Royals and Rays Trade: The Right Return at the Right Time?

When the news broke late last night about the Royals big trade, I nearly lost my mind. After gathering myself and doing some breathing exercises that I picked up from my kids when they were in preschool, I took to my keyboard and composed this. At the time I published I thought I was keeping a large chunk of my emotions in check but after reading it through again today, I’m ashamed to admit that I may have overreacted. On the flip side, I stand by the underlying assessment that this was a bad deal for Dayton Moore and the Royals. It was not however the worst trade in team history. I abhor hyperbole and I apologize to all for writing such an ignorant and misguided statement.

Of all facets involved in the trade, Davis may wind up being the big winner. (Photo Credit: ©Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Now that I’ve had the chance to get some sleep and digest the specifics of the deal, I think I am at a place where I can write about the trade that took place without ranting, raving and frothing at the mouth.

Hopefully I can be concise and to the point but if you haven’t noticed by now, I’m wordy so you may want to settle in. This could get long.

The Details:

The Kansas City Royals acquired James Shields, Wade Davis and a player to be named later (or cash) from the Tampa Bay Rays. In exchange, the Royals packaged up Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard and sent them to the Rays.

Since Montgomery and Odorizzi were already on the Royals 40-man roster, Shields and Davis fit into their slots nicely and no other roster move was necessary on their end. The same applies on the Rays side of the equation, just with the names switched around.

Payroll Implications:

Shields has two years remaining on his current deal and is set to make $10.25 million in 2013 and $13.5 million in 2014 before he hits the open market as a free agent. Those two years were originally set to $9 million and $12 million but he achieved certain benchmarks put forth in his deal that kicked in escalators. While they absorbed $23.75 million in payroll over the next two seasons, the Royals could theoretically walk on Shields after this season if things went horribly wrong. The 2014 portion of his deal is a club option with a $1 million buyout.

Davis is signed to a very team friendly deal. He’s set to make just $2.8 million in 2013 and $4.8 million in 2014, both very reasonable amounts regardless of his role – and we all know that as a starter those salaries are excellent value. From there his contract gets even sweeter thanks to three years of club options. If the Royals wound up keeping Wade Davis in the fold for the duration of his contract, he’d make $7 million in 2015, $8 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017. His 2017 club option includes a $2.5 million buyout, but even in today’s dollars those option years present reasonable salaries if Davis can pitch like he’s capable of. In terms of 2017 dollars he’s nearly a lock to be a bargain even if he’s merely mediocre.

The dollars involved in both contracts are reasonable, and while Shields is not the front-line/ace pitcher some regard him to be, he is a durable, above average starting pitcher. That makes paying him an average of nearly $12 million each of the next two seasons a wise investment. They are paying $12 million for the one-year lottery ticket known as Ervin Santana in 2013 after all. The dollars handed over to decent – let alone quality – starting pitchers is only going to escalate.

On that note, it’s hard not to do cartwheels (or in my case somersaults as I never could pull off a cartwheel) at the prospect of having Wade Davis under contract for the next five seasons at an average annual salary of roughly $6.5 million per year. I have a hard time coming up with a scenario where Davis wouldn’t be worth the total $32.6 million he’s potentially owed from now until 2017. Even if he were to pitch at the level Hochevar has thus far as a Royal, the first three seasons are a given and it bears repeating that 2015, 2016 and 2017 are all club options.

The Talent We Gained:

When I outlined why James Shields is not an ace in my article last week, I tackled a lot of his stats and their rankings amongst his peers rather thoroughly. Let me state clearly that I have absolutely no issue with any team pursuing and adding him to their rotation. My main beef with Shields is that he’s been incorrectly miscast as an ace or number one starter and Dayton Moore and others around the organization have perpetuated that the last several weeks. That’s no fault of Shields of course, and he is a terrific number two. Regardless of how you classify him, I’m not blind to the fact that he represents a massive upgrade to the Royals rotation.

