So many reactions. So many opinons. So much chaos.
The Royals and Rays put themselves into the spotlight today after their Sunday night seven-player trade with Wil Myers and James Shields as the principle players involved. Everyone was talking about it. National writers, local writers, people on Twitter and Facebook. All of baseball. Reactions have ranged from apoplectic to ecstatic to hyperbolic. Some have doubled down on their dislike, some have started to accept the deal.
I’m honestly still sorting it out for myself.
To me, the trade hinges on two questions – 1) Is Wil Myers for real? and 2) Are the Royals actually close?
If both are true, then both teams come out strong in the trade, but in different ways. The Rays get to re-load their farm system with players with gobs of service time left who should contribute. The Royals get an honest-to-God #1 starter who can take the mound on opening day and who could, if it comes to it, start a deciding game at the end of the year.
If 1 is true and 2 is not, the Royals lose. Big time. Wil Myers, as Rany Jazayerli pointed out, had the most homers in the high minor leagues by a 21-year-old since 1963. While doing so, he also hit .300 and walked at an acceptable rate. Yes, he struck out a lot, but it was a conscious decision to get more power and production at the expense of some contact. Myers has been regarded as a great judge of the strike zone who’s almost too picky, so he got more aggressive and homered 37 times last year. Many thought he could be a 25-30 homer guy in the majors and had the ability to hit for average as well. That’s a great player (although it seems a lot more skeptics have crept out of the woodwork in the last 24 hours). If the Royals aren’t that close, then they just tossed away a potential All-Star for a shot at 81 wins. Remember, this was a 72 win team in 2012, so to get to the 88 wins that won the AL Central last year, they have to come up with 16 more than last year. I’m not sure that Shields does that.
If 1 isn’t true but 2 is, the Royals win. I’m a believer in Myers, but can’t deny that I don’t know how he’ll hit major league pitching because he’s never faced major league pitching. While I don’t think it’s fair to say “well he’s just a prospect” because he’s not just ANY prospect. He was the Minor League Player of the Year. He’s hit at every level. But let’s say he flounders, or he only ends up in the .280 range with 15 homers per year. That’s still a player of value, but not a middle of the order hitter. Tropicana Field isn’t a homer-friendly park, so maybe that costs him five homers a year. If the Royals turn out to be one big pitcher away, things break the right way and they make the playoffs, most would consider it worth it after the long-term drought.
If neither are true, then it’s a wash. Everyone got up in arms over nothing.
On the surface then, both teams got quality in return and I think the Royals gave up more quality and quality players in a situation more friendly for their new teams. If Wil Myers struggles in 2013, the Rays have him for 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and (if they’re smart) 2019 and he can turn it around at any point there. The Royals have basically two years to get their value out of this trade. Shields is good, but he can’t do it alone.
Of course, the trade isn’t just Shields and Myers. The Royals shipped off their top prospect in Myers, a top pitching prospect in Jake Odorizzi, and a pitcher who twice was their top overall prospect in Mike Montgomery (along with Burlington third baseman Patrick Leonard) and got a speculative Wade Davis back, who they say they’ll put in the rotation. Odorizzi looked great in Wilmington and hit some rough patches in Northwest Arkansas and Omaha, but generally, he’s regarded as a middle rotation pitcher, which can have value, especially when he’s playing at the league minimum (or close) for three years. Montgomery gives the Rays immense upside to play with. He’s the lottery ticket. If he figures out his command, the Rays have a good left-handed arm at their disposal. They’ve turned out a lot of great pitching lately (which is what puts them in the position to trade Shields and Davis in the first place) and their philosophy is more in line with Montgomery’s throwing program as well.
That feels like a lot, and I think is what drove much of the “worst trade ever” discussion.
But it’s still not a great trade. I’ve said before that the Royals had options. They were in on Ryan Dempster, who has had success just as Shields has. They added payroll that bumped them up to an estimated $84 million, well over their reported $70 million cap. Why not sign another starter out there, even overpaying a bit, to allow yourself to keep Myers. I’d rather the Royals pay too much money than with too many prospects. When you consider that Shields only has two years left on his deal and is into his thirties, while the Rays get the full extent of their new acquisitions’ playing time (save a couple weeks of Odorizzi), and it’s troubling. This is the affordable talent the Royals were after when rebuilding the farm system.
Sure, the Royals could challenge for the playoffs, but there are so many factors in play. They have about two years to do so, unless a prospect really develops quickly. They’ll have to replace Jeff Francoeur in 2014 and the farm system’s next best outfield prospects are still in the lower levels (Bubba Starling and Jorge Bonifacio). They’ll have to roll the dice on a free agent or make another trade to replace Francoeur or hand it over to David Lough, who they’ve never seen to trust, or move Cain over from center field to play him in right with Jarrod Dyson in center. Those options aren’t ideal and create some question marks. The Royals second base situation is still murky. The other starters in the rotation have to be good as well. If Jeremy Guthrie turns into an average pitcher like he’s usually been or gets worse, if Ervin Santana gets hurt or doesn’t regain form, if Bruce Chen or Luke Hochevar continue to stink or Luis Mendoza turns back into a pumpkin, it won’t matter who’s at the top of the rotation. The Royals are also counting on Wade Davis to be a capable starter, when he found great success out of the bullpen last year after lackluster results as a starter.
The Royals also have to avoid significant injuries, regression from Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, continued struggles from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Salvador Perez has to stay healthy. And the defense has to be much more efficient (Rany cited a measurement that the Rays rated much better than the Royals at actually converting plays into outs). Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino can’t suffer setbacks and had better be strong when they return after Tommy John surgery.
That’s a lot of things that have to go right for the Royals. It’s a lot of things that have to go wrong, too. They’ll probably land in the middle somewhere, which just doesn’t feel like it’ll be enough.
But 2014, maybe that’s the good year. The Royals make a jump from 72 wins to 84 or so in 2013, then build off of that success in 2014. If that’s the case, they have to be in front or close by mid-season, or else Shields is a candidate to get flipped for more prospects. The Royals would be back where they’d started, but without Myers, without Shields, without Francoeur and two years farther into Hosmer and Moustakas’s service time. In that scenario, the Royals had better hope that Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura are ready because they’ll be the best chances for pitching success out of the system.
It’s a big gamble. It’s new territory. I could see the argument that we may value our own prospects more than necessary, but in the case of Myers and Odorizzi, they’re real prospects, regarded by many as real contributors in the future. It’s not overrating Orlando Calixte because most of the news on him will tout his abilities to point him out to everyone.
This trade improves the Royals rotation, but it doesn’t do enough. Even with Shields, the Royals are gambling on a lot to go right when so much has gone wrong for so long. The clock is ticking. I hope I’m pleasantly surprised.