Let's not all get hysterical.
Yes, the Kansas City Royals just traded the best hitting prospect in baseball, along with their most advanced pitching prospect and a couple of other promising youngsters, to the Tampa Bay Rays for a couple of pitchers, one of whom will quite likely be a Royal for only two seasons.
Over on Twitter, the immediate reaction was ... well, it wasn't unanimous. But Justin Bopp didn't have any trouble collecting tweets suggesting the Royals had been taken. Oh, and there was this:
My quick take: This is the worst trade in MLB history unless— robneyer (@robneyer) becomes a good starter, in which case it's only the second worst.December 10, 2012
Let me clarify a couple of things:
1. I was exaggerating.
2. In case you missed it, the Royals traded Wil Myers, pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, and Class-A third baseman Patrick Leonard to the Rays for Big Game James Shields and Wade Davis and maybe a bucket full of bubble gum or something.
Is Myers a sure thing? Of course not. The only sure things in baseball are Bud Selig getting a bad haircut and the Baltimore Orioles finishing in last place.
What? Oh. Right. Then just the bad haircut, I guess. That's the only sure thing.
But Wil Myers is the latest winner of Baseball America's latest Minor League Player of the Year. Here are the last 10 non-pitchers who won that award: Mike Trout, Jason Heyward, Matt Wieters, Jay Bruce, Alex Gordon, Delmon Young, Joe Mauer, Rocco Baldelli, Eric Chavez, Paul Konerko. Oh, and the previous five awards? Andruw Jones twice, Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, and Tim Salmon.
That's 15 awards, and just one non-star (Delmon Young) in the whole bunch. Based on this measure alone, it seems there's an excellent chance the Royals just traded away a future star ... and there's roughly a 50/50 chance they just traded a future superstar. Oh, and one more thing about that list ... I don't believe a single one of those guys was traded before getting a single at-bat with the team that initially signed and developed him.
Assuming that Myers does become a star, there are only two ways this deal doesn't become among the worst in the Royals' franchise history.*
* Granted, it will be difficult to top David Cone for Ed Hearn. That was one of John Schuerholz's less brilliant moments.
The first way is if the Royals reach the postseason in 2013 or '14, for the first time since 1985. If they do that, the loss of Wil Myers will be widely viewed as an acceptable and justifiable sacrifice. If they do that, they'll probably have gotten some real good work from Shields, who just became the Royals' No. 1 starter by default.
The second way is if Wade Davis becomes a good major-league starting pitcher. In the minors, he was a hot prospect despite relatively unimpressive strikeout-to-walk numbers. As a 24-year-old rookie with the Rays, he won a dozen games with a decent ERA. But Davis didn't really control the strike zone. So after a sub-par 2011, the Rays turned him into a relief pitcher last season. He thrived in that role.
That was good news for the Rays, who enjoyed a surplus of starting pitchers. The good news for the Royals is they've now got control of Davis, if they want him, through 2017; he's signed to a contract that, with all the team options exercised, will pay him only $32.6 million over the next five years. If he's a good relief pitcher for five more years, that's a team-friendly contract. If he's a league-average starter for five years, that contract is a steal.
There's just no reason to think he'll be a league-average starter. In 2010 and '11, playing for a club known for developing young starting pitchers and playing good fielders behind those pitchers, Davis compiled a 90 ERA+. There's every reason to think he's just not capable of being anything but an innings-eater on a lousy team.
There's a problem with the Royals-in-the-playoffs scenario, too. Chief among them, Shields isn't exactly an ace. He's 30, and his ERA's have gone up and down, but fundamentally he's been the same pitcher for the last three seasons. And he's not great. He controls the strike zone well enough and he's durable, but he gives up a lot of home runs and he's gotten a lot of help from both his teammates on defense and his ballpark.
There are other details, of course. Jake Odorizzi might be better than Wade Davis over the next five years, if not immediately. Mike Montgomery might jump-start his career, which hasn't been going well since 2010. Patrick Leonard might become a good major-league hitter by, say, 2015 or '16. If one or two of those things happen, it won't matter what Davis does; it will be a terrible trade for the Royals. Again, unless they reach the playoffs and Shields plays a big part.
And I'm not even sure if that will do it. If they do reach the postseason but get knocked out in the Wild Card Game, or in a Division Series, does that really balance the loss of six seasons of Wil Myers' hitting? Not to mention the potential value of the other three prospects?
Bottom line? This is a desperate move by a desperate team. I'm reluctant to blame general manager Dayton Moore, because it's possible that owner David Glass forced this move, or something like it, on him. But we've heard no hint of that. Considering only the evidence at hand, we must assume that Dayton Moore considers this a good trade, in which the value of the players he's acquired is balanced by the players he's given up.
Which is possible. Anything is possible. But it seems highly unlikely. What's most likely is that the benefits of this deal for the Royals will expire in two years, without anything exciting having happened. Meanwhile, the Rays will be reaping the benefits for at least six years (probably more), during which they'll be in the playoffs two or three times.
Recently, I wrote that this winter probably represents Dayton Moore's last big test; fail, and it would probably cost him his job, and perhaps ruin the Royals' already-meager chances for some years to come. It's too early to say, for sure, what will happen. But I will be surprised if Moore is still working for the Royals, two years from now.