As for Davis, his value and potential impact go beyond just the sweetheart contract he’s signed to. A five time Rays Top-10 prospect (2005-2009) he peaked at #3 on their list heading into the 2008 season and held that spot prior to the 2009 campaign as well. At 6’5″, 225 lbs the 27 year old right-hander has a solid frame and showed signs of being a workhorse once he broke into the major leagues. He started 29 games in both 2010 and 2011 while logging a combined 352.0 innings between the two seasons. As far as his stuff is concerned Davis features a true plus 93-94 mph sinking fastball and complements it with an upper 80s slider and a lower 80s curve. The latter of those two breaking pitches is also true plus offering when it’s on, but it wasn’t until the 2012 season that it started to generate the expected results. His slider and changeup have both been inconsistent but both have potential. The slider especially has been an effective and near league average pitch in his time as a starter. Both his breaking balls took significant steps forward in 2012 while he was pitching out of the bullpen and that experience should benefit him greatly as he slides back into the rotation for the Royals. When he was a prospect, he ceiling was viewed as that of a #2 starter and while that may be a long shot at this point there is every reason to believe he can develop into a strong #3. I have personally long been a fan of Davis and all other factors aside, am absolutely thrilled that he was a part of this trade.

The Talent We Lost:

This is where things get tough to swallow for me.

I’m not one to zealously cling to prospects and I’m on board with the belief that you have to give up quality to get quality. However the people that poo-poo Myers future and value because he’s “just” a prospect and hasn’t proven anything yet simply don’t grasp what he truly is and what he could become.

He is not just a prospect, he’s an ELITE prospect and reigning Minor League Player of the Year. Take a gander at the list of players that Baseball America has selected for that honor and you will find that among the position players not a single one of them has been a complete bust. At worst Wil Myers is going to be an average major league player but his tools suggest he’s going to be much, much more than that. He has outstanding power potential and pairs that with outstanding hand-eye coordination and a very advanced approach. I’ve seen a lot of people knock him because of the strikeouts but that’s not the type of player he will be as he develops. In Double and Triple-A this past season he was intentionally selling out and swinging for the fences and in doing so racked up the whiffs. However if you look at his track record and his profile as a prospect you will find a player with quickly developing plate discipline and patience. He just turned 22 years old today and has already shown the ability to adjust and adapt to how pitchers attack him which bodes very well for his future. It’s tough to see a player like Myers sent packing because he’s the type of cornerstone player the Royals need to build around and was the one quality prospect who figured to bridge the gap from the Moustakas and Hosmer wave to the next that hopefully features guys like Starling and Cuthbert.

I don’t believe that six plus years of Wil Myers is worth two years of James Shields, but the latter has gone on record that he’s not opposed to signing an extension to remain in Kansas City beyond 2014. While that may be a long shot, if it happens it could significantly alter the perception of this deal because the years of service between the two is one of my biggest hangups with this trade.

Jake Odorizzi’s departure stings a little bit. I do believer he will approach his ceiling and wind up being a good #3 starter in the majors for many years to come after he takes his lumps in the next season or two. However the acquisition of Davis brings back a pitcher that I also view as a #3 starter, but one that has already taken his lumps and has learned at the big league level. The fact that he is under contract for the next five seasons at a very reasonable rate works in the Royals favor here.

We’re all aware of the struggles Mike Montgomery has had in recent years. While he is immensely talented and has the stuff to be a front of the rotation guy, I came to the conclusion prior to last season that he would be better off pitching in another organization. The Royals and Montgomery have never seen eye to eye and I think the organization has mishandled him at several points along the way. From his long toss program to making him scrap his preferred palmball for a more traditional curve early on, the team has forced a Type-A personality to adapt and bend to their rules. They would have been better served letting him try things his way and once he faced failure they could have stepped in and nudged him along their path. Instead they pushed him onto their track and as he’s moved further away from his methods his effectiveness has evaporated. I have little doubt that with the Rays he will rebuild his value and Montgomery will blossom. That’s something I don’t think I could say if he had remained in the Royals system. A change of scenery was needed.

