Did Trade Make Royals Contenders in 2013?
Over the weekend, the Kansas City Royals acquired right-handed starter James Shields and reliever Wade Davis from the Rays in exchange for four prospects: outfielder Wil Myers, right-handed starter Jake Odorizzi, left-handed starter Mike Montgomery, and third baseman Patrick Leonard.
Overwhelming reaction to the trade was negative – as it should be. James Shields is a terrific starter – a consistent innings eater (over 200 IP every year since 2007) and strike-out machine (8+ K/9 each of the last 3 years). But he’s only controlled for two years – not worth the surrender of the team’s best positional and pitching prospect, among others, even with Wade Davis included. With 6 cost-controlled years a piece, Myers and Odorizzi could well be terrorizing the AL East well beyond 2014, when James Shields has left Kansas City.
Wil Myers entered 2012 ranked as the country’s #28 prospect, according to Baseball America, and only improved his stock by hitting .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs and 109 RBI between AA and AAA last season. The 22-year old will likely be the Rays opening day right fielder.
Jake Odorizzi, also 22, is best known as the key piece of the Brewers’ Zack Greinke acquisition before the 2011 season. He was ranked just inside the top-70 by Baseball America each of the past two seasons; he currently has more strikeouts than innings pitched in the minors and pitched well enough between AA and AAA (15-5, 3.03 ERA, 1.252 WHIP, 8.4 K/9) to earn his Major League debut this past year.
Mike Montgomery, 23, has also been highly regarded in prospect ratings, but has yet to put it together at higher levels in the minor leagues, posting atrocious numbers the last couple years, reportedly struggling with command of his fastball. Patrick Leonard, 19, was taken in the fifth round by the Royals last year and posted an .833 OPS in rookie ball; it will be interesting to see if he changes positions with superstar Evan Longoria being locked up with the Rays through 2023.
In order to make that trade in the first place, one has to assume that Royals General Manager Dayton Moore believed the Royals had to be in must-win mode for the next two years – a position he might be compelled to take given his current contract, which expires after 2014. Moore has been on the job in Kansas City since 2006 and although he has yet to build a winning Major League team, he has been heralded for building a robust farm system stocked with blue chip prospects – some of which, he must now feel, can be extended to acquire the veteran stardom to bring playoff baseball back to the City of Fountains.
This raises an important question: does the acquisition of Shields and Davis make the Royals contenders?
In 2012, the Kansas City Royals finished 16 games back of the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central, going 72-90. Their Pythagorean W/L, based on the number of runs they scored and gave up was 74-88, and by team WAR they should have been about 75-87. In other words, it’s not as if they underperformed their statistical predictors or did abnormally poorly in 1-run games (27-26) or extra-inning games (8-7). They were a mediocre team that finished third in a very weak division.
There were some bright spots of course. For the second straight year, left fielder Alex Gordon justified his team’s faith in him, hitting .294/.368/.455 with a league-best 51 doubles and another gold glove. DH Billy Butler set career highs with a .313 batting average, .510 slugging percentage, 140 OPS+, 29 home runs, and 107 RBI while earning his first all-star selection. Alcides Escobar made great strides, hitting .293 with 30 doubles and 30 stolen bases while playing his customary outstanding defense at shortstop. Finally, the bullpen was rock-solid all the way around; while this is difficult to project going forwards, it’s a nice advantage to have as it can win a lot of close games – see the 2012 Baltimore Orioles for proof.
All in all, however, the team was simply poor in every single aspect of their game. Their 676 runs scored ranked 12th in the American League. Their 4.30 ERA ranked them 10th . Their fielding, with a couple exceptions was poor. While those bright spots exist, the team was not deep enough to reasonably contend, as evidenced by the 603 plate appearances foolishly given to Jeff Francoeur or the 438 split between Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt.
It’s easy to see how they might make a run. Shields solidifies the top of the rotation as the legitimate ace he was in 2011 – and not just an innings-eater. Newly acquired Ervin Santana returns to his pre-2012 form as a rock-solid #2. Youngsters Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas break-out after mightily struggling in their first full year together, while Salvador Perez picks up where he left off. Jeremy Gutherie pitches like he did as a 29-year old (four years ago). In addition, the Tigers and White Sox both struggle with injuries, and the Royals manage to over-perform their expected W/L like the Orioles of this past year or the 2007 Diamondbacks.
If every single one of those things were to happen, the Royals would win about 90 games and probably the division.
The problem with this line of thought is easy to spot, however: such optimism can be derived from about 27 other teams. This is, of course, a terrible way to run a ball-club – mortgaging your future on the chance that good things will all fall into place. You have to do what is actually likely to be best for your club, with a clear vision of the future.
Dayton Moore took a chance on making a playoff run right now. But the overwhelming likelihood is that he sealed his own coffin.