The Kansas City Royals are the only American League club in the past six years to fail to have at least one winning season. In an effort to make the leap from “young team on the rise” to “playoff contender,” the Royals made a bold trade.
Kansas City acquired a pair of right handers, James Shields and Wade Davis, from the Tampa Bay Rays. In return, the Rays get a host of minor league talent, and I do mean talent. Tampa gets outfielder Wil Myers, right hander Jake Odorizzi, lefty Mike Montogomery, and third baseman Patrick Leonard.
It’s a classic veterans-for-prospects deal that’s made by teams in contention all the time. In this case, however, it’s a trade that is made in hopes of turning a pretender into a contender. The Royals are betting the farm that they can win in the next two seasons, because that’s all the longer they are guarenteed to have Shields in their uniform.
Shields is an outstanding starting pitcher and Davis is a guy capable of holding down a spot at the back-end of your rotation. Kansas City had already added Ervin Santana to their rotation and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie. Those four, along with holdover Bruce Chen, should give the Royals a much, much stronger starting corps than they’ve had in years. Couple them with a bullpen full of power arms and suddenly Kansas City has all the makings of a strong pitching staff.
Of course, Chen pitched to a 5.07 ERA last season, Davis has a career 4.22 ERA as a starter and 4.59 ERA away from Tropicana Field, Santana allowed an amazing 39 home runs last season and posted a 5.16 ERA, and Guthrie was so bad in the first half last year that the pitching-starved Rockies put him in the bullpen before unloading him. So to say that these additions are a sure-thing is a long ways from the truth. Every one of these four have warts. Every one raises red flags.
From a Rays perspective, you have to love this deal. Yes, losing Shields hurts, but the Rays have great depth of starting pitching (so much so that Davis couldn’t crack the rotation). They dealt away a guy who makes a pretty good salary ($9 million in 2013), which is always a concern in Tampa Bay, but they didn’t give up any of their younger starters. As good as Shields is, the Rays still have a starting rotation that would be the envy of many clubs, including the Royals.
Tampa gets Kansas City’s top two prospects, plus two additional prospects. Myers and Odorizzi are ready to help right now and could have been playing prominent roles for the Royals in 2013 and for years to come. Montgomery has been rated in the top-20 prospects in all of baseball, though he struggled mightily in 2012 and Leonard is a 20-year-old kid who slugged 14 home runs in 62 games in his first taste of pro ball last season. There is a lot of talent heading to Tampa Bay and it’s all under team control for the next six years at least.
The Royals made this trade because they think they have the pieces to win now, but I’m not even convinced this deal makes them a better club than they were last week. Do they have more recognizable names in their rotation? Sure, but many of those names comes with questions. General manager Dayton Moore has dipped into a very talented and deep minor league system and plucked out some awfully talented kids to use as trade fodder. He’s gambled that his young lineup is ready to compete and he’s done what he felt was necessary to support those young hitters and give his franchise a better chance to compete.
But it won’t be good enough just to compete; Moore has to win. If Kansas City goes from 90 losses to a playoff appearance, this deal still could wind up being regrettable. The only way it isn’t is if Shields helps lead the Royals to a World Series title. If that happens, it won’t matter how good Myers or Odorizzi winds up being for the Rays or what happens in their careers.
Because flags fly forever. And that’s what the Royals are gambling on.