Heading into the 2011 draft, Patrick Leonard was solidly committed to play baseball at the University of Georgia and he lasted into the 5th round as a result. The Royals took a chance when they drafted him, but were able to get him under contract thanks to an over slot $600,000 signing bonus. Leonard made his pro debut in the Appalachian League as an 19-year old in 2012 and hit 0.251/.340/.494 with 14 HR, 30 BB and 55 SO in 62 games. He acclimated himself well to the level and immediately flashed his power potential tying for the league lead in home runs. In addition to the power he showed a quicker bat and more advanced approach than many expected from him. A SS in high school, the Royals moved him to 3B and he handled the shift flawlessly leading the Appy League in fielding percentage at his position and showing more than enough arm to stay at the position long term. He’s not well known and he’s a ways away but I think the Rays made a shrewd move by getting him included in the deal.

Winners and Losers:

Even though untested, Myers is “greater than” James Shields in terms of value to Kansas City based on the time we could reasonably expect the Royals to retain their respective services.

Adding in the other component, there is no doubt in my mind that Wade Davis is “greater than” Odorizzi and they are essentially separated by just one year in terms of how long the team could reasonably keep them around. However Davis has an advantage in that regard because he comes with a fixed cost given that he is already signed to a long-term contract.

There is a case to be made that in 2014, Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi would have contributed more to the Royals than the duo of Shields and Davis will. There is certainly more upside there and the chances for greater return is much higher, but that also comes with more risk. In 2013 it seems safe to assume that Shields and Davis will provide more return for Kansas City, but there is a caveat in that because Myers is talented enough that he could kick off his major league career in a similar fashion to that of an Albert Pujols or Ryan Braun.

Montgomery and Leonard also factor into this of course, but as I stated the former needed a change of scenery in the worst way and the latter is just too far away right now. On top of that with Moustakas already in the majors and Cheslor Cuthbert still in the pipeline, the Royals do have better prospects at 3B than Patrick Leonard and that helps lessen the blow of his loss.

In terms of other winners, I think we have to acknowledge that the presence of James Shields and Wade Davis, two pitchers who are regarded as very mentally tough, could have a significant and positive impact on Luke Hochevar. Even if they can’t help Luke with his game between the ears, this deal and the addition of Santana coupled with the Guthrie extension will allow Hochevar to pitch free of pressure as the team’s number five. We’ve all seen flashes of brilliance from Hochevar and honestly there aren’t many #5 starters that can dominate a game like he can when things are going well.

I think in terms of value and talent the Rays won the trade as things stand today but it’s not a landslide. Certainly not the avalanche of doom that I immediately made it out to be.

So What’s The Issue?:

After reading the above you’re probably wondering why I was so upset with this deal when the news broke last night. My reason is very simple: they didn’t need to make this move at this point in time.

I get that with Greinke off the board, James Shields was the next logical piece that was going to come off the offseason chess board. The Rays had other teams very interested in making a deal to acquire him. What I don’t get is why the Royals seemed so locked in on acquiring Shields in the first place. To me it seems that their tunnel vision forced Dayton to pull the trigger on a deal that he didn’t need to.

Dayton Moore and David Glass spent the bulk of the last couple weeks talking about the team’s payroll and how it was maxed out or overextended with the moves they already made. But then, in acquiring two years of James Shields, they added nearly $24 million over two years to their books and were also rumored to still be in on Ryan Dempster and Anibal Sanchez. The fact that they were talking out of both sides of their mouth makes me really uneasy, especially with regard to Glass who seemed to go out of his way to make comments about the payroll already being over budget.

While they had the foresight to get Wade Davis included in the trade, I can’t help but wonder if a smaller moves could have landed the team Wade Davis at a price that didn’t involve Wil Myers. Dealing our top prospect away was the catalyst that brought back Shields and Davis and there is no question that our rotation is better today than it was on Sunday morning.  However Myers’ departure leaves a gaping hole in RF and it means that we are stuck with another season of 600+ Jeff Francoeur plate appearances. Unless another deal is made, the organization has no other legitimate option but to run Frenchy out every day and that will likely cost the team wins over the course of the season.

