The Kansas City Royals finally made their big move on Sunday, moving top prospect Wil Myers, along with pitching prospects Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi and third base prospect Patrick Leonard to the Rays for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis, and a player to be named later or cash, which means it won’t be a significant player.
These are the facts of the deal, and that’s where the agreement ends.
There are so many angles surrounding this deal, and even more opinions on just who got the better end of what is easily the biggest transaction of the offseason so far. While most agree that the Rays got the best of the deal, the degree to which they fleeced the Royals varies from “I understand what the Royals are doing but they gave up too much” to “I wouldn’t let Dayton Moore walk my dog.” Because of the amount of coverage these kinds of deals now receive in our Twitter-infused baseball universe, there has been so much hyperbole it needs its own hyperbole.
So before we get started breaking this thing down, let me begin with this—regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of this trade, it is not the worst trade of all time. It is not the end of the world as we know it and the Mayans are not involved. Rays GM Andrew Friedman is not a ninja, and at no point did he don a robe like Obi-Wan Kenobi, wave his hand in front of his phone, and tell Dayton Moore “these aren’t the prospects you’re looking for.” This is simply a trade. It just happens to involve the perfect storm of a top prospect, a notable pitcher, a GM with a Chuck Norris-esque reputation (Friedman) and a GM who is a constant pinata for the whipping pleasure of many internet writers (Moore). Other than that, it’s just another trade.
Now that we have that settled, let’s break this down, angle by angle:
Just what is Wil Myers?
The analysis of this deal begins with Wil Myers, which makes it tricky because, as a prospect who has yet to appear in the majors, we really don’t know for certain what he is going to be. I took a stab at the options last fall after his 37-homer season, coming up with a range from Matt Holliday to Pat Burrell as possible comps. That puts him anywhere from a 2-3 win average regular (a possibility if his contact issues from 2012 become a recurring theme) to a 6-7 win all-star (if everything falls into place). That’s a pretty wide range, and where you fall on that scale goes a long way in determining just how lopsided this trade really is. Despite the other prospects involved, Myers is clearly the centerpiece. If he turns into an all-star, and the Royals fail to make the playoffs, it will cost Royals GM Moore his job, right or wrong. If he ends up being an average player and Shields leads the Royals to the playoffs, Moore could get himself an extension.
This logic, of course, is the ownership equivalent of signing a player solely based on batting average and RBIs, which is ironic because it could determine the fate of the man who continues to employ Jeff Francoeur.
Where are the Royals? Before and after
This deal brings to light the philosophical question of when it is a good idea to give up part of your future in order to have success now. It’s not even a baseball question as much as it is a life question. Do you save more in your 20s so you can retire early in your 50s or do you have fun while you’re young enough to enjoy it? Do you invest extra in your 401K or take that once-in-a-lifetime vacation? Do you give up a potential all-star player in order to win a World Series now or stay the course you’ve been promising your fans for a decade is working?
That last one is the one we’re tackling here, and there are varying opinions on the matter, and varying degrees to the variables in each equation. For instance, the Giants gave up top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler for two months of Carlos Beltran in 2011. In a vacuum, that seems like an extreme over-pay, but at the time, Wheeler was in A-ball and the Giants were 61-44 and heading toward a realistic chance of defending their World Series title from a year prior. In need of a bat, the Giants felt like they were Carlos Beltran away from winning another title. Just because they fell slightly short doesn’t mean they were wrong in their thinking. You can argue about whether Wheeler was too high a price to take that chance, but that is a different discussion. The logic they used was sound, even if the execution was not.
The Royals, however, do not appear to be James Shields and Wade Davis away from winning a World Series. Certainly they have made some upgrades to their rotation this offseason even before Shields, but the additions of Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana both bring with them as much uncertainty as they do potential. The Royals plan to try Davis as a starter. If Guthrie and Santana pitch their very best, and Davis pans out as a starter, then they have the makings of a capable rotation, but that alone requires a lot of things to go right.
Offensively, Eric Hosmer has to bounce back from a miserable sophomore season. Mike Moustakas needs to further his development. Salvador Perez needs to stay healthy. And even if all of that happens, the Royals still have holes in right field and second base.
The sacrifice of Myers for Shields and Davis brings into question the real goal of the Royals’ front office. Is it simply to become competitive? Is it to get over .500? Is it to win the AL Central? Is it to win a World Series? Is it to save their jobs?
The Royals are better today than they were yesterday, but by how much? They should get over .500 and I’d listen to an argument that they can challenge the Tigers for the AL Central crown if everything falls in their favor. But you’d be hard pressed to convince me that this team is a serious World Series contender, even if everything falls into place perfectly.
The other prospects
At this point, I’ve attacked this discussion as though the Royals only gave up Myers in this deal. If the trade had been just Myers for Shields and Davis, it would have been a simple argument about the merits of mortgaging the future for a chance at success now. But somehow, Rays GM Andrew Friedman convinced Moore to include three additional prospects in the deal.
Jake Odorizzi was the top pitching prospect in the Royals farm system, not as much because of his ceiling but because he was one of the few who didn’t get hurt or implode over the past two seasons. Acquired from the Brewers in the Zack Greinke trade, he profiles as a number three or four starter, but one who is ready for the majors. His numbers have been sporadic in the minors, but he throws a ton of strikes and has thrown over 145 innings in each of the past two seasons, showing good durability. He should be an inexpensive back-of-the-rotation starter for the Rays by the end of 2013 or 2014, depending on when they need him.
