Dayton Moore Sells His Soul to the Rays

James Shields will headline the Royals rotation in 2013.

Late Sunday night, news broke that the Rays had sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for a package built around uber-prospect Wil Myers. The Royals received Shields, Davis, and a player to be named later, while the Rays acquired Myers, pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, as well as 3rd base prospect Patrick Leonard. In the short-term, this move is greatly beneficial to the Royals, but they give up on quite a bit for the long-term.

The Royals rotation now looks like this heading into 2013:

1. James Shields (2012 WAR: 4.3)

2. Jeremy Guthrie (1.3)

3. Ervin Santana (-0.9)

4. Wade Davis (1.4)

5. Bruce Chen (1.3)

Over the last 2 seasons, Shields has been among the best pitchers in baseball. Since 2011, Shields has averaged 238 innings pitched, a 3.15 ERA, and a 120 ERA+ while striking out nearly a batter per inning. His 9.2 wins above replacement ranks 5th among all American League pitchers over that span. He is a top-notch starting pitcher, and gives the Royals the type of guy they’ve been lacking since they shipped Zack Greinke off to Milwaukee in the winter of 2010.

Wade Davis possesses an electric arm that has proven to be quite effective in the bullpen, and he still has a chance to be a mid-rotation type starter. Davis has pitched two full seasons in the big leagues, two as a starter (2010 & 2011) and one as a reliever (2012). In his two seasons as a starter Davis was merely average, profiling as a back-end-of-the-rotation arm. Last season, the Rays moved him to the bullpen and he quickly became among the best relief pitchers in baseball. He pitched over 70 innings in relief for Tampa in 2012 while striking out well over a batter per inning and posting a 2.78 FIP. As a starter, Davis’s fastball sat in the 91-93 range, but as a reliever it levels up to the 93-95 MPH tier. Kansas City reportedly wants to put him back in the rotation, which I think is a good move, especially considering their bullpen depth.

This deal certainly provides an upgrade over their 2012 rotation, and with their already strong bullpen and offense, they should be contenders next season. This also gives the Royals added rotation depth as Luke Hochevar is still on the team (surprisingly), and both Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino should return mid-season from injuries.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with this deal for the Royals. For one, they give up a considerable amount of talent and financial flexibility for a couple years of James Shields, and five of Wade Davis. Kansas City is not a big market team, and losing a combined total of 24 years of player control at a relatively low-cost is a big blow to them. Second, they are going to have a hard time finding a playoff spot in 2013. The Tigers are a strong bet to repeat as AL Central champions, and the White Sox look like contenders as well, leaving little room for the Royals. The AL has roughly 11 teams (including the Royals) that could feasibly compete for a playoff spot in 2013, and while anything can happen, Kansas City is still a longshot as of right now. You can’t blame Dayton Moore for making this move, as his job was likely on the line, and ownership was probably pushing for the team to secure a playoff spot for the first time since 1985. From the business aspect of this, Kansas City does great as Shields will fill seats and help KC field a winning team, but from a baseball perspective, its relatively underwhelming.

For the Rays, they gain the potential middle-of-the-order bat they have been looking for to pair up with Evan Longoria. Myers is easily one of the top 10 prospects in the game, and was Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year award winner this season after hitting .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs in 134 games split between Double and Triple-A. He projects as a potential All-Star caliber player, hitting for strong averages with plenty of home runs and solid defense in right field. The Rays are rich with pitching, and Myers give them the potential impact bat they lack in their farm system.

Jake Odorizzi is a potential work-horse that could end up as a number 3 starter, but is more likely to become a strong staple in the back-end of a contender’s rotation. He is major league ready at this point, and will likely compete with Chris Archer and Alex Cobb for the last spot in the Rays’ 2013 rotation. Montgomery, a former top prospect who has seen his stock drop off significantly over the last two years, is a reclamation project for Tampa, as the Rays are noted for their ability to develop pitching. Patrick Leonard is a solid third base prospect who John Sickels has noted as a strong sleeper prospect for next season.

Overall, this deal is great for Tampa. It hinders them slightly in the short-term, but long-term, this has the potential to be a pivotal trade for the Rays as they try to keep their string of success going.

Indirectly, this move has to be a loss for the Rangers as they lost their top two pitching targets (Greinke and Shields) over a period of roughly 24 hours. It’s hard to tell what direction they will head in pitching-wise now, but I fully expect them to add an outfield bat by either retaining Josh Hamilton or trading for Justin Upton.

____________________

(11/11/2014): I was wrong. Simply put, my evaluation of the Kansas City Royals’ end of this deal was wrong.

At the time of this deal, I wasn’t alone in saying that the Royals pulling off their miracle run of the past two months was a far-fetched pipe dream. But it happened. And because of those two months, I was wrong.

