When I wrote that I was in favor of a “Shields for Myers” type trade on December 6th, I meant it. The Royals have been so bad for so long and, as a bigger believer in James Shields than many, I thought a bold move to improve their team for 2013 wasn’t out of bounds. Some terrific discussion arose in the aftermath, re-shaping the way I evaluated this potential deal.
Many rightly pointed out the Kansas City Royals were more than one James Shields away from contention – another year or two won’t open the window for Kansas City nor will the sun have fully set on the ageing/plump Detroit Tigers. That the question marks at numerous places around the diamond make just adding a frontline starter (who likely isn’t a True Ace) insufficient, that the Royals could achieve many of the same goals on the free agent market while keeping Wil Myers.
Then the deal was announced and, lo and behold, the Royals gave up Wil Myers to get James Shields. They also gave away Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard with Wade Davis serving as the secondary prize for the Royals. A shocking package in what looks like a shocking move. Are the Royals nuts? Maybe not.
The Royals paid a steep price to get better in 2013. James Shields isn’t a perfect pitcher but the rush to discredit his track record does nothing but discredit those who attempted a smear campaign. Road ERA? Really? That’s the best you got? James Shields wasn’t coming cheap – number two starters don’t grow on trees and nobody is trading an ace for anything, not without extreme duress.
It doesn’t take a great deal of mental gymnastics to attempt thinking along with the Royals in this case. First and foremost – they know more about Wil Myers than anybody and they have a decent track record of developing position players. If KC could develop a pitchers at the rate they churn out Alex Gordons, Billy Butler, and Salvy Perez’s, they would not be in the uneviable position to deal for James Shields in the first place.
But if the Royals know Myers and think dealing Myers is a necessary evil (rather than an unspeakable sin), consider for a second they have their reasons. At no point will Myers be more valuable before a potential big league cameo which might serve to expose him as much as elevate him. Remember: the Royals did not give Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year a token September call-up, it was likely for a reason.
As many, most notably Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus, wrote last night and today: Myers is looks like a player but his “tools aren’t so loud or the holes not so small” that he does not project as an untouchable superstar beyond reproach or trade request. Of course, Wil Myers doesn’t have to become a superstar to help a team employing Jeff Francoeur of their own free will but a superstar ceiling is harder to move than a player without one.
The main argument against moving Shields was using his money (not to many that promised to Luke Hochevar, a non-tender candidate who was oddly offered a contract by the Royals) to bring in a free agent. Plugging in Anibal Sanchez or Ryan Dempster and bumping Jeff Francouer down to platoon duty likely offers a similar upgrade to any difference between Shields and the remainder of the Royals rotation. The only challenge with that scenario is Kansas City is cheap and, maybe, free agents don’t want anything to do with Kansas City?
Perhaps the Royals simply cannot attract flies with their limited amount of honey. Considering all the payroll bluster coming from their ownership group, it is possible there just wasn’t money required for sufficient overpays.
Rays GM Andrew Friedman revealed in a press call last night that talks between the Rays and Royals first began in October. Is it impossible to believe the Royals understood what Myers might fetch, set out into the free agent market in an attempt to match or best that potential trade return? Short of incredibly risky scenarios like guaranteeing Ryan Dempster an extra year or pretending Edwin Jackson is much more than average, Dayton Moore might honestly believe this was the best and only chance he had to improve his club.
The extra pieces really baffle me. Where Odorizzi – a starter with a mid-to-back of the rotation profile – and Montgomery – a once-prized prospect who completely fell apart last year – essential pieces to complete the deal? Was Myers not enough to net Shields on his own?
The Royals have a deep system which can survive the lose of these four pieces. Though a raw prospect a long way from the big leagues, Bubba Starling could well step into the future outfield mainstay role vacated with the loss of Myers. The Royals simply have not developed a single starting pitcher of note since Zack Greinke, despite the “best farm system of all time” claims that surfaced over last few seasons.
Zack Greinke’s name is key in this trade, as he not only signed the most lucrative contract for a right-handed pitcher in baseball history, but he was in the identical situation to Shields after the 2010 season. Two years remaining on his contract at a reasonable rate, two excellent seasons in the rearview mirror. The Royals opted to trade Greinke when his value was at its zenith.
The package Kansas City received that day for their former Cy Young winner, a pitcher with one of the very best fWAR seasons of all time just two years in the past (with Yuniesky Betancourt thrown in for good measure) was Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi. Alcides Escobar is now the Royals everyday shortstop, just off a great year in which the slick gloveman hit better than most expected.
Does the package the Royals received in the Greinke trade (with Odorizzi as the constant, though with two more years of reality on his resume) look better than the package of players KC gave up to get Shields? As much as there is to like about James Shields, he ain’t no Zack Greinke – though the trade packages suggest otherwise.
The Royals took a huge risk – risking a promising future for dividends today. The Rays also took a huge risk – their team is probably worse in 2013, as the gulf between Shields and the rest of the Rays rotation is larger than the eventual* upgrade Myers offers over Matt Joyce or Sam Fuld. The 24 years of player control Tampa Bay receives is more than enough to let them sleep soundly at night. Such is the game that they must play. * – don’t think for a second Wil Myers makes the Rays Opening Day roster. His pristine service time is going to get gamed but good.
The deal looks lopsided for the Rays because there is so much hope and projection and future in their half of the trade. In the Royals side there is only desperation. A desperate desire to Oriole their way into the playoff backdoor. A Pyrrhic triumph for a miserly organization bereft of joy and success for lo these last 20 years. That isn’t the reality — the Royals made their team better! They traded cheap players for expensive players! — but it is the perception. A team unable to get out of its own way, a general manager determined to save his own job to the determent of the organization’s long-term health.
The reality is the trade happened less than 12 hours ago. Wil Myers is yet to take his first big league at bat, James Shields is yet to throw his first pitch as a card-carrying member of baseball’s JV division. Assigning a grade or winner/loser is too early. A Royals post-season berth in the next two years has to erase any concerns about the marginal value of assets in this trade, right? If not, it makes me wonder what those “fans” are rooting for in the first place. All hail The Process, your one true god now.