In 2012, the Kansas City Royals finished 16 games behind the division leading Tigers with an overall record of 72-90. Collectively, the pitching staff managed to be near the bottom of many statistical categories including walks, hits, and runs allowed. The lowest ERA for a full time member of the rotation belonged to right-hander Luis Mendoza with an unsightly 4.23 ERA. There is no doubt at all that the Royals were in desperate need of pitching. They somewhat alleviated this problem by acquiring Ervin Santana from the Angels and resigning Jeremy Guthrie. I say somewhat because Guthrie and Santana own career ERA+ of 103 and 97, respectively. They basically are league average pitchers and only serve as modest improvements to last year's staff. Now, the Royals are acquiring a very solid pitcher in James Shields. Despite not being a true ace, as some proclaim, Shields still offers a ton of innings (over 200 innings every year since rookie season), strikes batters out (8.4 K/9 last three seasons), and limits free passes (career 2.1 BB/9).
In addition, one would think he is as close to a sure bet to take the mound every fifth day, with his only injury history being a couple of leg contusions from a batted ball. But like prospects, pitchers are no sure thing either. Shields entered 2012 as one of 26 pitchers to have thrown 600 or more innings from 2009-2011. Some pitchers in that group include Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester, Dan Haren, Chris Carpenter, and Ricky Romero. One year later, these "innings eaters" have certainly lost some of their luster. Halladay, Haren, and Carpenter all spent time on the DL while Lincecum, Lester, and Romero all suffered the worst seasons of their careers. While Shields is a very good pitcher and should immediately fill the void of a frontline starter, he cannot make up for the ineptitude for the rest of the starting rotation and team. Another quip on Shields is his disconcerting home/road splits. While pitching in pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field, Shields has pitched to the tune of a 4.54 ERA, .91 HR/9, and 1.29 WHIP. Away from the Trop, Shields becomes a much different pitcher. Owning 4.54 ERA, 1.40 HR/9, and 1.29 WHIP on the road, we would be remiss to say that Shields is as a good as his numbers suggest. This is not to discredit Shields as an excellent major league pitcher, but this just further stresses the fact that the Royals overpaid for a guy who really is more good than great.
The other pitcher heading to America's heartland is Wade Davis. Davis spent all of 2012 as a reliever after spending his whole career as a starter. As usually expected with starter to reliever transitions, Davis enjoyed his best season to date, with a 157 ERA+, 11.1 K/9 and 2.43 ERA. During his years as a starter, Davis had a 4.22 ERA, 92 ERA+, 5.9 K/9. As a reliever, Davis was more than solid and further cemented in my mind what role he should be fulfilling. Davis going to the rotation for the Royals is just going to stick them with another league average starter to complement their other league average starters.
As for the Rays haul, I suppose your view on the trade depends on your view of crown jewel prospect, Wil Myers. My opinion of him is pretty favorable, as I had him as the third best prospect in baseball and think his bat has a chance to be pretty special. For those that do not know, Myers was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, which has had an extreme amount of success in predicting future big league stardom among position players:
1992: Tim Salmon
1993: Manny Ramirez
1994: Derek Jeter
1995: Andruw Jones
1996: Andruw Jones
1997: Paul Konerko
1998: Eric Chavez
2002: Rocco Baldelli
2003: Joe Mauer
2005: Delmon Young
2006: Alex Gordon
2007: Jay Bruce
2008: Matt Wieters
2009: Jason Heyward
2011: Mike Trout
Pretty good company, eh? In addition to that, Myers is the first 21 yr old to hit 37 HRs in the high minors (AA and AAA) since 1963. He had a triple slash of .314/.387/.600 while playing against much older competition. Even the odds are on his side, as 61% of top twenty position player prospects succeed in the majors. For now, even just throw out the star potential for Myers and imagine if he was a replacement level player (0.0 WAR). Incumbent right fielder for the Royals is Jeff Francoeur, who had an all-time historically bad season with -2.7 WAR. Just by inserting the major league ready Myers into the Opening day lineup, it would be fairly reasonable to see a 3+ swing in the standings. Some even believe that marching Francoeur on the field instead of Myers could make acquiring Shields a complete wash. This trade really just represents a "rob Peter to pay Paul" scenario where the Royals are filling of position of need by stealing from another positional need. There's a reason the Royals have not made the playoffs in nearly 30 years and it has much more to do with this front office's ineptitude than failing prospects. The money now allotted to Shields ($21 million over 2 years) could have been used to sign a guy like Brandon McCarthy or Edwin Jackson while still being able to put Myers in RF. This could have solved both problems at hand rather than creating a problem to fix a problem. This is just not a smart baseball decision and frankly just is not common sense.
In addition to Myers, the Rays acquired Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard. Odorizzi spent time most of the minors in double A and triple A and projects as a solid middle of the rotation piece with good control despite his mediocre stuff. He was ranked as #31 in my prospect countdown. Montgomery represents a bit of a lottery ticket as he completely fell of the rails in 2012, posting a hideous 6.07 ERA and 5-12 record. His stuff is quite good for a lefty, with a plus fastball and an elite changeup but has been killed for his complete lack of control and command. In my opinion, the most realistic scenario for Montgomery is as a situational lefty to neutralize the left-handed opposition. Leonard posted solid numbers in rookie ball with a .251/.340/.494 triple slash and flashed polished defense at the hot corner. He remains a long ways away from reaching his potential, but has a ceiling of an above average third basemen.
Winner: Rays. Rays dealt from a position of strength and while they certainly will feel the loss of Shields, their talented arms should minimize this shortfall. Additionally, the Rays can use the money saved from Shields and reinvest it into improving the club. Lastly, the Rays added four quality minor league talents with one having a legitimate shot a major league stardom. Even if Myers doesn't reach his potential, just becoming a solid major leaguer should push this trade in favor of the Rays
Loser: Royals. Royals traded a major haul of talent for a pitcher that will minimally improve the team as a whole. Shields is a very good pitcher and should help the Royals improve for 2013. However, for a team with a ton of other needs, Shields alone is not going to make up a 20 win swing in the standings and make the Royals a contender. If the Royals were one good starting pitcher away from contending, this trade could be justified. But the current circumstances of the team does not justify mortgaging away the future success for 2013 mediocrity.
By: Aidan Flynn