(Not So Instant) Trade Analysis: James Shields to the Kansas City Royals

Tampa Bay Rays get: OF Wil Myers, SP Jake Odorizzi, SP Mike Montgomery, 3B Patrick Leonard

Kansas City Royals get: SP James Shields, SP/RP Wade Davis

“This could be the deal that brings Moore’s time in Kansas City to an end”–Keith Law, ESPN

“Hell yeah this was a desperate trade. More than a quarter-century of irrelevance tends to foster desperation.”–Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports
“The Royals got owned on this one,” said an NL executive, who marveled at Friedman’s huge haul of young talent.”–Jerry Cranick, ESPN.com
Just three out of hundreds of opinions that suggested that the James Shields-centered trade from late Sunday night was nothing more than a heist for the Tampa Bay Rays. In many ways, how could you argue that? The Kansas City Royals look like Randy Travis–a drunk, pantsless victim of larceny.
The Rays dealt a fine, fine pitcher, who’s averaged 33 starts, 222 innings, a 3.80 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP for the past six seasons. He’s an extremely healthy player, especially considering that he’s such a prolific strikeout artist, sitting down 7.8 batters per nine innings. Shields placed third in Cy Young voting last season, which combined with this season, count as a great right-hander settling into his prime. He’s started 33 games each of the past two seasons, with a 3.15 ERA, 8.5 Ks per nine, a 3.64 SO/BB ratio and giving up just 403 hits in 477 innings pitched. In other words, Shields has emerged into a rotation work horse, capable of taking on big innings matched with premium results. He’s not a bonified “ace”, but he’s close.
His fellow ex-Ray Davis isn’t a slouch either. As a starter, he averaged 176 innings and 29 starts over two seasons, throwing 4.27 ERA ball, with a 1.36 WHIP. However, his fatal flaw was that in stretching his arm out, he hardly struck anyone out, with a paltry 5.6 Ks per nine innings. Davis was converted to a reliever last year with much deadlier results–70 innings, 2.43 ERA, 87 strikeouts to only 29 walks and a remarkable 1.09 WHIP. Going forward, Davis is probably better off as a reliever, though his contract makes him paid as a starter. It’d probably be a mistake to put Davis “out of position” to “justify” activating his three team options after 2014 (for $7, $8 and $10 million), but the Royals currently plan to have Davis start. Perhaps his true destination is to end up at closer, but for now, he’ll hit the mound every five days.
Kansas City probably got better with this deal in the short term, though if Odorizzi blossoms this year into an above average young starter and Wil Myers turns into the second coming of Andruw Jones (though hopefully a better ending), it could be up for debate. In my mind, Tampa got the better end of the deal, with two premium prospects, one of which seems like a sure thing to be an impact player in the Majors, as well as two other young players whose ceilings rank them as every day major leaguers. When trading a proven, work horse arm like Shields, the Rays certainly did well. They were dealing from a place of strength in the organization, and Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Alex Torres or any number of starters could come in and fill Shields role–this season just in innings, but perhaps next in performance as well.

In many ways, this feels like the trade of two years of Mark Texeira back in 2007 to the Atlanta Braves, where the Rangers got a young Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz as their bounty. KC management no doubt feels that they’re close to winning this year, and if that’s the case, then this was a great trade for them. 

