KANSAS CITY, Mo. – To all the critics of the Royals’ blockbuster trade Sunday night – and judging by Twitter and some local media there are plenty – I have two questions:
First, did you really want to sit through yet another long Royals summer watching manager Ned Yost walk slowly to the mound in the fourth inning and point to the bullpen several times each week? Was that really fun?
And second, do you fully understand the notion that a farm system is designed to not only pipeline talent to the big leagues but also to provide resources to acquire major-league-ready talent from other organizations?
The outcry from the Royals’ decision to trade prospects Jake Odorizzi, Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard to Tampa for No. 1 starter James Shields and hard-throwing Wade Davis seems both unfounded and hypocritical.
After all, Royals fans have been BEGGING Royals general manager Dayton Moore to get more starting pitching to support a young nucleus of position players as well as perhaps the game’s best bullpen.
The geez-if-we-only-had-starting-pitching cry has been the fans’ annual refrain each summer for years, even decades.
Moore now has assembled, at least on paper, the best starting rotation this organization has fielded since David Cone, Kevin Appier and Mark Gubicza pitched together in the early ’90s. And Moore is being Kansas City barbecued for his efforts?
I don’t get it.
Certainly, there is some concern that Moore’s all-in play has mortgaged the future, but even that theory is a bit misguided.
After all, the Royals do have the rights to Shields for the next two years, and there’s no law stating that they can’t re-sign him beyond that. And Davis, who has the type of power arm to really make this deal sizzle, is under club control for five years.
True, the Royals gave up Baseball America’s player of the year in Myers, and fans here have been reading about Myers’ exploits for two years. He could turn out to be a fantastic offensive player.
But no one knows for certain he will. Baseball has been littered throughout the years with players who lit up the minors but then were stopped cold at the next level.
In fact, one American League scout told me last month that he had reservations about Myers.
“He is still paralyzed by the curveball,” the scout said. “Great fastball hitter but until he learns to hit breaking pitches, he won’t get out of the minors. Needs at least another year in the minors.”
As for Odorizzi, acquired in the Zack Greinke trade in 2010, a Royals official seemed resigned to the fact that Odorizzi would never be more than a No. 4 or No. 5 starter.
“Smart kid who may learn enough pitches to survive,” the Royals official told me. “But he’s a bit frail. He could have durability issues.”
Montgomery? Even Royals fans who hated Sunday’s trade have to concede that Montgomery, once regarded highly in the organization, has regressed severely. And the same American League scout said of Montgomery, “Pretty much average stuff. Sorry. Decent fastball but doesn’t trust it.”
And even if all three prospects – four if you count Leonard, a third baseman who was in rookie ball a year ago – turn out to be fantastic with Tampa, well, hey, that’s OK.
The Royals are getting what they covet the most RIGHT NOW – a competitive rotation that could put them in the playoff hunt next year and the year after.
Moore was at Kauffman Stadium on Monday discussing the big trade and he, too, emphasized the need for the organization to launch into a winning mode immediately.
“We needed to do everything in our power to support our present group of players,” Moore said. “Our window is just beginning with this core group.
“The truth is, if we want our young players to mature and get better, you got to start winning games at the major-league level now. And James Shields and Wade Davis put us into position to do that.”
Moore reiterated that the rebuilding phase of his program is long gone. There is a different mentality now and it involves competing for the division starting in 2013.
“Major-league players have a small window of opportunity to win together,” Moore said. “It’s our job to make sure this core group of players gets that opportunity. We have players who have committed to us long term and we need to make sure we do our part to give them an opportunity to win.”
To accomplish that goal, Moore and the Royals had to part with quality, which includes a player such as Myers, who may, down the road, turn into a great offensive force. That is the sacrifice good teams make in order to make themselves better.
And when and if Myers becomes a star for Tampa, the Royals very well could have another stud offensive talent bursting through their farm system – someone like Jorge Bonifacio, a power-hitting outfielder who will start at Double-A next year, or outfielder Bubba Starling, their top pick from 2011 who could move through the ranks quickly.
To be successful in a small market, this is the game Moore has to constantly play – load and re-load. He knows this as well as anyone.
“Look, we didn’t want to trade Wil Myers,” Moore said. “But you have to give away quality to get quality. There is a purpose for your farm system. It’s great to have talent in that system but you have to utilize that talent.
“You can only play nine guys (on the field) and only have five guys in the rotation. Your farm system exists to transition players to the major-league level, which we have done, and to help add more players to the major-league system. That’s how it works. That’s how we’re going to continue to operate going forward. “
By now, Royals fans should be on board with that philosophy. The guess here is they will be all-in as well come next summer when instead of lamenting another season lost, they have reason to look at the standings in August and September.
Shields, who talked to reporters via conference call on Monday, can see the Royals getting to the post-season in a hurry.
“The Royals are on the right track,” he said. “The scouting department there has done a phenomenal job of finding talent. The kids are homegrown, which is good. They definitely remind me of our ’07 team or ’08 team with Tampa. I think we can step in that direction, too.
“I’ve been there and lost 100 games before and been there when we won 96 or 97 games. I think Wade and I can definitely bring some experience to this team and help them get to that level. We’re very close. Very close. I’m excited to get started.”