The James Shields Trade Revisited


Sep 27, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the third inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last offseason, Royals GM Dayton Moore finally decided that he had accumulated enough young major league talent that he could afford to swap some of his top prospects to bolster his big league roster. He did more than that in 2012, acquiring Rays ace James Shields and starter Wade Davis for four minor leaguers – OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery, and 1B Patrick Leonard. It was a controversial deal at the time, as the Royals got their number one starter but gave up a wealth of talent to do it, and it was unclear whether or not the Royals would contend with or without Shields. One year last, the Royals have just exercised Shield’s 13.5 million dollar club option for 2014 and Wil Myers is expected to accept his AL Rookie of the Year award in a manner of weeks; this appears to be one of the rare even-handed deals.

James Shield’s is the easiest to evaluate as the 2013 James Shields was just about the same as the 2012 James Shields, who in turn was just about the same as the 2011 James Shields – a veteran workhorse pitching just below the top tier starters. He went 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA for Kansas City, while leading the league with 34 starts and 228.2 innings pitched. He will likely garner a small handful of Cy Young votes, and his pitching helped propel the Royals to a respectable 86-76 record, their highest win total since 1989.

Although the Royal’s other primary acquisition, Wade Davis, has likely found himself a permanent home in the bullpen after failing spectacularly in 24 starts in 2013, Shields gives Kansas City a bona-fide ace and a playoff chance next season. Then their burgeoning young hitters will be more mature, and an October run will be possible, if not probable. Elite pitcher’s are ever more valuable in October, when they can decide the outcome of up to 3 games in a 7 game series.

For Tampa Bay, who had to trade the expensive Shields for affordability reasons regardless, Wil Myers has been a sensation. He earned the title of Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 for his power, defense, and on base ability, and he showcased all of that at Tropicana Field this past summer. In 88 games, he had a .293/.354/.478 slash line with 13 home runs and a 2.0 WAR, according to baseball reference. His wins above replacements, pro rated for a full season, would have ranked eigth among MLB right fielders, and third among all major league outfielders age 25 and under. He projects as a 35 HR, .370 OBP guy down the road and could quickly join Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton as the top right fielders in the game. The one thing keeping this trade from being a steal for the Rays and Myers from this golden potential? Strikeouts. Striking out is not as big of a deal in the modern game, but doing it once every four plate appearances, as Myers did in his rookie season, can be hinderance to on base ability. He’ll have to make more contact should he ever want to grasp the MVP award awaiting him.

Jake Ordorizzi was the only other top 100 prospect sent to Tampa in the deal, and he pitched like one in 2013, posting a 3.33 ERA, 9.0 SO/9, and 2.9 BB/9 in 22 Triple-A starts. He also showed some competency at the major league level, a 3.94 ERA in 29.2 innings between the rotation and long relief. He is currently on the waitlist for the Rays rotation, his arrival contingent on the likely trade of David Price.

Had even one of the latter two players sent to Tampa been effective in 2013, then this may have been another coup for Andrew Friedman, but neither of them did. Mike Montgomery, a former top prospect who was never able to translate his stuff into statistical success, continued to struggle this year, going a pedestrian 7-8 with a 4.72 ERA and sub par peripherals – 4.0 BB/9 and 6.4 SO/9. Patrick Leonard, a high upside 20 year old first baseman, saw his stock plummet when he looked completely overmatched in A ball, getting on base at a meager .303 clip and showing none of the power he had in high school and his first professional season.

Wil Myers has a chance at stardom and Odorizzi is ready to joined the hallowed ranks of the Rays young starters, but its a small price to pay for an ace that can bring postseason baseball back to Kansas City for the first time in 29 years.