Those are wins that the team can’t afford to give away because the Detroit Tigers are still the favorite in the division and I find it hard to believe the Royals, as currently constructed, can get to the 90-92 win plateau the need to reach to really be in the mix for the AL Central.

If Shields winds up signing an extension with the team, how they fare in 2013 isn’t as big of an issue and it becomes much easier to get behind this trade. However if he doesn’t sign and the Royals don’t make the playoffs or at least play meaningful baseball in September, this deal could morph into a very black mark on Dayton’s resume.

Topics: Jake Odorizzi, James Shields, Kansas City Royals, Mike Montgomery, Patrick Leonard, Tampa Bay Rays, Wade Davis, Wil Myers

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  • Stillroyal

    Great points as always. But I am still pretty perturbed at the trade. Your best points are that we didn’t need to make this trade and that we’re now stuck with Frenchy in RF.

    To me, the reason we got fleeced stems from our original point: The top prospect in baseball should be worth more than a #2 starter. Look at recent similar trades where lesser prospects were traded for starters. Sabathia, Greinke (twice), and Cliff Lee.

    Of course when you factor what we are now paying Shields, Davis, Chen, Frenchy, and what we’ll likely be paying Hoch (~$5 MM), we could have kept Myers and afforded Greinke. Now, Zack may not have wanted to come back. But we could have just as easily signed the next tier of free agent pitchers (Sanchez, for example) and still had Myers.

    All that being said, we’re stuck with it now. I will be rooting just as hard as always for the Royals in 2013. I will hope Shields wins the Cy Young and Davis re-emerges as a quality starter (though his trends as a starter were a little startling). I will hope Wil becomes something less than what he appears to be. I will hope Frenchy returns to his 2011 form. I will hope Hoch finally figures it out. But this trade still looks like a lot of risk on our side at a high cost.

    • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

      Perturbed is a good term to use.

      I think this was a case where the Royals overreacted to get the guy they had focused in on. As I’ve discussed with some of my friends, this smacks of having an ownership driven directive involved.

      The fact that the Indians were able to recently turn Shin-Soo Choo into Trevor Bauer casts Moore’s latest move in a more negative light. I’m not as big on Bauer as a lot of people but he does have “ace” upside.

      I’m thrilled that we got Davis and while his rate stats had eroded before being moved to the bullpen there were positive signs in his Pitch Fx data. All the indications are that his stint in the bullpen helped him figure some things out with his stuff and the way he was pitching. It may not translate back to the rotation but most of the times it does in these cases.

      • jimfetterolf

        “Ownership directive” is an interesting idea. As I’ve said for a few years, David Glass is getting old and it’s possible he decided to do what Ewing Kauffman did and what Detroit’s Illitch is still trying to do, go for a legacy play. This trade doesn’t rank with some of Mr. Kauffman’s moves his final year or two or even with signing Prince Fielder, but quite possible that Mr. Glass thinks sooner is better than later. Which means that Shaun Marcum, Edwin Jackson, or Ryan Dempster may yet be in play, overpay for two or three years to get that 5th starter. The money is doable, just a matter of which might actually be willing to pitch in KC.

        • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

          If it was an ownership directive – regardless of the motivation by Glass – it was a bad move. Kauffman and Illitch were/are very different in that they let their baseball people make the baseball decisions and wrote/write the checks as necessary.

          Dayton Moore and his staff know more far more about baseball than Glass does – I don’t want him (Glass) anywhere near decisions of who steps on the field for this team outside of being a pocketbook.

          We have countless examples of Glass forcing the hand of his various GMs along the way and it’s more than a little odd that Moore so drastically changed course on the value of Myers vs. Shields in such a short period of time. I’m not a real big conspiracy theory guy having his hand forced by Glass would also help explain why Dayton got so defensive right after the deal was announced.