Mike Montgomery was the Royals’ top pitching prospect before the 2011 season, and was thought to be the cream of the Royals’ impending pitching crop. The past two seasons, however, have been an unmitigated disaster, as Montgomery has posted ERAs of 5.32 and 6.07 and was sent back to Double-A in 2012. He has command issues but still has a plus left-handed arm, which makes him an intriguing possibility for the Rays, who have a much better record developing pitchers than do the Royals. At the very least, he should become a usable bullpen arm, but if he regains the track he was on a few years back, the Rays will have stolen a true gem from the Royals.
Lastly, Patrick Leonard is hardly a throw-in. In this deal, he’s just the prospect who’s furthest from the majors. A fifth-round pick in 2011, Leonard had a strong first year in the short-season Appalachian League, hitting .251/.340/.494 with 14 home runs in 62 games. He moved from shortstop in high school to third base in the pros, and has the prototypical third-base starter kit with his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame and power bat. Since he has yet to appear in full-season ball, he still has a long way to go, but there’s a lot to dream on with Leonard.
Each of these prospects has his flaws, but each also has a very usable ceiling by major league standards. This is where the majority of people seemed to see this trade go awry for the Royals.
The concept of value
For everyone who is trying to determine an immediate “winner” in this trade, there is someone else reminding them that we need to wait to see how the players and teams involved play over the years to come to fully determine who got the better end of the deal. If the Royals make a deep playoff run led by Shields and Davis, it will go a long way towards tipping the scales in their favor. If Wil Myers turns into Ryan Braun, it won’t look so good.
But that’s not exactly fair. There’s more to trades than just who wins them five years down the road.
Prospects and players each have a value to their organization. No matter which career path Myers takes, it doesn’t change his value today. The same goes for each of the other prospects the Royals gave up.
That’s the only question I care about today. In five years we can look back and determine a winner, but much of that is out of the control of the teams. What is done is done.
What makes this a good deal or a bad deal is the value today of each of the players involved. Is the current value of Myers, Odorizzi, Montgomery and Leonard (based on their potential, likelihood of each reaching that potential, and amount of years under team control) more than two seasons of James Shields and up to five years of Wade Davis?
I believe so, but the Royals apparently did not. More importantly, I believe the Royals traded their most valuable trade chip (Myers) without making enough of an improvement to join the truly competitive ranks of the American League.
The last aspect of this trade requires a step back to look at the Rays and Royals organizations as a whole. The organizations are in similar situations financially when compared to the general landscape of baseball economics. Neither is the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers, but they’re not the Marlins, either. The Royals’ highest payroll ever was around $74 million while the Rays was around $72 million, both coming in 2010. Neither plans to go much higher than that anytime soon.
The Rays have created a blueprint to compete in the big-spending AL East by taking their time developing young talent, getting the most out of them while they are cheap, then either signing them to incredibly team-friendly contracts loaded with option years or trading them when they begin to get expensive for more young, inexpensive talent. It’s a blueprint that has worked, keeping them competitive since 2008 despite turnover on their roster and the loss of many of the stars who got them to the World Series in the first place. Other organizations with similar payrolls need to be taking notes.
The Royals, from a development standpoint, are in a similar position to where the Rays were before their run of sustained success, with a young nucleus ready to take on the league. Yet they are on the receiving end of a trade from the Rays in which they jettisoned a player just as he was getting too expensive for the Rays’ tastes. If Shields is too expensive for the Rays, shouldn’t he be too expensive for the Royals as well?
I don’t know the answer to that last question, and it may not mean anything, but it’s something I thought was interesting.
As I said at the start, this trade is not the abomination many have made it out to be. The Royals’ front office people, whether out of fear of losing their own jobs or for lack of any internal options, felt it was necessary to make a deal like this to put themselves over the top. If nothing else, it gives Royals fans a reason to be excited after decades of frustration, and shows that the front office does want to do the right thing, whether this was it or not. The problems I have with the deal are two-fold—one, I don’t necessarily think that a deal like this required the inclusion of Myers, and two, I don’t know that it put them over the top of the right barrier.
The Royals farm system is quite deep (or at least it was) and Shields wasn’t the only impact starter potentially available. Jon Lester and R.A. Dickey had also been rumored to be on the trade market at different times during this offseason, and I’m sure there were plenty of others as well. It seems likely that the Royals could have come up with an impact starter by trading a large number of prospects (likely Odorizzi, Montgomery, Leonard, and perhaps a few others) and keeping Myers, similar to the package they got back from the Brewers for Greinke. There was no Wil Myers in that deal. They could have overpaid in terms of the quantity of prospects while holding on to the quality that is Myers and still upgrading their rotation. They have enough other intriguing prospects to have pulled this off.
Additionally, my biggest problem with this deal is that, while it undoubtedly makes them better, I don’t think it makes them better-enough, if that makes sense. If a team is going to part with a major-league ready top prospect of Myers’ caliber, then it needs to be in exchange for that missing piece that creates a contending team. The Royals are now a team that needs to be taken seriously by the rest of the American League, but even if everything goes their way, they’re still shy of contending.
The Royals are now all-in on the next two seasons. They can’t be done making moves. They need to expand the payroll and add a few more players—something along the lines of Kyle Lohse and Nick Swisher—to fill the remaining holes on their roster. If that happens, they may be able to contend, but as it stands now, they still feel a few players short.