Whenever a team trades their best prospect and their best pitching prospect, the assumption is that they were just floored with an offer that they couldn’t refuse. After all, if Toronto’s #5, #6, and #10 prospects (according to Baseball America) could nab Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, and John Buck, what could the consensus Minor League Player of the Year, Wil Myers, be worth? And what could Myers get you if you packaged him with other top prospects from one of the deepest, most talented minor league systems in baseball? It would have to be a killing, right? Like a David Price, or a Clayton Kershaw, or a Troy Tulowitzki plus more right? Well, if you were paying attention on Sunday evening, the Royals were able to turn Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard into James Shields, Wade Davis, and a player to be named later from the Rays. Quite frankly, that’s not exactly the most inspiring haul you could possibly get. In fact, I said as much a couple of weeks ago when rumors of a Wil Myers trade first surfaced. Here’s the basic gist of what I wrote:
“So unless the Rays want to trade David Price or Matt Moore straight up or the Mariners suddenly get the urge to deal King Felix away, the Royals need to stand pat. Those are the only types of players Dayton Moore should be looking for. No Jon Lesters, no James Shields types. While they are both good pitchers, they just won’t offer enough in return to justify trading away a potential future All-Star who’s going to be on a rookie deal.”
Well not much has changed in two weeks. I still believe Myers will turn into a perennial All-Star with multiple 30 homer seasons, and the only reason to trade that type of player away is if you can get a true #1 starter. And as much as I love James Shields, he isn’t a #1 starter. He might be the best #2 in baseball, but that’s not worth the haul Kansas City is giving up. Regardless of my own personal thoughts, one thing really stands out about this trade from Kansas City’s perspective: the franchise is all-in for 2013. There is no going back now. Kansas City’s front office must truly believe that the acquisition of Shields and Davis puts them in the running for the AL Central title, otherwise there is absolutely no reason to make this deal. Meanwhile, the Rays are the team looking past 2013, even though they won 90 games in last season, and you know what? They will probably be better off for it and that’s what makes this such a fascinating trade to break down.
Kansas City Royals
Here’s an early look at the Royals’ rotation going into 2013:
- James Shields
- Jeremy Guthrie
- Ervin Santana
- Wade Davis*
- Luis Mendoza/Will Smith/Bruce Chen/Luke Hochevar
*If you think it’s odd that I included reliever Wade Davis in the Royals rotation, you would be wrong. The Royals HAVE to start Davis, who was a starter in 2010 and 2011. This trade doesn’t make any sense UNLESS you use Davis as a starter 20+ times a year, otherwise you just traded your best prospect package for 2 years of a starter and a relief pitcher. That kind of trade is indefensible. If you start Davis, at least you can get 350-400 above average innings from the duo, should the former reliever pitch well in his return to the rotation.
That rotation is a big improvement on what the Royals ran out at Kauffman just one year ago. Can that rotation make the playoffs? Unequivocally yes. Just look at the pitchers that pushed Baltimore to the playoffs in 2012. If the Royals’ bats have a bounce back season, this pitching staff appears to have enough juice to get KC over the hump and into the postseason. But can it be the driving force behind the Royals making a serious playoff run? I think most people will agree that’s doubtful. And at the price Dayton Moore paid, that answer should be a resounding “yes”. Kansas City has acquired a lot of mediocre pitching, at a fairly high cost, which means for this to work out well for the Royals, Shields has to be a #1, Davis has to pitch well, Santana has to rebound, and Guthrie has to prove last year’s 2nd half spurt was more real than mirage. That’s a lot of ifs, especially when you consider the fact that the Royals’ 12th ranked offense from a year ago doesn’t give them a lot of margin for error.
There is also the matter of whether or not the former Rays will be able to adjust to pitching in front of a defense that isn’t as forgiving and a park that isn’t as friendly. Over the last 3 seasons, Tampa Bay has ranked in the top-4 in baseball in defensive efficiency, the stat that measures how well a defense converts balls in play into outs, while the Royals have ranked in the bottom 10 in each year. It’s worth wondering how Shields and Davis will adjust when they aren’t placed in Joe Maddon’s web of shifts, and instead are faced with an entire right side of the field that is incompetent. Jeff Francoeur rated as one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball a year ago, getting to fewer balls than nearly any other fielder, while Eric Hosmer was a mess over at first. The difference between the best and worst defenses can be worth about 100 runs total to a team at the end of a season, so it would be foolish not to expect an increase in ERA from Davis and Shields.
More importantly, once this deal is finalized, Moore will have spent around half of his 2013 payroll (projected to be between $70-80 million) while using up two of his top five prospects to build this rotation. Doesn’t that seem like too high a cost? Doesn’t that price seem a little ridiculous to build a rotation that is probably middle of the pack in the American League? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have spent $15 million on a 4 or 5 year deal to nab a free agent pitcher (Anibal Sanchez anyone?) while holding on to Myers and Odorizzi, thus building around them as well? Shields is a very good pitcher, one of my personal favorites, but the gap between him and Sanchez or Edwin Jackson isn’t anywhere near as large as the gap between Myers and Francoeur will be in a year or two. Hell, there is a very, very good chance that Myers is already significantly better than Francoeur this very moment. In fact, I’d bet just about everything I have on it.