However, most people aren’t saying that. At all. The Royals look like an 80 to 85 win team, which won’t get it done in the AL Central, where the division winners have averaged only 90.6 wins in the past five seasons. However, we’re going to keep it positive on MAMBINO. Bloggers and the baseball world have been taking a big, honking Jon Rauch-size poop on the Royals for giving up so many premium prospects for a starting pitcher with only two years left on his deal when the team doesn’t look that close to competing. So….here…we…try:
1). Starting Rotation
On paper, James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Wade Davis and Bruce Chen doesn’t look like much of a formidable starting five. Shields is so much the key here that it almost goes without saying–he has to resemble his 2011, third-place Cy Young Award self, not the 2010 version that gave up a mind-blowing 35 homers. 
Santana actually emerges here as the second-most important starter. He’s just a year removed from 33 starts, a 3.38 ERA, 178 strikeouts to only 72 walks. He’s still striking out roughly the same batters per nine innings (6.7 this year to slightly above 7 the previous two years), and ramped up his performance in September, giving up only 12 runs in 29 innings. He’s staying in a pitcher’s park, very similar to Anaheim according to parkfactors.com, and his career numbers alternate year to year between being great and terrible. There’s some reason to think that Santana, who will be 30 years old, could come back and pitch to his ceiling, most of which could be him being in a contract year. 
Guthrie, Davis and Chen shouldn’t be anything more than league average–the first two had ERA+ around the league mean, while Chen is slightly below that. In the end, this is going to be about how dominant–not good, dominant–Santana and Shields can be. The other three have to be merely good and not absolutely terrible. After all, Justin Verlander and Doug Fister dragged a very middling Detroit rotation to the playoffs in 2011, while Verlander teamed with Anibal Sanchez to do the same this year. It’s not impossible. Everything hinges on the starters. 
2). Offense
Before last season, most of us thought that Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas were on the precipice of emerging simultaneously, like the second coming of the 1996 Yankees or 1991 Braves. But Perez got hurt, Moustakas showed power but was league average in most other metrics and Hosmer proved to be one of the biggest disappointments of the season. Only Escobar truly separated himself from the pack, while Gordon and Butler performed to previously established career norms. The Royals finished 20th in the Majors in runs scored, 15th in team OPS and 16th in extra-base hits.

To support a staff that will be mostly mediocre 3/5ths of the way around, the Royals must see vast improvement from Hosmer (.663 OPS, 14 homers, 95 strikeouts to only 124 hits), as well as an above average season for Moustakas (.704 OPS, .296 OBP, 20 homers) and continued performances from twenty-somethings Escobar, Gordon and Butler. That’s a lot to go right for such a young team. However, if Hosmer or Moustakas were to transform into All-Stars, not every single player has to improve. They’re the fulcrums here.

3). Bullpen

This is the only part of the Royals that currently functions like a playoff-ready team. Greg Holland stepped in after the trade of Jonathan Broxton in July, and allowed only 6 earned runs, 19 hits and 11 walks in over 27 innings while saving 16 games. Aaron Crow and Tim Collins round out a very solid ‘pen that struck out 9 and 12 batters per nine innings, respectively. They’ll need to keep close leads even if the offense improves, especially looking at the back end of the rotation that dole out very specific definitions of “quality start”.

4). Everyone Else in the AL Central

…needs to be terrible. I highly doubt the Royals will be able to nab one of the two Wild Card spots, especially seeing as the entire AL East (including Boston), Oakland, Anaheim and Texas all look like better squads on paper than KC. They’ll need to win the division to make the dance, and luckily for the Royals, that might just be possible. The Twins continue their descent into irrelevancy with power signings of Kevin Correia, while the Indians and White Sox don’t seem to be holding court while they rebuild their programs (though Chicago has far less distance to go than Cleveland). The Royals will have to depending on some decline from Detroit, which could very well come from an extremely unsettled bullpen and a rotation aside from Justin Verlander that can look awesome or awful depending on the week.

This trade could work out in Kansas City’s favor, but it’s unlikely considering how many things would have to go right for the team to contend this year, including an unlikely slide from Detroit, Chicago staying stagnant, the back end of the rotation not completely falling apart and striking improvement from Hosmer and company. In the end, Tampa will probably end up winning this trade, but there’s a shot that it will end up a wash if KC can end their near 30-year playoff drought within the next two years. Most writers and bloggers have the natural inclination to just assume that Rays GM Andrew Friedman fleeces the other team in any deal. He might prove us right yet again.

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