Posted December 10, 2012

Myers-for-Shields trade won’t be enough for Royals — or Rays

James Shields, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, Wil Myers
Wil Myers hit 37 home runs in the minors in 2012 but there are questions about whether he can hit like that in the majors. (John Sleezer/MCT/Landov)

Wil Myers hit 37 home runs in the minors in 2012 but there are questions about whether he can hit like that in the majors. (John Sleezer/MCT/Landov)

For the past few weeks, the Royals have explored the trade market for top prospect Wil Myers, a 21-year-old outfielder who won Baseball America‘s Minor League Player of the Year honors in 2012. Rather than slot Myers into their lineup in rightfield as planned in 2013, general manager Dayton Moore decided he provided the team’s best chance to upgrade a rotation that ranked 11th in the league with a 5.01 ERA and 13th in innings (890) and quality start rate (43 percent), with an eye towards contending in a perennially weak AL Central division. On Sunday night, Moore pulled the trigger on a six-player deal, sending Myers and three other prospects to Tampa Bay in exchange for starters James Shields and Wade Davis.

While the trade isn’t a complete mismatch in terms of assets exchanged, it represents a fundamental misreading of the Royals’ current station. Coming off a 72-90 campaign, their 17th losing season in the past 18 years, they simply weren’t a front-of-the-rotation starter away from contention even when one factors in the other improvements they’ve made this winter, or the ones they can expect from a nucleus of young talent that itself serves as a reminder that success isn’t 100 percent guaranteed for Myers. Instead, the move expresses Moore’s desperation for positive results at the major league level. While he has shown a knack for drafting and developing talent that can light up prospect lists, his inability to build a competent and competitive team — which hasn’t been helped by tight-fisted owner David Glass — has resulted in a .431 winning percentage during his six full seasons on the job, the majors’ second-worst record.

On the other side of the table, the Rays used their bountiful pitching depth to take advantage of Moore’s plight. While replacing Shields’ 200-plus innings of high-quality work is hardly trivial, the trade allows executive VP of baseball operations (read: general manager) Andrew Friedman to put the finishing touches on a retooled outfield that lost B.J. Upton to free agency, while at the same time providing another rotation candidate in the form of Jake Odorizzi, a 22-year-old righty acquired from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke deal who made two starts for Kansas City after a strong year split between Double-A and Triple-A. With the money saved from Shields’ contract, the budget-minded Rays can spend to upgrade at first base (the recently-signed James Loney is replacement level dreck) and DH.

Shields, who turns 31 this month, is a durable starter who misses bats but falls short of being a true ace. He has averaged 222 innings a year over the past six seasons, fifth in the majors behind CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez. Even so, his 3.80 ERA during that span, compiled while pitching half his games in pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field, isn’t in the same league as the other four, all of whom have ERAs between 3.06 and 3.34 during that span. Among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings in that six-year period, Shields’ 108 ERA+ is just 22nd out of 37. His 2012 campaign was representative of his established performance level: a 3.52 ERA (108 ERA+) in 227 2/3 innings (third in the league) with 8.8 strikeouts per nine (seventh) and a 3.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio (sixth). After adjusting for ballpark and defense, that performance was worth only 2.2 Wins Above Replacement, using Baseball-Reference.com’s version. He’s signed for $10.25 million for 2013, with a club option of at least $12 million for 2014, a relative bargain given the going rate for such workhorses; escalator clauses have bumped up his 2013 salary from $9 million (as initially reported here) and are expected to boost his 2014 salary as well.

The Rays missed the playoffs in 2012 with Shields as their number two starter behind AL Cy Young winner David Price, and ahead of Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. That’s part of the folly of envisioning the Royals as contenders, as Dayton Moore’s offseason work thus far has left his revamped rotation with Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie as his second and third starters, with Davis (whom the Rays didn’t even have room for in their 2012 rotation) and holdover Bruce Chen rounding out the starting five.

