“Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.” (Rounders, 1998)
During the winter meetings Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore looked for his top-of-the-rotation pitcher and the sucker general manager that he would get him from. He did not find him there, and did not heed Mike McDermott’s (Matt Damon’s character in Rounders) advice.
Now we know that Moore WAS the sucker, and it might end up costing him his job. There are many reasons to dislike the trade. The Royals gave up too much (Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard), received too little (James Shields, Wade Davis, player to be named later or cash ) and mortgaged the future.
The news gets worse, though...guess who will be manning right field in 2013?
Presenting the reasons to hate the Wil Myers trade:
1. Jeff Francoeur
Jeff Francoeur was arguably the worst everyday player in Major League Baseball last season. His incompetence began at the plate with a .235 batting average.
Not satisfied that he was making enough outs, Francoeur added a .287 on-base percentage just to be safe. Francoeur also saw a drop-off in power with 100- and 50-point drops in his slugging percentage and ISO (a sabermetrics measure of raw power), respectively.
As if this was not enough, Francoeur’s declining range caused him to put up poor defensive numbers as well (-5.8 UZR per Fangraphs). His -1.2 WAR (wins above replacement) stood as not only a beacon of his ineptitude, but a banner of the Royals' self-destructive desire to constantly play him.
For those who are not familiar with WAR, it refers to how many wins a player was worth over a replacement-level player, replacement-level meaning an average Triple-A player—like David Lough, for example. So yes, the Royals would have won 1.2 more games last year if they’d trotted out David Lough in Francoeur’s place. Stuff just got real. Now good ol’ Frenchy will be playing right instead of...
2. Wil Myers
No minor league player is a sure thing. Minor league hitters do tend to have a better—not perfect, see Wood, Brandon—track record than pitching prospects, though.
Minor League Player of the Year award winners happen to have an even better track record. The last six winners before Wil Myers were Mike Trout, Jeremy Hellickson, Jayson Heyward, Matt Wieters, Jay Bruce and Alex Gordon…not exactly a group of nobody players.
Myers himself had drawn comparisons to great players such as Dale Murphy. Like Murphy, he was a catcher to start out, and like Murphy he has shown a tremendous bat. On top of a .351/.421/.739 line in 39 games at Double-A, Myers put up a .304/.378/.554 line in 99 games in Triple-A.
He also led the minors with 37 home runs. He also was only 21 years old last year. Players like Wil Myers are rare. Everything about Myers screams star player. Countless prospect pundits have said he could be a No. 3 hitter on a championship-caliber team. He might not be Mike Trout, but he was worth more than James Shields.
The story does not end with how good Myers is.
Wil Myers also would have provided the team with an impact bat at a position of need. Wil Myers cost the team 1.2 wins in comparison to a David Lough-caliber player. If Wil Myers is able to produce at a 2.0 WAR—about the production of Garrett Jones and Jason Kubel last year—he will provide a three-win upgrade over Francoeur.
Is it that unprecedented to expect the Minor League Player of the Year to match up with Jason Kubel? In doing so Myers would likely provide just as much of a win upgrade as Shields will in the rotation…and Myers will be 22 years old on Opening Day!
Anytime you can turn that guy into a No. 2-caliber starter you have to do so. Speaking of which…
3. James Shields
This is NOT to say that James Shields is a bad pitcher. James Shields is actually a very good pitcher. He has put up on average between a 3.50 and 3.75 ERA during his career (he has a few outliers both high and low).
He has also been incredibly durable in throwing 200-plus innings in each year of his career with the exception of his rookie year. James Shields also was fortunate enough to pitch in front of one of baseball’s best defenses. He won’t be quite so fortunate in Kansas City.
Tropicana Field (the Rays' home park) also gives cause for concern. Shields sports a 3.33 career ERA at the Trop and just a 4.45 ERA on the road. His new home, Kauffman Stadium, suppresses home runs, but overall is still a hitter’s ballpark. This is not to say that Shields is bad, but it is cause for concern.
The main gripe with Shields is that…HE IS NOT THE BEST PITCHER ON HIS TEAM, or even close to it. It is not as if Tampa Bay does not have any No. 1 starters. This trade would make quite a bit more sense if James Shields were swapped out for David Price or Matt Moore.
Even Jeremy Hellickson has a case for being a better pitcher than Shields—albeit a weaker one than Price or Moore. This may be more of a reflection on Tampa Bay’s staff than Shields, but still...the Royals gave up a No. 1-caliber haul for a No. 2-caliber pitcher.
Small-market teams can’t do this, which leads to the next point.
4. The Royals gave up SP Jake Odorizzi, SP Mike Montgomery and 3B Patrick Leonard as well!
The Royals may have just given up a future No. 3 starter for a current No. 2. Odorizzi may have lacked the ceiling of a No. 1 starter, but profiled comfortably as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
He had even pitched 107 innings of 2.93 ERA ball in Triple-A this year, and earned himself a few September starts where he competed admirably. He is not a game-changer like Myers, but Odorizzi is a top-100 prospect.
Mike Montgomery has Odorizzi’s ceiling, but none of his production. He has flashed top-of-the-rotation stuff, but was bombed in his last few years at Triple-A. His inability to throw strikes seems to have caused him to lose effectiveness, and the once top-20 prospect faces an uphill battle.
He even struggled with a 6.67 ERA after a demotion to Double-A this year. Montgomery’s inclusion in this deal may be a result of the organization souring on his attitude as well. To go along with his lack of production, Montgomery has fought with the organization over his between-starts training regimen.
He could be a steal, or he could be a non-factor. You have to think that Montgomery may benefit from this change of scenery, though. It would have been nice to get more value for him.
Leonard is a rookie-ball third baseman with raw power. Keith Law of ESPN recently projected he would have to move to first base soon, and had a ways to go before his bat could carry him there. All the prospects thrown in have value, but it is not their on-the-field value that makes this trade most frustrating.
5. The Royals gave up at least six years of Wil Myers, Odorizzi and company for two years/$22 million of James Shields.
Not only did the Royals give up too much talent, but they gave up six to seven years of team control on their own prospects for two years of James Shields. It is a tradeoff that makes no sense, especially for a small-market team. In making this move the Royals have effectively shortened their window of contention to the next two years, barring Kyle Zimmer or Yordano Ventura turning into an ace.
Even if Zimmer and Ventura do pan out, the Royals will not have Wil Myers’ bat in the lineup. Club officials may like the bat of Jorge Bonifacio, but he is at least two years away. When he gets here, Shields may well be gone.
Shields also makes $22 million over the next two years, while Myers and Odorizzi won’t be arbitration eligible for three years. This does not make sense for a team that is supposedly “cash-strapped."
In making the Myers trade, Kansas City has shortened its window of contention, mortgaged a big part of its future and added payroll all at the same time. Myers may well be hitting home runs in Tampa Bay long after Shields has moved on to greener pastures from Kansas City.
The trade almost entirely banks on Moustakas and Hosmer having breakout years as well. If either of the two flops, the Royals likely will not have enough offense to compete for a playoff spot.
The trade also means that for at least year one of the newfound two-year window, Jeff Francoeur will be the primary right fielder. Championship teams do not shorten their contention window and then handicap themselves (play Jeff Francoeur) for half of it.
In fact, the only bright parts of this trade are Wade Davis (an affordable back-of-the-rotation starter with team options for the coming years) and the probable end of Luke Hochevar’s reign of terror in the Royals’ rotation.
Too bad it took the Royals becoming the sucker for that to happen.