The Kansas City Royals finally got their ace, acquiring right-handed pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for prospects Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi and Patrick Leonard. Although Shields was the centerpiece of the deal for the Royals, it’s Davis who could provide the most long-term value.
The Royals have been widely criticized by those who believe they severely overpaid. Baseball America listed Myers, Montgomery and Odorizzi among the team’s top-five 2012 prospects.
In his analysis of the deal, ESPN.com’s Keith Law crushed Kansas City GM Dayton Moore, stating, “The deal reeks of a GM feeling pressure to improve short-term performance to keep his job.”
Although the Royals hope to win now, the true impact of the trade may not be fully known for years. However, it may not end up as slanted as some believe. Davis has the kind of talent and opportunity that could change opinions.
Shields has been one of the most consistent starters in baseball over the past six seasons. During that time he’s averaged nearly 14 wins and 221.2 innings per year. His presence will undoubtedly help a Royals rotation that hasn't had a pitcher win more than 12 games since Zack Greinke won 16 in 2009.
Despite his pedigree, Royals fans shouldn't expect Shields to have a long tenure in Kansas City. He has a maximum of two years and $21 million left on his current deal. An extension seems unlikely given the Royals’ finances.
Greinke, who is listed by Baseball Reference as having the closest similarity score to Shields, just signed a six-year, $147 million contract. This suggests that Shields might expect a good chunk of change once he becomes a free agent if he continues pitching even close to his current level.
It’s hard to imagine the Royals being a major player on Shields if he sought a contract of any significance. They've been at or near the bottom of annual MLB payrolls for more than a decade, according to StevetheUmp.com (stats obtained through the Associated Press).
Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reported that owner David Glass is being maxed out this season by pushing the team’s entire payroll to $80 million. Financial flexibility does not appear to be on the horizon.
The key to the trade may very well be Davis. He is relatively cheap and appears to have recently turned the corner in becoming an above-average pitcher.
The 27-year-old was a mediocre starter for Tampa Bay in 2010-2011. Although he had a combined 23 wins, his 4.27 ERA and 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings were nothing special.
Davis seems to have found himself in 2012. Because of a stacked starting rotation, the Rays pitched him exclusively in relief. He went 3-0 in 54 games with a 2.43 ERA. More impressive were his 11.1 strikeouts versus 6.1 hits allowed per nine innings.
Davis throws a fastball, slider, curve and changeup. His 2012 average fastball velocity spiked to a career-high 93.7 mph according to FanGraphs.com.
Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star reported that Davis believes his improvement was because of a change in approach. The Royals’ new hurler explained, “I learned to put my foot on the gas pedal from the get-go rather than working into a rhythm.”
Despite his new-found success as a reliever, Davis will be a starter for the Royals. According to Grathoff, his new pitching coach, Dave Eiland, believes he is more than up to the task. Because of what he learned in the bullpen last season.
“He’s a big guy with some power. He needs to go out there and put the foot on the accelerator from the first pitch on. He has the ability to do that. He needs to come right at hitters because he can control any lineup in baseball with that stuff.”
If Davis carries his success as a reliever back to the rotation, the Royals will have a steal. He is due to make just $7.6 million over the remaining two years of his current contract. After that, the team holds annual team options that could keep him in Kansas City for an additional three seasons for a combined $25 million. Compared to the contract just signed by Greinke, such numbers seem very reasonable.
Count ESPN.com’s Buster Olney among those who believe Davis is the key to the trade. Speaking about Davis’ development, he said, “The Royals now become a place of opportunity, to apply all that he learned about himself last summer.”
The Royals may have given up a lot of young talent, but they got back the same in Davis. If he continues to develop he will wind up being the team’s key to this deal and potentially provide the long-term impact pitcher they have wanted for so long.
Statistics via BaseballReference