Santana, who turns 30 on Wednesday was torched for a 5.16 ERA in pitcher-friendly Anaheim last year, and his 4.33 career mark compiled since 2005 washes out to a 97 ERA+, three percent worse than league average; the Royals took on $12 million of his $13 million salary in acquiring him via trade. Guthrie, 33, split his season between Colorado (6.35 ERA) and KC (3.16 ERA). His overall 4.76 mark was his worst since 2009, while his career mark of 4.28 is just three percent better than league average; he just signed a three-year deal worth $25 million. The 27-year-old Davis’ career 3.94 ERA, complied via two full seasons and a cup of coffee in the rotation plus a year of short relief, is two percent worse than league average; he’s guaranteed $7.6 million over the next two years, with three club options totaling $25 million for the three years after that, so if he can stick in the rotation and eat innings, he’s a reasonable bargain. Chen, 36, was lit for a 5.07 ERA last year and has a career 4.60 mark, six percent below league average; he’ll make $4.5 million in 2013. Also in the picture — for no good reason at all — is Luke Hochevar, the 2006 overall number one pick who delivered a 5.73 ERA last year, and is at 5.39 for his career (22 percent worse than league average); rather than nontender him, the Royals will pay him at least $4 million out of a payroll that may not exceed $70 million.

That’s not a rotation that can win a weak division, not with the Tigers bringing Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister to the table as well as a Miguel Cabrera/Prince Fielder-driven lineup that’s been upgraded by the arrival of Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez. Not with the White Sox fronted by Chris Sale and Jake Peavy, however volatile they and other key players — Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, Gavin Floyd, for example — have proven to be in recent years. Even with a nucleus that includes DH Billy Butler, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and left fielder Alex Gordon, catcher Salvador Perez and shortstop Alcides Escobar, Kansas City ranked 12th in the league in scoring at 4.17 runs per game in 2012, and while the Royals can reasonably hope for improvement from Hosmer (who hit dismal .232/.304/.359) and Moustakas (.242/.296/.412), they can just as reasonably expect falloff from Perez (.301/.328/.471) and Escobar (.293/.331/.390), who exceeded expectations offensively. Barring another move, K.C. must now also contend with Jeff Francouer as its starting rightfielder, coming off a .235/.287/.378 season, instead of Myers.

Myers is no guarantee for stardom, but he does have a reasonable chance at attaining it. Drafted out of a North Carolina high school as a catcher, he reached No. 10 on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list prior to the 2011 season, but poor receiving skills led the Royals to move him to the outfield, and he lost a month due to a knee laceration that became infected. He dropped to 28th on BA’s list for 2012 but enjoyed a breakout, hitting .314/.387/.600 with 37 homers split between Double-A (35 games, 13 homers, .343/.414/.731) and Triple-A Omaha (99 games, 24 homers .304/.378/.554), with the latter portion compiled as the second-youngest regular in the Pacific Coast League. One concern is that he won’t be able to maintain that impressive but unprecedented burst of power. As Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks wrote:

“[A] Jurickson Profar or Dylan Bundy he is not… Myers doesn’t project to be a superstar, at least as far as I’m concerned. Again, highly skilled and one hell of a prospect, but the offensive tools aren’t so crazy that Myers was considered untouchable or a slam-dunk MVP candidate at the highest level. A realistic projection might peg him as a first-division talent or perhaps as an All-Star in his peak years. The tools aren’t so loud or the holes not so small, however, that Myers will develop into the next Mike Trout or hit the ball so hard and so often that he can cure incurable diseases with his offensive stroke.