Revisionism is often a futile effort, but it makes sense at this point to go back and reevaluate my stance on this trade, which has now had two years to cultivate a data set that relatively solidifies the Royals’ aspect of this trade. James Shields was about as good as expected for the Royals. He tossed up a 3.18 ERA in his time with the club, while exhibiting his usual workhorse qualities, as he averaged 228 innings in his two seasons in the inappropriately named Missouri city, which was good for the second best mark in all of baseball during that span. He was worth a combined 7.4 wins above replacement (WAR) and gave the Royals a sorely needed rotation anchor, though he wasn’t exactly great in the playoffs, with 17 runs allowed in 25 innings. Assuming he doesn’t re-sign with the Royals, the club figures to receive a first round pick as compensation for his services, so there is some excess value to be gained from Shields.

I was right in saying that the Royals were probably not going to make the playoffs in 2013, as they ended up finishing 86-76, missing the playoffs by five games. However, I didn’t account for a magical 2014 postseason run that led them to the cusp of the franchise’s first World Series in nearly three decades.

Notably, I failed to realize just how big of a role Wade Davis could play in this deal. Against my hypothesis, Davis failed miserably as a starting pitcher in 2013, putting up a 5.32 ERA, 4.18 FIP, and -2.1 WAR in 135.1 innings pitched. He was among the worst players in baseball. But a move back to the bullpen this season revitalized his talent, and he emerged as quite possibly the best eight inning reliever in the game this season. He was lights out for the entirety of the regular season, posting a 1.00 ERA and 1.19 FIP in 72.0 innings, the former tally of which was 299% above league average. His 109 strikeouts contributed to an astronomical 13.6 strikeouts-per-nine, and his 3.7 WAR was a tally that earns starting pitchers All-Star recognition, let alone relievers who throw just a third of the innings. Davis was similarly good in the playoffs, allowing just one run in 14.1 dominant innings, including five shutout frames in the World Series. And with James Shields essentially a sure thing to depart via free agency in the coming weeks, Davis is a gift that could potentially keep giving for the Royals, though his 2014 season alone has already been hugely beneficial to the franchise.

I was wrong about what the Royals were capable of in the short-term, and I’ll swallow the sword on that, but I believe my long-term assessment of the trade was correct in calling for a Rays victory.

Looking at this objectively, the Royals’ postseason success cannot be counted against the Rays, as playoff success is fungible, and the Rays were trading only regular season value.

The latter two players in the Rays’ return portion of the deal, Patrick Leonard and Mike Montgomery, don’t figure to amount to much at this point. Montgomery improved off his disastrous 2012 season, lowering his ERA by 1.4 runs over the past two years, but still isn’t expected to be much more than an up-and-down fifth starter or reliever. Leonard has hit well in the Rays’ system, and could still turn into a regular, but he isn’t a deal-breaker.

Wil Myers was considered to be the blue-chip piece heading back to Tampa Bay, but he is a mixed bag at this point. The soon-to-be 24-year-old was mesmerizing in his 2013 rookie campaign which netted him American League Rookie of the Year honors. He hit a robust .293/.354/.478 in 88 games, account for an OPS 31% above league average. However, his production dropped off quite a bit over an injury-riddled 2014 season in which he batted just .222/.294/.320. Myers’ youth, track record, and talent are all in favor of a rebound 2015 season, but it’s still somewhat worrying just how bad he was this year, even if a majority of that production dropoff can be accounted for with his injuries.

Jake Odorizzi, a secondary component of the trade, seems to have become the player that may make this a long-term victory for the Rays. He has made 35 big league starts over the past two years, posting a lukewarm 4.10 ERA (91 ERA+), but significantly better 3.77 FIP, to go along with a 8.9 K/9 and 2.3 WAR. His peripheral production was similar to Shields’ over that time, as he had a 3.53 FIP and 7.4 K/9 in that span. In addition, Odorizzi is under the Rays’ organizational control for the next five seasons at relatively cheap prices that will enable them to spend on excess talent, whereas Shields would have departed following this year due to what should be a $20 million per annum pricetag. While Shields is the better pitcher at the moment, and delivers an exemplary track record, Odorizzi isn’t too far behind him in present rate categories (Shields has a sizable edge in quantity of innings pitched), and has the potential to turn into a similar pitcher in the near future.

As for that final tidbit about the Rangers, that lack of an ace came back to bite them, as they barely slipped into the playoffs in 2013 before nosediving in 2014.

Ultimately, I feel that my long-term prognosis is still intact, as the Rays’ players figure to have plenty of promise. Of course, this is clear win for the Royals too, as a World Series berth is easily enough to justify the deal. In the end, this seems to be one of those rare cases where a trade is a win for both sides. Not exactly what was expected two years ago.

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Posted on December 11, 2012, in featured. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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