tough to conceive. Remember, we are talking about the same guy who posted a 6.35 ERA with the Rockies in 15 starts prior to being traded to the Royals.

Santana, on the other hand, saw his value go from considerably high before 2012 to a bit more than dirt after the 2012 season ended. He posted a 5.16 ERA and allowed two home runs per nine innings; a career-worst and a league worst.

While Myers may be hard to part ways with, the Royals need more pitching. And if that means dangling a prospect to do so, they have to pull the trigger.

Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com, unless otherwise noted. Salary figures courtesy of Cot’s Contracts

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