The Rays, who won 90 games — their lowest total since 2009 — but missed the playoffs in 2012, may well start Myers in the minors in 2013 so as to game his service clock and get an extra year of club control. Once he does arrive, he’ll slot into rightfield alongside Desmond Jennings in center (sliding over from left with the loss of Upton) and Matt Joyce in left, with superutilityman Ben Zobrist and Brandon Guyer likely to contribute as well. Minus Shields, their rotation now shapes up with the 27-year-old Price, the 23-year-old Moore (who entered his rookie season ranked second on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list between Bryce Harper and Mike Trout but disappointed slightly with a 3.81 ERA), and the 25-year-old Hellickson (the 2011 Rookie of the Year, coming off a 3.10 ERA), with 29-year-old Jeff Niemann (a former first-round pick limited to eight starts in 2012 due to a broken leg and a rotator cuff strain), 25-year-old Alex Cobb, 24-year-old Chris Archer (who put up a 3.60 ERA while striking out 9.8 per nine at Triple-A Durham) and Odorizzi (who delivered a 3.03 ERA while striking out 8.4 per nine in 145 1/3 innings across two levels) battling for the back two slots. Both Archer (89th) and Odorizzi (68th) came into last year as top 100 prospects, and neither pitched his way off those lists. That’s a rotation (and a lineup) that should be able to compete in the AL East, where the Yankees and Red Sox remain works in progress and both the Orioles and Blue Jays still have to demonstrate staying power.

The Rays also obtained two other players in the trade, pitcher Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard. Montgomery is a 23-year-old lefty who was a supplemental first-round pick in 2008. He came into the year ranked 23rd on BA’s list and number one in the Royals’ system, but was rocked for a 6.07 ERA while yielding 1.4 homers per nine at Double-A and Triple-A, his second straight year of struggling due to mechanical woes that have compromised his command. Leonard is a 2011 fifth-round pick, a 20-year-old third baseman who hit .251/.340/.494 with 14 homers in 268 PA for the Royals’ Rookie league stop in Burlington, North Carolina. He didn’t rank among the Royals’ top 30 prospects coming into the year and is a longshot to be an impact player; the Rays are set at the hot corner with Evan Longoria signed through 2022 anyway.

Even with the trade, the Royals still have a system stocked with premium minor league talent, with the next four prospects below Myers on BP’s recently released top 10 list grading out as first-division regulars or better. Some of those players are years away, however, and Moore, who rightly fears for his job, couldn’t afford to wait. While undeniably bold, the bet here is that his misguided gamble won’t pay off.

34 comments
RandyWestfahl
RandyWestfahl

This is a perfect example of how little the national media knows about the Royals. This is a vastly improved team over a few years ago with the best defense in the league. We have some improving offensive players and Kauffman will be the perfect park for both of these guys. The numbers on Guthrie did not reflect the turnaround he made after he came here. This team is going to be a lot better. The fact that the national writers have no idea about them is irrelevant. The don't know about Salvador Perez either and that is their loss.

xmattperkinsx
xmattperkinsx

Eventually the Rays game of "cheap" will catch up with them. You can't constantly sell off your stars the moment the player is due to get paid what their worth and expect to continue to win. But Rays won't care when the Rays start losing because most Rays fans are only fans when the Rays are winning. The Rays fan base is the number one fair weather fan base in all of baseball.

RaymondDobbins
RaymondDobbins

i'm done with the royals for the year of 2013, and I'M A ROYALS FAN

WilyCoyoteSuperGenius
WilyCoyoteSuperGenius

I see this as a potentially good trade for both teams. It is good and bad news for Shields. The good - he is out of the crazy deep AL East division. The bad - he goes from a team that is in contention each year now to one that will struggle to win 70 games.

Justin Deshon
Justin Deshon

I disagree.  2 years control of Shields and 4 for Wade Davis who you didnt even mention.  You listed an injury prone Jake Peavy as a threat within a division that the Tigers won late in the year vs an overachieving White Sox club.  The assertion is wrong here.  Wil Myers will struggle through two years at least just like Hosmer and Moustakas.  The time for the Royals was and is now.  This is the best pitching staff they have had in a long long time not to mention they now have Luck Hovechar and Bruce Chen as possible trade bait with Jeff Francouer.  I like it

PhilIncorvia
PhilIncorvia

don't know who the author of this article is ... obviously not verducci; even he, arguably their most insightful columnist, what not write in the "absolutisms" that this author seems to favor. And calling James Loney "dreck"; I'm guessing; will keep you out of most clubhouses in the major leagues. Next time; when penning an article; do me the favor of identifying yourself; so that I can put you on "ignore".

