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.