Myers is one of the most valuable commodities in baseball and it was very reasonable to see how adding him to the Royals’ roster in 2013 would have improved the team as much as anything else. And that’s doubly so when you consider the player he would be replacing, Jeff Francoeur, was the worst player in the Majors a year ago. If he stayed in Kansas City all Myers had to do was not be the worst player in baseball, a reasonable expectation for a player of his pedigree. That would have been an improvement. And when you take some extra time to consider the fact that players with Myers skill set tend to develop into All-Stars and MVP winners more often than not. Just look back at some of the former Baseball America Minor League Players of the Year. Aside from Delmon Young, Jeff Francis and one or two others, that list reads like an All-Star lineup all on its own. Myers, while unproven, was completely ready to step in a fill the massive crater left in the wake of Francoeur a year ago, and would have undoubtedly given the Royals a couple of extra wins, even if he struggled.
Dayton Moore appears to be a man running out of time. The Royals fans were promised wins in 2013, and that’s what Moore is trying to deliver, despite the fact that he might be mortgaging that house, the car, and half the family. His long-term approach has been completely scrapped in favor of a do-whatever-it-takes-as-long-as-it’s-cheap approach. It feels fairly safe to say that he will probably be out of the job if this rotation doesn’t lead to at least a .500 season, but that shouldn’t be the goal. There aren’t any trophies given out for winning 82 games. If the goal was to build a stable long-term winner at Kauffman, than Moore just deviated a whole hell of a lot from the plan.
Tampa Bay Rays
If there is one thing all general managers in baseball should know it’s this: you probably shouldn’t make a deal with Andrew Friedman. If he calls with an offer just hang up. The Rays are too smart and you are probably going to end up selling your best prospect, your best pitching prospect, and the 12 years of combined team control they have for a reliever and a #2 starter in his early 30’s with 2 years left on his contract. Just look at what Friedman had to say about the trade:
“We’re constantly working to balance the present and the future, and always trying to thread the needle,” Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “As an organization we rely more on the contributions of our young players basically than anyone else in baseball, and with this trade we’re hoping to replenish our system and add a lot of players we feel can help us sustain this run of success that we’ve had for the last five years.”
The man gets it. Friedman understands his franchise’s limitations. The Rays don’t have the finances to chase down the top free agents. It’s difficult for them to sign their own free agents most of the time. So he has to continuously churn his roster over while threading in new talent from the minor leagues. Friedman knew the Rays weren’t going to be able to keep James Shields after his contract runs out in 2014. Tampa is going to be priced out on the open market. So what does Friedman do? He finds the biggest sucker in the room, and takes not only his best prospect
(and maybe the best player in the KC organization), but he takes one of his best pitching prospects as well.
Myers is easily the most well-known prospect out of the quartet, but a couple of the other players the Rays are receiving are notable as well. Jake Odorizzi was the Royals Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2012 after going 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA split between Double and Triple-A. His fastball sits in the low 90s and he mixes a solid change-up and decent curve in around it. He’s been a bit susceptible to the long ball in the minors, so pitching in Tropicana Field should fit him nicely. The other notable name in the trade is Mike Montgomery, a fire-balling righty with plenty of command issues. His nasty curveball and upper 90s heat have scouts drooling over what he can become, but until he gets his walk rate and ERA below 5, he’s a project in need of minor league seasoning.
As for the major league product, the Rays pitching staff should be more than capable of surviving the loss of Shields. They have a bona fide ace in David Price, a flame-throwing lefty in Matt Moore who may turn into an ace himself, a good mid-rotation arm in Jeremy Hellickson, and a stable of under-25 pitchers to restock the Major League team in a moments notice. Chris Archer and Alex Cobb will probably start the year in the rotation, with Odorizzi in the minors for more seasoning. It’s a testament to Tampa Bay’s depth that they can trade away a guy like James Shields and still have one of the 2 or 3 best rotations in the American League.
As for the offense, Wil Myers is exactly what the doctor ordered. Tampa Bay will almost assuredly let him sit in the minors for the month of April while his arbitration clock resets and once it does, Myers will probably head straight to St. Pete where a starting job should await. His power bat should fit in perfectly as protection for Evan Longoria in the Rays lineup, which is starting to look downright decent after ranking 11th in the AL in offense a year ago. If Longoria can stay healthy for most of the 2013 season and Myers can put together a Rookie of the Year campaign, the Rays are going to be damn tough to beat in the AL East.
The future looks even brighter for the Rays as well. Myers, Cobb, Archer, Hellickson, Price, Longoria, Zobrist, and Matt Joyce are all locked up through at least 2015, giving the Rays a nucleus to build around that is unrivaled in baseball. Andrew Friedman, you’ve done it yet again.