David37
David37

 @RandyWestfahl HAHAHAHAHA!!!! The best defense in the league! ARE YOU BLIND?!?!? Do you even watch the games? The Royals are atrocious on defense, they've ranked in the bottom 10 in baseball in terms of defensive efficiency, fielding %, DRS, and just about every other stat for the past 3 seasons at least. To say their the best defensive team in the league is like saying Jupiter is the most inhabitable planet in the solar system. 

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @xmattperkinsx Who are these stars that the Rays have sold off?   Looking at the roster, it would seem that only David Price and, maybe, Evan Longoria qualify, with the jury still out on Longoria until he can string some good, healthy seasons together.  Trading from a position of strength, pitching, for some needed assets is how many of these teams have to do business, and the Rays do it extremely well while remaining very competitive in the best division in baseball.

bjvande
bjvande

 @xmattperkinsx The Rays are not dumping stars.  They are dumping an over 30 work horse that fits into the middle of a rotation (not the top) and a relief pitcher (and those are a dime a dozen).    Now, if the Royals got both for Myers, good trade.    But giving up Meyers and three others, pretty bad trade.

mwr5053
mwr5053

 @xmattperkinsx If you had to visit that dump of a dinky dome to watch them play their home games you would find other things to do also. I think rearranging my sock drawer would win out over going into that tomb of a dome. 

RandyWestfahl
RandyWestfahl

 @RaymondDobbins who cares. No matter what his clown wants to write about this trade, it is a good one for the Royals. Odrizzi has ordinary stuff and Myers has no defensive position and has never seen a regular season major league pitch in his life. The Royals have the best defensive team in the league and those two pitchers will thrive in that big park with those good defenders. When they don't have the guts to put their name on their article, I don't put any stock in what they say. Likewise a weak in the knees so called Royals fan.

xmattperkinsx
xmattperkinsx

 @RaymondDobbins You're not much of a Royals fan if you give up on your team. I'm a Red Sox fan (been once since 1987) and I still support them even after 2 horrific seasons.

Kibo
Kibo

 @Justin Deshon If Bruce Chen, Jeff Francouer and Luke Hochevar are your bait, prepare to go home without catching anything.

JamesLandonJones
JamesLandonJones

 @PhilIncorvia His name is at the very top of the page. This is his column and I think he does a good job of analyzing this trade.

RandyWestfahl
RandyWestfahl

 @David37  @RandyWestfahl  David, in answer to your question on the other post, yeah I see them play. I see them play every single game. We have gold glove candidates at first, short, third, left, and right field. Our left fielder won it, and there isn't a position on the field that we can't pick it with any team in this league. If you knew anything about this team you would be dangerous. Fortunately, you don't so we don't have to worry about you. I left out Salvador Perez who may be the best fielding catcher in the league. Man you make stupid an art form.

MauriceTate
MauriceTate

 @RandyWestfahl  @RaymondDobbins

 Wow, talk about rose colored glasses........best defensive tema in the league????  Do you actually check stats before posting, or just enthralled by how many runners Francour throws out while disregarding the balls he routinely gaffs on??

Oilers21
Oilers21

 @Kibo  @Justin Deshon so true, you're talking about 3 of the worst regular players in major League baseball. Sadly, Bruce Chen is easily the best of the three

PhilIncorvia
PhilIncorvia

 @BrianEJ Its not about whether he's a productive player; its the idea of a blogger calling a player "trash" is what I have a problem with. The dudes 28; has had two successive bad years,...  but with the exception of last year had always had a positive WAR. Its a power position; he's not a power hitter; but calling someone trash is a bit over the top; in my eyes. Its not a baseball discussion; it's  life - you know?

