The Royals free agency spiel has been much maligned by the masses, as many who have been singing the simple sentiment of— “all we need is a pitcher and we can go to the playoffs!!”— have found out that there’s not much other than a few scraps available in that department.
I am one of those.
Other than C.J. Wilson, I really don’t think there is a pitcher worth going after in the free agent market. So it is time to begin examining some options that the Royals have in the trade market.
James Shields: Complete-game-James is a very attractive trade possibility. The nickname isn’t fabricated. Shields threw nearly 250 innings this season (249.1) in 33 starts and **11** were complete games. That is absolutely absurd.
Shields is due to make a reasonable $7 million in 2012 and has a $9 million club option in 2013 and a $12 million club option in 2014. He is also a viable option in the trade market considering the Rays—surprise, surprise—have a more than capable young arm in Matt Moore waiting in the wings to replace him.
Many would argue that Shields is not an “ace” but it depends on how you define it. Shields ranked ninth in all of baseball in ERA (2.82), and in WHIP with a 1.04 and his 249.1 innings pitched was second only to the AL Cy Young, Justin Verlander. Including Verlander, the only pitchers that ranked ahead of him in those categories are names such as Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jered Weaver and Clayton Kershaw—all of whom are highly regarded as “aces.”
So yes, I believe that Shields is an ace and you would be getting him at a price that is cheaper—salary wise—than you paid for Gil Meche. Now, to be fair, there is the possibility that Shields’ 2011 season was an anomaly. Considering he posted the best ERA, IP, SO and WHIP of his career—actually, quite frankly he shattered his previous best in all those categories. For perspective, his ERA in 2010 was 5.18, he threw his lowest innings total of his career (203.1) and he gave up the most home runs of his career (34).
Essentially, Shields bounced back from his worst season as a professional by putting together his best season as a professional. Therefore, yes, there is pause in trading highly touted prospects for a guy that has shown one great year as a pro. But, at the age of 29 it’s not foolish to expect similar output by him for the next 3-5 years, which falls right in line with the Royals’ long-term goals.
Shields, in my opinion, would fetch two top prospects and possibly a mid-level prospect. The Rays likely needs would be first base and left field, assuming they don’t bring back Casey Kotchman and B.J. Upton is traded—slotting Desmond Jennings to center.
If the Royals were to pursue Shields, the first name the Rays would likely bring up is Wil Myers—who is believed to now be the Royals’ best prospect. To me, this is an automatic no. You have to understand the Royals WILL have to give up prized possessions, however, Myers is not one that I would let get away. He will be a middle of the order guy someday (I liken him to a Michael Young) and I hope the organization feels the same way, despite his struggles at the plate this season.
So if not Myers, then who? Pitching in return is always an option and the Royals have an abundance of it in the system, but it seems somewhat counterproductive to do so when that is the main need of the ball club. You could package Chris Dwyer in a deal, but he would not be the centerpiece.
In this particular scenario, I think it would be time for the Royals to seriously examine the clutter in the outfield. Is Melky Cabrera your guy or is it going to be Lorenzo Cain? Both would be valuable trade pieces for several teams. My preference would be to deal Cabrera and hold onto Cain. I think Cabrera holds more value in the trade market and I also think his 2011 season is the best season he’ll ever have. I’m not as big of a Melky-hater as other bloggers around these parts, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect the Melky of 2011 year-in and year-out. Additionally, I think Cain is at least equal to Melky offensively and vastly superior defensively.
Thus, the package for Shields so far is Melky Cabrera and Chris Dwyer—that ain’t gonna cut it.
The next part of the package has to be a high-end prospect, then I think it’s an acceptable deal for both parties. That’s where the Royals have to ask themselves how highly they value Mike Moustakas. Is he the guy at third base? If so, then rising star and third-base prospect Cheslor Cuthbert is the answer as a final trade piece. Cuthbert is only 18 years old and is currently the poster child for the benefits of spending money in Latin America, which the Royals have made a concerted effort doing in recent years.
Cuthbert plays third base and that spot is currently occupied by Evan Longoria, who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But it’s Cuthbert’s bat that is coveted, not his glove. He could potentially slot over to shortstop or even second base down the road if he were traded to the Rays.
I think Cuthbert is what would get this deal done. A package of Cabrera/Cuthbert/Dwyer for a frontline starting pitcher.
Many would fret at having to give away Cuthbert, including me, because he’s one of the more promising prospects in the system and has potential to be a star. However, Royals fans have to be receptive to the concept of giving away pieces of “The Greatest Farm System in the History of Farm Systems” because, after all, that is part of the reason why you develop a great farm system. Because, believe or not, only about a third of the Royals top 20 prospects will be successful major league players—that’s not a guess, those are historical facts. It’s Dayton Moore and the rest of the front office’s responsibility to assess which of those 20 will be stars and make sure and hold on to them.
This isn’t a Brewers situation. This isn’t THE year to make a world series run. The organization has set itself up nicely for sustained success. If they can get Shields at a price they feel is reasonable, then they have to do it, because that puts you in the thick of the 2012 AL Central title hunt. But they shouldn’t sell the farm and sacrifice long-term success for short-lived glory.
Glad it’s their decision and not mine.
In a later post, I’ll look at examining another pitcher the Royals should look to pursue.