The Shields Trade: What Were the Royals Thinking?

Rob Neyer at SB Nation writes, “This is a desperate move by a desperate team.”

The headline to Ken Rosenthal’s column at Fox Sports reads, “Royals made right move with trade.”

Who’s right?

Dayton Moore has been general manager of the Royals since the middle of the 2006 season. In his first six seasons with the club, Kansas City has finished fifth (69–93), fourth (75–87), fourth (65–97), fifth (67–95), fourth (71–91), and third (72–90) in the not-very-good American League Central Division.

Neyer and others speculate that another subpar season would likely lead to Moore’s ouster. If so, it is not unreasonable to conclude that last night’s trade with the Rays for a no. 1 starter was a panic move.

Here is why I don’t slit my wrist if I’m a Royals fan:

The previously awful starting rotation has been upgraded.

While one can debate whether he greatly benefited from a rangey defense in Tampa, James Shields is a really good pitcher and Kansas City now has him under contract through 2014 at a reasonable price: $21 million.

Wade Davis is under team control through 2017 and has reasonable upside, although his best work to date has been as a reliever.

Here’s why I drive my car off a cliff instead:

Corner outfielder Wil Myers is as blue-chip as prospects get. As Neyer points out, of the last ten position players to earn Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year award, only two failed to become big-league stars.

Jake Odorizzi, 22, is a pretty good prospect in his own right. Last September, Chris Mellen of Baseball Prospectus indicated that Odorizzi was capable of becoming a no. 2 pitcher in a rotation, although more likely a no. 3.

Mike Montgomery had a disappointing 2012 in Triple-A, but according to Michael Valancius of DRaysBay, the 20-year old southpaw was generally viewed as a better prospect than Myers before his regression. Power-hitting third baseman Patrick Leonard is also 20 but has no experience beyond rookie ball.

Having signed Jeremy Guthrie last month, Moore could have pursued one more free-agent pitcher, such as Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, or Shaun Marcum. Had he done so, Myers would have been his starting right fielder next season, an almost-certain immediate upgrade over Jeff Francoeur.

In his defense of the trade, Rosenthal argues: “I’m sick of low-revenue teams that are scared to make a move, fixated on their place in the Baseball America organization rankings, content in their mediocrity.”

What he overlooks is that the Royals, who last visited the postseason in 1985, have been worse than mediocre since Moore took the reins on June 8, 2006. The club was 72–90 last season in a division that also included the lowly Twins (66–96) and Indians (68–94). Sure, the addition of Shields, Davis, and Guthrie, combined with a young, maturing lineup, ought to provide enough juice to push the club into .500 territory, but it’s unlikely to yield a wildcard berth, let alone seriously challenge the two-time defending division-champion Tigers.

Either way, the upgrade comes at an excessive price.

As Craig Brown of Royals Review protested overnight:

This move is from a [g]eneral [m]anager who is, as I’ve noted before, on the hot seat. His contract runs out in 2014 and the clock is ticking. He’s had a longer tenure than Allard Baird with less major league success. Dayton Moore is fighting for his job. When that happens, you sacrifice the long term plan for the short term gain. Yes, we are talking about dealing away prospects in Myers, Odorizzi and Montgomery. Unproven players. No, Wil Myers alone wasn’t going to get the Royals to the postseason in 2013, but he was a piece of the puzzle that would have definitely improved the team. And regardless of what the Royals think, I’ve heard plenty of scouts who feel that Myers has the most offensive upside of the Royals big three bats.

A longtime Royals friend and season-ticket holder was a bit more succinct when he texted me this morning: “Worse than I dared imagine. Worse than my worst-case scenario.”

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