Kansas City Royals Miss Big in Trade for James Shields

Theo GeromeCorrespondent IIIDecember 10, 2012

The Royals have traded for Rays pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis, while giving up prospects Wil Myers (OF), Jake Odorizzi (P), Mike Montgomery (P), and Patrick Leonard (3B). 

This is pretty clearly a bad trade for the Royals. I really have no idea what happened exactly.  I can't remember the last time I saw a trade that I felt was so lop-sided immediately on announcement—maybe Vernon Wells landing in Anaheim?

Most commentary that I've seen is echoing this idea: this was pretty clearly Dayton Moore's wild stab at winning a contract extension, and I just don't think it is enough.

First of all, what exactly did they bring in? Well, Shields has been solid, if nothing else. He is a borderline ace, as his FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement is 11.1 over the past three seasons, 19th among major league pitchers during that span.

He's not bad, certainly. But he's also entering his age 31 season, and only under contract for two more years. 

The Royals' biggest weakness last year was supposed to be their rotation, and they certainly have attempted to fix it this winter. Their 2013 rotation now features Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, Bruce Chen, and Luke Hochevar (or Davis, if they convert him back to a starter). It's better, sure, but I wouldn't call it the best, even in the weak AL Central. Shields is probably a four win upgrade. 

Yet, at the same time, Myers probably could have provided the same contribution. The Royals employed arguably the worst everyday player in the game last year in Jeff Francoeur (-1.2 WAR, in a virtual tie with Brennan Boesch and the recently-traded Michael Young at -1.3). In Myers, they had Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year. Even assuming he was a mere 2-win player next year, that's  more or less the same net gain, plus you get to keep the other three prospects (including the major league-ready Odorizzi). 



But the Royals also gave up upside. As mentioned, Myers was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2012. Now, you can argue about how likely prospects are to succeed, but Baseball America has a pretty good track record at this. The last few position players to win the award:

2011: Mike Trout

2009: Jason Heyward

2008: Matt Wieters

2007: Jay Bruce

2006: Alex Gordon

2005: Delmon Young

2003: Joe Mauer

2002: Rocco Baldelli

1998: Eric Chavez

1997: Paul Konerko

1996: Andruw Jones

1995: Andruw Jones

1994: Derek Jeter

1993: Manny Ramirez

1992: Tim Salmon

1991: Derek Bell

1990: Frank Thomas

The floor of that group appears to be Delmon Young. The median is probably Eric Chavez or Jay Bruce.

That does not bode well for KC, especially when you consider Tampa gets six years before Myers can be a free agent, worst-case scenario, plus three more prospects, each with at least six years of major league control.  Two of those players could provide help as soon as this coming season, all for two pitchers with five years of control between them. This should seem pretty ridiculous.

The Rays, on the other hand, are dealing from their depth in the rotation, so they should survive the loss of Shields pretty well. Their rotation will be some combination of David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, and Chris Archer. And they get the top minor leaguer in the game last year, and probably one of the top three prospects at the moment. If this is what ended up being agreed upon, I can’t imagine what some of the Tampa Bay's earlier suggestions for a trade looked like before they got bargained down. 

Most importantly, the Royals finished 72-90 last year. The Tigers were the worst AL team in the playoffs, with 88 wins. Let’s use that as a baseline. Are the Royals sixteen wins better in 2013 than they were in 2012? 

They’re definitely better; adding Shields helps, and some of their young players can still improve. But this was nowhere near the best way to use their resources. Just replacing Francoeur and their fifth starter with Myers and Odorizzi would probably have yielded similar gains, and then they could have piled onto it by grabbing someone like Edwin Jackson or Anibal Sanchez (both of whom have had similar numbers to Shields over the past three seasons—Jackson is at 10.4 WAR, while Sanchez is at 12.0). And that is not even accounting for the fact that both are younger than Shields, and would have only cost about $5 million more per year. 

I mean, realistically, the Royals are better now. But they likely would have been better, both now and in the future, if they hadn’t made this move, and they probably still aren't realistically in the playoff race just yet. The Rays, conversely, continue to show their brilliance, and the competition for the AL East in 2013 looks all the more exciting for it.

This article is also featured at Hot Corner Harbor.


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