PhilIncorvia
PhilIncorvia

 @JamesLandonJones Thank you James. I didn't see the tag line at the top. Respect your opinion of him; but I will hold on to mine. Statheads are great for

baseball forums, but calling someone "trash" makes me wonder what they see when they look in the mirror in the morning. 

David37
David37

 @RandyWestfahl

http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/2012-standard-fielding.shtml.

 

Check the link. Kansas City ranked 3rd to last in defensive efficiency a year ago. To put it in simple terms (because those are the only terms you can understand) that means 27 other MLB teams were better at converting batted balls into outs. Last time I checked, ranking 27th wasn't good.

 

Perez is a very, very good catcher, Moustakas is slick with the glove at 3rd, and Gordon's the best LF in the AL, but the rest of the team is chopped liver. Hosmer ranked dead last in baseball in most defensive categories at 1st base, as did Francoeur because he is terrible. Escobar struggles with routine plays at short still, and centerfield is a question mark. If you truly think this is a great defense then there is no point talking with you, because you're an idiot who ignores the facts.

mwr5053
mwr5053

 @Mattyg77  @xmattperkinsx  @RaymondDobbins Being a Pirate follower has tested some loyalty issues of mine but I remain a Bucco fan. At least they have a lovely home ballpark since the terribly sterile Three Rivers Stadium was brought to its knees a decade ago. 

RaymondDobbins
RaymondDobbins

yeah i do , ive been a royals fan all my life

 

xmattperkinsx
xmattperkinsx

 @Mattyg77  @RaymondDobbins Why be a fan of a team if you aren't gonna support them no matter how good or bad they are? There's over 30 MLB teams to choose from. If you're sick of how the Royals are, find a new team just don't leave once that team has some down years.

David37
David37

@Justin Deshon

Wil Myers hit 37 homers in minor league ball last year folks, the most by any 21 year old player in nearly 50 years. He also got on base at a .380ish clip while posting an OPS of over .900. Saying he "won't be ready" is foolish. If the Royals held on to Myers and promoted him to the big leagues in May, his OPS could drop 200 points off of last years, and it would STILL be 70 points higher than Frenchy's from a year ago. 

 

Let's stop acting like Myers is just some run-of-the-mill, highly-touted prospect. He was the consensus Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 and those players have a long track record of success in the big leagues. 

Oilers21
Oilers21

 @Justin Deshon Yeah it's possible that you get an OK prospect for Hochevar because he's stil only 28 and as you say he eats innings, but they are pretty terrible innings. Next year will be his seventh season and there has been zero improvement. I have difficulty imagining any team trading for Francoueur, even if they desperately need outfield help. Even if you could trade them, your own statement is "The time for the Royals was and is now" so why would you want more prospects in a deal? You might as well hold onto these guys and hope against hope they get better, or place them on waivers and hope they're claimed so you can get some salary relief

Justin Deshon
Justin Deshon

thats why they are tradeable...they won't get traded for a six pack of bud light.   Hochevar alone would command "B" prospects to help in minor league system.  He has no prior injuries and he eats innings.  He just has not lived up to #1 pick status.

Wil Myers struck out 140 times in minor league baseball last year folks...Montgomery went 3-6 in AAA....by the time they were ready Hosmer, Moustakas, Gordon would be gone and Billy Butler would be the next Mike Sweeney

BrianEJ
BrianEJ

 @PhilIncorvia

 I can certainly get behind that reasoning, yes. Calling him trash is going a tad too far but Loney is the epitome of a stop-gap or replacement level type of player. The Rays have holes, but Myers has the potential to fill a huge one (and then some). The trade also gave the Rays a bit more financial freedom, but we'll see how it goes.