          • jimfetterolf

            Mr. Kauffman’s moves were terrible, crippled the franchise. Illitch’s have worked better but that franchise will be seriously damaged after the next two years.

            As for drastically changing course, we aren’t sure that happened, as it’s only based on words, and we have since found out that Detroit was making a play for Shields and that added pressure. My thought is more along the lines of David Glass telling Dayton Moore, “Let’s make a serious push this year, we’ve got the money, we’ve got position players. Give it your best shot.” I doubt that he told the GM to trade specific players.

            Did a little further thought on the #1 stuff and have come to agree with you by simply subtracting runs from innings. That drops Shields down quite a bit.

            As for Dayton Moore getting defensive, I read all the blogs and agree with many other commentators that no matter what the team does, a certain niche will conclude that it’s the stupidest move ever made. His mistake was acknowledging that he even was aware of what was being said, but he’s still young, he’ll learn.

  • jimfetterolf

    All good points, but would mention that Detroit was also after Shields, so that may have given an added sense of urgency to Dayton Moore’s trigger pulling.

    As for Myers, he has potential, he’s still a prospect, and Royals fans have been waiting years for the next messiah to take them to the promised land, the latest one being Giavotella, who would save us from Getz, who is despised about as much as Francoeur amongst the Kewl Kidz. As Moore does have much better data than we do, it is possible that he wasn’t as impressed with Myers as others might be, maybe he noticed that Werner is a small park and other PCL stadia are Rockie Mountain launching pads, maybe his FieldF/x equipment in Omaha told him that Myers would be challenged in the bigger outfield at the K, who knows? After all is said and done he is a prospect and not even a Bryce Harper or Mike Trout or Eric Hosmer level one.

    Odorizzi seems to have lost some glitter along the way, going from a front of the rotation starter prospect to a 3/4 ceiling with the Royals to a 5/long relief man in Tampa’s deep system. Having a hard time finishing the 5th in under 110 pitches will do that. Glad we didn’t have to give up Ventura or Jason Adam. With the rehabbers coming back and the several new additions to the rotation, Jake would have spent 2013 in Omaha. This trade is a better thing for Odorizzi and likely inevitable for the Royals, so might as well get impact value from it.

    Montgomery is starting to look like a left-handed Jeremy Jeffress, radar guns love him, umpires don’t. He may become Felipe Paulino, he may be that hot arm underachiever once more tossed on a trade. Failure to command the fastball will do that.

    Overall, assuming good health of course, Shields and Davis look a solid bridge to future arms and make the Royals contenders this year. Would have been nice to sign Greinke and Sanchez, but offers were probably made and politely declined. KC isn’t a prime destination. Others will disagree, but that’s why they play the games. Detroit fans aren’t happy about this, so that may be a good thing.

    • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

      Yikes Jim! … To respond to your points and do justice to everything in the above I probably need to dedicate an entire article to respond. Fortunately I was planning on writing something that your comments work into.

      • jimfetterolf

        I have a pretty good idea of your thinking, so how ’bout I just ask a question? How do you define #1 and ace? I keep seeing bloggers and commentators toss out, “Shields is a #2 starter”. Yeah, when you have David Price in the rotation. My definitions are simple, a #1 is a pitcher on the first page of fangraphs’ Pitching Leaders, an ace is the top 15 of those 30, but that isn’t set in stone. Shields last year was #18 with a 4.3 fW, ahead of Matt Cain, Matt Harrison, and Anibal Sanchez and bracketed by Adam Wainwright and Hiroki Kuroda. To me that makes him a #1 starter. He has averaged 3.9fW over the last six years, so ’12 wasn’t an aberration.

