It was on this day (and a month ago) last year that I found myself scrolling through my twitter feed until I ran into this tweet by MLB Network’s Scott Braun (via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). The unfortunate inevitable was about to happen; the Royals were trading Wil Myers. Even though I was anticipating it for weeks, the reality of it happening turned my world upside down. Dayton Moore, who for years stressed the importance of developing your own players, was about to trade away the top hitting prospect in baseball for a pitcher with two years of team control.
The next thing that crossed my mind was that since the Royals were also acquiring Wade Davis, the Royals had to be giving up more than just Myers. I didn’t want to know who else the Rays were acquiring, but at the same time I could not wait to find out. Once I found out that Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard were also heading to Tampa Bay, I anointed Andrew Friedman the executive of the year. He once again succeeded in flipping an expensive player and replenished his farm system with a group of young, controllable players with a ton of upside. Myers was well known as a future middle-of-the-order run producer, which he proved to be in his rookie season, and Odorizzi can still be an innings eating mid-rotation starter.
With all the attention of this trade being thrown on James Shields and Wil Myers, the two wild cards in this deal were Montgomery and Leonard. Montgomery was once one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball and as a 6’5″ southpaw with a power arm, many figured he could be a future ace. However, control problems started to haunt Montgomery once he reached the upper levels of the minors, but I figured if anyone could fix him it would be the Rays. That has yet to be the case, as he struggled to a 7-9 record with a 4.83 ERA in 2013. His future appears likely to be in the bullpen, but his fastball-slider combo can still play up if he is shortened up in the bullpen.
Meanwhile, Leonard played the 2013 season in Low-A Bowling Green and posted a .225/.303/.345 line, but he hit 14 home runs and drove in 46 runs in 62 games in the Appalachian League in 2012 and was the best hitter on the Burlington Royals team that played for the championship that season. Scouts like his power potential and he does have a chance to become a legit prospect if he can put things together at the plate. He entered 2013 as a breakout candidate and still remains one heading into 2014.
Time will ultimately tell how those players will turn out for the Rays, but time is on their side, since this was a move to help them in the future. For now, the big players are Myers and Odorizzi, and Shields and Davis.
James Shields took the ball for the Royals on Opening Day in Chicago against the White Sox and lost a 1-0 pitcher’s duel to Chris Sale, but Shields was everything the Royals could have hoped for in his first season with the club. He finished the season with a 13-9 record and a 3.15 ERA, while leading baseball in innings pitched with 228.2 and starts with 34. Wade Davis, on the other hand, did not turn out like the Royals had hoped. He posted a 5.67 ERA in 24 starts as a starter and was demoted to the bullpen in September, where it seems like he will be a better fit.
Meanwhile, Myers made his major league debut on June 18th against the Boston Red Sox, ironically just after they finished up a series against the Royals in St. Petersburg. He finished his rookie year with a .293, 13, 53 line in 88 games and won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He is under team control through the 2019 season and will be making near the league minimum for another three seasons. Odorizzi bounced up and down between Tampa Bay and AAA Durham and was solid in Durham, posting a 9-6 record with a 3.33 ERA in 22 starts. He should see more time in Tampa’s rotation at some point in 2014 and could ultimately settle into the middle of their rotation. He is also under team control through 2019.
While he is a free agent after the 2014 season, the Royals made the right move in acquiring Shields. The 2013 season turned out to be the best season the Royals had since 1989. They won 86 games and finished five games out of a wild card spot. Their 86-76 record was their first winning record since 2003 and only their second since the 1994. Shields also brought a veteran presence into a young Royals clubhouse that they have not had before.
It is also much easier to find corner outfielders than frontline starting pitchers, and the Royals acquired a suitable player in Nori Aoki from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for pitcher Will Smith to play right field in 2014. Aoki will fit perfectly atop the Royals lineup and they will be able to shift Alex Gordon to the middle of the order. Aoki is also an excellent defensive player, with a .989 fielding percentage in two years, and he will fit in perfectly with Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain in one of the best outfields in baseball.
The Royals also filled a gaping hole at second base by importing free agent Omar Infante, who has been consistent in the field and at the plate. He will also be a nice fit in the number two spot in the order. This move will also let manager Ned Yost to utilize Emilio Bonifacio as a super utility player, which is his most valuable role. All-star catcher Salvador Perez should only continue to take strides toward stardom as he continues to develop into one of the best all-around catchers in baseball. If Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas take the next step in their developments and Alcides Escobar hits closer to .260 with his defense, the Royals should have an exciting infield to go with a talented outfield.
The combination of their exciting core of position players to go with a solid rotation and a lights-out bullpen puts the Royals in an excellent position to make their first postseason appearance in 29 years in 2014. While the Rays might benefit more from this trade over the long-term, the Royals would not be in this position without James Shields leading their rotation.