Are the Royals and the Blue Jays really the same?

Ed Zurga

How are the Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays the same?

Last season, the Royals lost 90 games and the Jays lost 89 games (the Royals were outscored by 70 runs, the Jays by 68). The Royals haven't been in the playoffs since 1985; the Jays not since 1993. Both teams have just traded their No. 1 hitting prospects and No. 1 pitching prospects in the never-ending quest for championship-quality pitching rotations.

How are the Royals and the Blue Jays different?

They play in vastly different divisions. In the last two years, four different American League East teams have won at least 90 games in a season. In the last two years, only two different American League Central teams have enjoyed winning season, and just one has won 90 games.

They received different sorts of packages in these deals. The Royals got a durable Grade B+ starting pitcher, and a Grade C (at best) starting pitcher or Grade A (or B+) reliever. The Blue Jays got a durable Grade A starting pitcher.

The Royals gave up four prospects to get their two pitchers; the Jays gave up two prospects to get their one pitcher.

The biggest difference, I think, relates to the difference between the qualities of the prospects the Royals and Jays traded away.

The Royals traded four prospects -- Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard -- for two pitchers (James Shields and Wade Davis). Myers wasn't just the Royals' No. 1 hitting prospect; he was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year. Odorizzi, the Royals' No. 1 pitching prospect, thrived in Double- and Triple-A last season, at 22.

The Blue Jays traded two prospects -- catcher Travis d'Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard -- for one pitcher (Dickey). Syndergaard is only 20, and pitched exceptionally well last summer ... in the Midwest League, which is a long way from the National League. There's probably better than a 50/50 chance of Syndergaard pitching in the majors someday, and a significantly worse than 50/50 chance that he'll actually pitch well in the majors as a starter, win more than a dozen games in one season, etc. d'Arnaud is an excellent prospect, but does turn 24 this winter. There's another valid concern, as Ken Rosenthal notes:

[d]’Arnaud has suffered a number of injuries — he had back trouble in 2010, suffered two concussions in ’11, tore a knee ligament last season. If he stays healthy, he should develop into a potential All-Star, if not quite Buster Posey or Matt Wieters. But the Jays evidently are comfortable with J.P. Arencibia and Josh Thole, whom they would acquire in this trade.

There's a vast gulf between Posey and Wieters, and I would guess d'Arnaud's ceiling is actually somewhere in that gulf. But considering his injuries, it's too early to seriously predict he'll ever play 120 games in a season, let alone become Matt Wieters.

On balance, though? These two trades do seem roughly equivalent. The Royals gave up more, but they also got more. My gut reaction is that the Royals gave up too much, but I do get emotional (i.e. illogical) when it comes to the Royals' top prospects.

The real difference, I think, relates to the impact of the deals for these prospective contenders. Both teams suffered last season from poor starting pitching ...

Screen_shot_2012-12-17_at_9

... and both obviously had to improve in that area, if they're to contend in 2013.

The Royals have completely remade their rotation this winter, and so have the Blue Jays. Here's Toronto's new starting five, with combined ERA+ over the last two seasons for each pitcher:

1. R.A. Dickey (126)
2. Josh Johnson (120)
3. Mark Buehrle (113)
4. Brandon Morrow (107)
5. Ricky Romero (102)

There are some articles of faith here. Johnson and Morrow have been injured, while Romero was excellent in 2011 and terrible in 2012. Really, Dickey and Buehrle are the only good bets for 30 starts and 200 innings. But there's a reasonable chance that four of these five guys will be better than league-average next season.

Now, the Royals:

1. James Shields (120)
2. Jeremy Guthrie (96)
3. Ervin Santana (91)
4. Wade Davis (97)
5. Bruce Chen (91)

Guthrie's number includes his disastrous stint with the Rockies last season. Davis's number includes his poor season as a starter in 2011 and his excellent season as a reliever in 2012.

Every baseball season consists of dozens hundreds of articles of faith. The Blue Jays are hoping their previously non-healthy starting pitchers will become largely healthy, and the Royals are hoping their previously just-moderately effective starting pitchers will become actually effective. The Royals are also hoping -- and this is really what their season comes down to -- that their young hitters, especially Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain -- will hit better next season than last season. The Blue Jays are hoping that Jose Reyes makes them better at shortstop, and that Melky Cabrera makes them better in left field.

Are the Royals and the Blue Jays the same? On Opening Day next spring, will we be expecting both the Royals and the Blue Jays to show up in the championship tournament, six months later? I doubt it. I suspect we'll be predicting a distant second-place finish for the Royals in the Central, and a competitive third for the Jays in the wild-card standings.

One thing's definitely the same, though: If these teams don't make a run at some point in the next two or three seasons, they'll have "lost" these huge trades.

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