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Monday, December 10, 2012

Knee-Jerk Reactions: The Rays Make the Royals Look Silly

I really have no idea what exactly happened. The Royals have traded for Rays pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis, 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 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 commentators that I've seen seem to be echoing these ideas; this was pretty clearly Dayton Moore's wild stab at winning a contract extension, and I just can't say that I see it being enough.

What exactly did they bring in, first of all? Well, Shields has been solid, if nothing else. He's a borderline ace; Fangraph's Wins Above Replacement has him at 11.1 over the past three seasons, nineteenth among pitchers. It'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. 2013 looks to feature 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 in even the weak AL Central. Shields is probably a four win upgrade.

But, at the same time, Myers probably could have done the same thing. 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 at -1.3 and recently-traded Michael Young*). 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 the more or less the same net gain, plus you get to keep the other three prospects (including the major league-ready Odorizzi).

*Also, other things I don't see working out: the Young trade, for the Phillies. Even if the Phillies' third basemen were bad last year (.272/.315/.357), Michael Young hit just as poorly, even with the Ballpark in Arlington aiding him (.277/.312/.370). Add in that he can't play defense any more, and you start to wonder why the Phillies even bothered.

But the Royals also gave up upside. As mentioned, Myers was the Minor Leaguer of the Year. 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 doesn’t 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 are dealing from depth in their 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 Rays earlier suggestions for a trade looked like before they got bargained down.

Most importantly, the Royals finished at 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 on to 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's 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 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.

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