The hot stove is heating up, and it’s gaining steam in Kansas City, of all places.
The Royals aren’t pursuing Josh Hamilton or B.J. Upton, or even trying to get Zack Greinke to return to his original club. But recently, there’s been some major steam behind the possibility of the Royals willingness to trade top prospect Wil Myers for a “frontline starter.” In the most recent set of rumors, those frontline starters include Tampa Bay Rays right-hander James Shields and Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester.
Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star, who wrote the article linked above, asked the most obvious question, “In effect, are two years of Shields or Lester worth six years of Myers?” D.J. Short of HardballTalk.com adds another point in his analysis of the trade rumor, saying that “trading one of the top position prospects in the game for two years of team control on Shields or Lester isn’t an ideal scenario. Not to mention that the Royals would likely have to find a way to move some salary off the books in order to acquire either of them.”
Both are valid points, but there’s another variable to that question that I haven’t heard anyone consider yet. Would the addition of Shields or Lester be enough to make the Royals competitive in the next two seasons?
Myers is one of the top five prospects in baseball. No, his impact isn’t expected to be Trout-ian in 2013, but he’s as ready for the majors as any prospect yet to make his debut. The only teams that should be actively announcing their willingness to part with such a player are teams that feel they are one piece away from being a legitimate contender, and that the prospect in discussion doesn’t fill that need. The Royals are not that team.
If the addition of Shields or Lester guaranteed the Royals one championship over the next two seasons, it would be a much tougher decision, and one that would be hard to pass up for the Royals. Ultimately, the goal of any of these moves is to win a title, so if you knew one was a sure thing, it would be worth even a prospect like Wil Myers. But unfortunately, the world doesn’t quite work that way.
The question of two years of Shields/Lester vs. six years of Myers depends a lot on what happens during those two years of Shields/Lester. If the team that gets the short (in terms of years) end of that deal is one solid starter away from being a legitimate contender, then it’s a much more difficult decision than a team floundering in last place. For example, two years of James Shields is a lot more enticing to a team like the San Francisco Giants* or the Texas Rangers than it is to the Minnesota Twins.
So the question remains, are the Royals at that point?
There’s a nice nucleus building in Kansas City, and it was thought a few years ago when the Royals had perhaps the deepest farm system in recent memory that 2012 would be the season when real progress was made at the major league level. If they hold on to Myers, 2013 will be the season when the offensive portion of blueprint will be complete, with a lineup that is becoming increasingly impressive. The nucleus of Myers, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar and Jeff Francoeur (just making sure you’re paying attention) is a legitimately dynamic lineup. The pitching depth in their farm system, however, has stagnated due to a combination of injuries and developmental steps back.
Hence trade rumors like this one.
When it comes down to it, the Royals can find a way to make Shields or Lester fit into their payroll and the move would likely make them better in the short-term. Lester and Shields are both likely to be 3-5 win starters, and it would be impressive for Myers to reach that level in 2013. But what does their addition really do to the Royals’ chances of winning next season?
I’d say no.
That’s what would really bother me about this move. It’s not the near-sightedness of the move or the idea of trading two years of success for six years of potential. It’s that the move would be done for all the wrong reasons. Is the Royals goal really just to get above .500, or is it to build a long-term winner?
Trading Myers for two years of Shields or Lester would have to greatly improve the Royals’ chances of being a legitimate contender and that strategy simply doesn’t add up. When it all boils down, the Royals are simply further than just James Shields or Jon Lester away from being a playoff-caliber team.