        For ace, my definition would run from Justin Verlander down to Cole Hamels, 6.8 fW to 4.5 fW., top 15, but, again, that is arbitrary. Better might be a cut-off at 5.0fW, in which case ace would be Zack up to Verlander, seven pitchers with Chris Sale and Cliff Lee just below. For both definitions we might need to weight for the NL-AL difference and nine of the pitchers ahead of Shields spent most of their time last year facing pitchers with a bat in their hands two or three times per game, which helps K%.

        I think that ranking Shields as a #1 rather than #2 might change perceptions of the trade.

        • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

          As I wrote in my extensive article on Shields prior to the trade, I think there are at most 10-12 “aces” in baseball at any given time. They are the guys you look at, and without question, would put them up against anyone else when you need to win a game.

          As far as #1s are concerned that’s a much bigger gray area, but for me Shields misses this group too because aside from his durability he lacks any true standout trait for me – and durability alone doesn’t cut it. His resume also doesn’t measure up. He’s never been truly dominant and he’s had a couple of substandard to bad seasons on his resume as well. In his BEST season he barely cracked the top ten in a couple categories and was well outside of that in most others.

          You can’t base things off WAR alone as it is just one measure and an ace is not defined by just a single season.

          My upcoming article however will be going in an entirely different direction from this.

          • jimfetterolf

            I consider durability and the ability to go deep quite important. Going deep shows pitching well enough to stay in the game and keeping pitch count down.

            I look forward to your article. I’ve run into this question several places and “#2″ seems always used by opponents of the trade while “ace” is bandied about by proponents.

          • Stillroyal

            In terms of “#2″ vs “#1″ it comes down to two things – best pitcher on a specific staff or top 30 pitcher overall. True “#1s” would simply be the best 30 pitchers in baseball and true “#2s” would be the next 30. However, being a #1 or a #2 really has more to do with their spot on their team. Shields may not be in the top 30 of pitchers in the league and may have been the #3 in Tampa. But in KC he’s been promoted to #1 status as our de facto best pitcher.

            One note, I do expect Shields numbers to improve in KC. I believe we have a better defense than Tampa and we have a better pitcher’s park. Should be fun to watch…I hope.

          • http://puckettspond.com/ Wally Fish

            I don’t know if I buy Shields improving with the Royals – he has fared FAR better at the Trop in his career than on the road. And Tropicana as a ballpark suits Shields in a lot of ways. Not to mention I think you’re underselling the Rays defensively but I don’t know that I can back up my base impression on that statistically.

          • Stillroyal

            Yeah, as I started thinking about it, we are actually very good defensively. Assuming Cain’s healthy we likely have the best defensive outfield in the game. Hosmer is already one of the best defensive 1st basemen, Perez at Catcher is superb. Moose and Escobar are no slouches obviously. Our trio of 2nd basemen may be our weakness on defense.

            I admit, I didn’t reference any statistics when making this claim, but position by position I have a hard time seeing where the Rays are as good defensively.

            As for stadium, that’s where you got me. And I must admit, I am a little surprised and now a little more nervous…Kaufman Stadium ranked 12th in park factor at 1.034 while the Trop was tied for 23rd at .874. The homerun rates were even more startling. K – 1.028, Trop – .774. I guess our reputation for being a pitchers park and a place where homers are more difficult to hit is really unwarranted.

            Considering Shields penchant for the gopher-ball, now I am getting that sinking feeling all over again.

        • Stillroyal

          We clarified this in another post. By the way, Shields was a #3 starter when you factor Matt Moore into the equation, but I digress.

          Ace is a subjective term that can be applied to anyone that would be recognized as such by the most discerning sabermetrician to the most casual baseball fan. If memory serves, we came up with 12, (in no particular order):

          Verlander
          Price
          Kershaw
          Greinke
          Sabathia
          Strasburg
          Gio
          Halladay
          Lee
          Cain
          King Felix
          Weaver

          If 2012 was an aberration then Lincecum could rejoin the list. Hammels may need another year or two at his current level to join the list. He’s darn close and I could support him as #13 on the list.

          Shields is very good and will be KC’s #1 pitcher, but he’s not an “Ace”.

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