Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: The good, the bad & the ugly from the Royals trade
by Jeff Herr,posted Dec 10 2012 4:54PM
In a vacuum, this is quite possibly the best thing the Royals could have done. Last night, the Royals traded Wil Myers (teams #1 prospect, and top 5 prospect in all of baseball), Jake Odorizzi (another top 5 organizational prospect), Mike Montgomery (former #1 organizational prospect, who regressed hard last season), and Patrick Leonard (recent draftee who spent all of 2012 in rookie ball, where he played quite well), to Tampa Bay for starter James Shields (otherwise known as “Big Game James”) and starter/reliever Wade Davis.
For 2013, this is a fantastic deal that makes the Royals better. Wil Myers likely would have been in AAA Omaha until May, and probably would have had some rookie struggles in his first year as most players do. Jake Odorizzi had a somewhat difficult time in an incredibly small sample size in the majors last season, and he never projected to be a pitcher close to what Shields is. Montgomery isn’t the prospect he was two years ago and Patrick Leonard may amount to something but was probably a throw in.
Shields got his nickname for a reason. He is coming off two seasons in which he pitched an average of 238 innings, had a combined 3.15 ERA, won 31 games combined, and struck out an average of 224 batters per year, nearly one per inning. His ERA+ in 2011 was 134 and in 2012 it was 108, and has been above 100 (which is league average) for five of the last six years. By just about any measure, Shields is an excellent, dependable pitcher who deserves to be at the front of a rotation and would be on any contending team (as he was on the Rays last year).
Wade Davis is a pitcher who has started 64 games in the majors and has a career ERA below 4.00. Now, it bears mentioning that his ERA is helped by a 2012 ERA of 2.43 in which he was used in relief. 70.1 of his 458.1 major league innings came in relief and have helped bolster his statistics. The Royals believe he can be a starter and will slot him in opening day. At worse, he projects to be a solid innings eater that will probably be better than the alternative of Luke Hochevar/Luis Mendoza/Bruce Chen.
Another not-insignificant note was that there was also a “player to be named later or cash.” Now, lots of times the PTBNL is a recent draft pick. Draft picks can’t be traded within a year of being drafted so if a player from the Rays 2012 draft was agreed upon, we won’t know until June. If it was one of their top draft picks then the Royals could have another solid piece as part of this trade. It will be something fans most definitely need to keep their eyes open for.
That is the good.
The Myers that this team gave up is the player we thought he would be to this point. He is the player the Royals paid well over slot for in 2009 to draft. He was minor league player of the year in 2012, a prestigious list that includes players like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and current Royal Alex Gordon. He hit .314/.387/.554 with 37 homeruns and 109 RBIs. For a team that has changed their philosophy to “hit as many homeruns as we can or pop out trying” a young power hitter sure seemed like he would be perfect for this team.
Odorizzi was one of the key pieces to the Zack Greinke trade. While he wasn’t developing into a pitcher like Shields he was expected to eventually be a part of the rotation in 2013. Odorizzi would probably settle into the three or four spot of a rotation and give a lot of good quality innings. If that turns out to be true, he will be doing it in Tampa Bay and not here in KC.
Montgomery was once the golden boy, pitching prospect of this organization. A 6’4” lefty who threw gas and had a very good changeup with a big league curve seemed destined for stardom. Some disagreements with the Royals, setbacks in his development, and who knows what else has caused Montgomery to regress considerably and had him in AA at the end of 2012, when he started 2011 thinking he might break camp with the team. It was widely known the developmental issues Monty had with the Royals. I for one will be incredibly curious to see if the Rays can fix him with their stellar track record in developing pitchers.
Leonard is a player who I admittedly know very little about but have heard good things. Probably a throw-in to the deal but still another prospect gone from this system that is deep enough to absorb it.
That’s the bad.
While 2013 looks brighter, and maybe even 2014 if you squint hard enough, that’s where this ends. In this deal James Shields only has two years left on his current contract. If he pitches like the Royals need him to for this trade to be a victory, then they won’t be able to afford him in 2015 and he will walk. This could be the same time that Myers is making league minimum and making his way to the MVP discussion.
For the record, I don’t think that Myers will be quite that good, but I do think he has a better than zero chance of being a very good player in the major leagues. The problem here is the flaw in the Royals thinking and their screwy logic.
It has come out over the past couple of weeks that the Royals have a “soft cap” of roughly $70M and that owner David Glass would give $76M in order to make a necessary move. Well, he has put his money where his mouth is and with the addition of Shields and Davis are over that amount right now. However, they are mostly tapped out and any additions to this team will be on the very cheap.
The Royals talk about their “soft cap.” They constantly lament the unfair structure of baseball and how its harder for the Royals to compete because they can’t spend $150M+ on their major league payroll. This is a fair argument. Yet, they just traded away cheap options that they have cost controlled for the next six to seven years who could have helped this team.
The most glaring weakness this shows is that the Royals didn’t have to be in this position. The Royals made this trade with the Rays because the Rays have a surplus of pitching talent. They could give up Shields and still have one of the better rotations in the majors. This is because they have developed their own pitching. The Rays have a very measured and distinct philosophy on how they develop pitchers. It has worked and the dividends continue to pay. The Rays are at the front of the pack when it comes to this arena.
The Royals are not.
As an organization the Royals have only developed one pitcher in the last 20 years (Zack Greinke) and refuse to accept new methods of development and incorporate them. As a result, players like Mike Montgomery have regressed and nobody else has amounted to much since Dayton Moore became the General Manager in 2006 (Danny Duffy’s fate is still TBD).
With the incredibly out of whack economics of baseball the Royals are at an economic disadvantage. The problem is, that doesn’t immediately equate to failure. The Rays are in a worse position economically but have been to the playoffs in three of the last five years, and competed in the other two. They have some of the best young talent in the majors and continue to get better. Instead of crying about their situation, they have found every advantage they could and exploited it. It’s no surprise that Andrew Friedman comes off looking good in this trade and Moore comes off looking like a desperate man clinging to the last thread of job security.
The Royals too often lean on their economic position as an excuse. There are no excuses in sports. Teams like the Rays, the Brewers, the Orioles and the A’s have shown it can be done. Flipping prospects or players can be part of it. The problem is, it needs to be for that last remaining piece, or for more pieces than you’re giving up. The Royals got neither.
Will the Royals be able to compete in the weakest division in baseball? Probably. Does this make them an 85 win team? There’s a good chance of that, too. What it doesn’t do is most likely put them in the playoffs. There’s still a good chance they finish 10 games behind the Tigers. But with 85 wins and second place finish, Moore keeps his job. And the cycle repeats.
Taken by itself for 2013, this is a solid move. But it also underscores the Royals inability to cope with their position in the marketplace of baseball and exploit the advantages they are allowed. While trading prospects is one of those advantages, this move wreaked more of desperation than advantageous play.
Shields arriving in KC doesn’t hasten the development of Kyle Zimmer, John Lamb, Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, or any other of the young pitchers still left in this organization. He also doesn’t make the problems that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas has last year go away. He doesn’t make Jeff Francoeur better and he doesn’t play a mean second base.
Many people who advocate the trade do so stating that Myers “isn’t a sure thing,” while at the same time extolling the virtues of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas who are only a marginally better bet to become all-stars. The Royals got better last night but their end game is to get to the playoffs and I don’t know that this move does it. I will gladly eat my words on this, but until then this trade isn’t good or bad, it’s something else.