You know how Mike Trout gave basically every baseball fan in America a show this summer? A nonstop thrill ride of skills and excitement, literally hours of fun and entertainment when he put his big box hardware store full of tools on display on a nightly basis? You’d think he earned himself some good will. You’d be wrong.
You see, Mike Trout has effectively ruined baseball. Not only does his every act in the future now invite comparison to his magical 2012 season, Mike Trout’s unparalleled excellence tipped the scales on prospect watching among fans and all non-industry types.
For now, every single team not only thinks their prospects are going to be All Stars and Buster Posey‘s — winning World Series titles falling out of bed and wooing entire regions with their winning smiles — the top prospect in the farm system of each and every Major League franchise is now the Next Mike Trout. They, too, will produce more WAR in a single season than most players muster across their pedestrian careers.
When “word” hit that the Kansas City Royals were mulling a trade for Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields, rather than jumping out of their skins with joy, many Royals fans were distraught. The player reported to be heading out of Kansas City in any James Shields trade hasn’t actually played a single game for the Royals – it would be their top prospect Wil Myers. The same Wil Myers mentioned in R.A. Dickey trade talks earlier this month.
Giving up Myers is a huge price to pay but the revulsion expressed by many Royals fans highlights an undeniable truth: coveting prospects and years of control has gone too far.
Whether or not this trade ever sees the light of day doesn’t really matter. The issue is the reaction to the thought of trading top prospects. Parting with prospects can be difficult. Each special snowflake in your favorite team’s system is sure to break out, leaving a squad bursting with pre-arb contributors and team-controlled studs on the cheap. This frees up precious payroll dollars to plug holes with more expensive talent in a perfect, vacuum-sealed world where everyone makes the playoffs and the results are always in line with the process. In the case of the Royals, it hasn’t really worked that way.
The Royals farm system is regarded as one of the finest in recent memory – at least it was until he started graduating players to the big leaguers with only mixed results. Alex Gordon excels for the big club while Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggle to produce offensively early in their careers. With Salvador Perez healthy and ready to play a full season for the first time and the always raking Billy Butler, the Royals lineup is solid from top to bottom.
The Royals have shown a complete inability to develop quality starting pitchers. Outside of Zack Greinke, that is. Greinke is one of the best pitchers in the game and trading him netted the Royals their starting shortstop and some key prospect pieces, including one of their top pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi. The Royals bullpen is strong and loaded with home grown arms but this off-season shows how desperate Kansas City is for pitching.
The Royals traded for Ervin Santana and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie in addition to somewhat-controversially tendering underachiever Luke Hochaver a contract. Their current rotation is low on ceiling and long on long balls. Not a single starter found on the Royals depth chart for 2013 managed even 2 fWAR last season.
Enter the James Shields for Wil Myers trade rumor. Myers is the Royals top prospect, one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He has a patient approach and pop in his bat. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus says Myers crushes mistakes and “anything left out over the plate is batting practice” when declaring him the number one piece in Kansas City’s system.
Giving up Myers is a huge price to pay. Luckily for the Royals, James Shields is really good.
Nevermind the oddity that the Royals would shop such a sure thing, perhaps suggesting they aren’t as convinced of his budding stardom as others. The Royals are in a position of need. The free agent market isn’t turning up top talent, as pitchers of Shields track record aren’t exactly lining up to take their money.
By sacrificing Wil Myers, the Royals receive two years of control of a 200 inning lock in Shields, one of the top 10 pitchers by fWAR over the past two years, the pitcher with the most complete games in baseball since 2011 (ten more than the Royals as a franchise) and a guy who will command a very significant payday on the free agent market in 2014.
The Royals don’t have that guy in their system and they aren’t bringing him in for money. They have a few nice arms but, with the rotation as it stands, could really use a top-end guy like Shields. Don’t think he’s an ace? Fine. But don’t diminish what he can do because you have Wil Myers hearts in your eyes.
The Royals have one winning season since the strike. One year above .500 since 1995. One. While some might preach patience and holding on to a surefire contributor to the next good Royals team, is there no cause for moving up the timeline? Can the Royals not get much better instantly in a division in which their biggest competition is an ageing and/or old Tigers team?
The 2013 Royals aren’t without question marks. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are, as mentioned, question marks. Which makes the desperate coveting of Wil Myers even stranger. PROSPECTS FIZZLE ALL THE TIME. Maybe Wil Myers is Mike Trout Lite – ready to step in a deliver in his first exposure to the game at its highest level. Or maybe he isn’t. Maybe he slowly learns his way around the league and peaks in time for the Royals window to close, with Hosmer and Moustakas earning huge arbitration raises the finicky pitchers never delivering on their promise.
James Shields (or a pitcher like him) is a known commodity. It might lack the sex appeal of a toolsy prospect but haven’t Royals fans waited enough?
This deal isn’t a sure thing. It probably isn’t even close to happening. But the extreme risk aversion among a shell shocked fanbase shocked me. Pulling the trigger to unloading some of the careful curated prospects is just like deciding to have kids – there is never a perfect time and there is always an excuse not to do it. If spending money isn’t an option then using your well-developed prospects must suffice.
Reckless as it may seem, Dayton Moore deserves a tiny bit of credit for having the stones to even considering moving one of his scared cows, he of the career 0 WAR and career …/…/… slash line. The Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs in a much better team with, some might argue, a worse team in a tougher division in 2012. Perhaps some Royals fans are better off holding onto hope than gripping unspoiled prospects yet to break their hearts.