Less than one month after the whopping trade between the Blue Jays and Marlins, two more teams shook the baseball landscape Sunday night. Shortly after 11 p.m. ET, the Kansas City Royals announced a seven-player deal that could make them immediate American League Central contenders — at the expense of their future.
The Royals acquired right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis and a player to be named or cash from the Tampa Bay Rays, in return for super prospect Wil Myers, young starting pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, and third baseman Patrick Leonard.
It was a desperate move for the Royals, but understandable given that the franchise has endured nine straight losing seasons. Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore has been on the job for more than six years, and this trade likely will define his tenure with the team for better or worse.
”We have to start winning games at the major league level, and the way you develop a winning culture is by winning major league games,” Moore said. ”It’s time for us to start winning at the major league level.”
With Shields, a 200-inning stalwart for the past six seasons, the Royals can argue that their rotation will give them a chance in the AL Central against the heavyweight Detroit Tigers. Detroit’s staff is headlined by Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister. Kansas City can counter with Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana — all of whom were acquired (or, in Guthrie’s case, retained) this offseason. Moore re-signed Jeremy Guthrie to a $25 million, three-year deal, and took on former All-Star Santana and $12 million of his contract from the Angels.
Shields, who turns 31 this month, has been a stalwart in the Tampa Bay rotation the past seven seasons. He was an All-Star two years ago, when he went 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and finished third in the American League Cy Young Award voting, and was 15-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 33 starts last season.
The only other pitchers to log at least 200 innings in six straight seasons are the Jays’ Mark Buehrle, San Francisco’s Matt Cain, Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia and Verlander.
”If you’re going to win consistently in the major leagues, you’re going to need a rotation that gives you innings, competes, helps you win,” Moore said. ”That’s what our goal is, to put together a very good rotation. We feel we’ve done that.”
Davis’ role will be one of the most-talked-about aspects of the trade. The Royals plan for him to be part of their rotation, likely in one of the final two spots with Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Luis Mendoza or Felipe Paulino. But Kansas City paid a starter price for someone Tampa Bay viewed most recently as a reliever; Davis made all 54 of this year’s appearances as a reliever, compiling a 2.43 ERA — a significant improvement from his 4.45 mark as a starter in 2011.
Shields will earn $10.25 million next year, with a $12 million club option ($1 million buyout) for 2014. (Shields also will receive a $750,000 trade bonus, according to a major league source.) Davis is under a long-term extension through 2015, with club options for ’16 and ’17. For those seven years of control, the Rays obtained a hefty prospect package.
Myers, who turns 22 Monday, was regarded as one of the top young hitters in the minor leagues this year and should immediately join the Rays’ everyday lineup. Myers played third base, right field, center field and designated hitter this year at Triple-A, where he amassed a .932 OPS and 24 home runs in only 99 games. If he fulfills his considerable potential, Myers will be the impact right-handed bat the Rays need now that B.J. Upton has left as a free agent.
”We’re constantly working to balance the present and the future, and always trying to thread the needle,” Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. ”As an organization we rely more on the contributions of our young players basically than anyone else in baseball, and with this trade we’re hoping to replenish our system and add a lot of players we feel can help us sustain this run of success that we’ve had for the last five years.”
Even without Shields, the Rays should have one of the top starting staffs in the American League: David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, and Chris Archer, to go along with potential contributions from the new arrivals.
Odorizzi, 22, debuted in the majors this year as a September call-up and made two starts. He’s a fly-ball pitcher, but that shouldn’t be a detriment when pitching at Tropicana Field. Montgomery, 23, is coming off his worst season as a pro — a 6.07 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A — and the Rays’ development staff will try to help him regain the form that made the left-hander one of the industry’s best pitching prospects not long ago.
Leonard, 20, hasn’t even played a full season in the minors but hit impressively (.833 OPS) while playing third base in the Appalachian League this year. By the time he reaches the majors, the verdict on this trade will be long since rendered. For the Royals to be declared the winner, they must reach the playoffs in one or both of the next two seasons.
By that time, Myers will have at least four seasons to go before free agency.
”It’s not easy to give up prospects,” Moore said. ”It’s time for us to start winning at the major league level, and we have to use all our resources. Our farm system is certainly one of them.”