Monday, December 10, 2012

Playing Devil's Advocate on the Big Trade

At some point in the near future, another Royal Revival writer will put up his thoughts on the trade that sent James Shields, Wade Davis and a Player to be Named Later to Kansas City for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard. For now, you are stuck with some of my thoughts on the subject.

There are a couple of ways that teams can go about roster construction. For the Tampa Bay Rays, they operate on the mantra of having one eye on the present with one eye on the future. The Rays are pretty unique in this regard, viewing players as assets while constantly trying to stockpile for the long term. The Oakland Athletics are another team that operates in this type of fashion.

The opposite approach is the idea that a team has to go for a window. Teams like the Reds, Brewers, Giants and Cardinals tend to take this type of approach, using prospects as fodder to net Major League pieces in order to contend when the possibility exists. There isn't necessarily a right or wrong way and their are pros and cons to both approaches.

Using an asset compiling approach, the Tampa Bay Rays have been able to average 91 wins per season over the last 5 years. At the same time, the Rays have been criticized for not dealing from their pitching surplus to acquire offense and the Rays have advanced to the World Series just once. The Giants and Cardinals have taken a much different approach. Both of these organizations have seized opportunities and as a result have combined to win the last three World Series titles.

As much as I personally love the Rays way of doing business, I always knew that Dayton Moore was a window guy and as the 2012 off-season has played out it was inevitable that Dayton Moore would deal from his farm system in an attempt to improve in the present.

It appears, that Dayton Moore has marked his window. With the addition of James Shields many have said that Dayton Moore has sent a clear message to the American League that the Royals are ready to contend. Those same individuals rationalize that unless the Royals truly believe that they can contend, why would they pull the trigger on such a move. Of course, what isn't being considered here is that it is just as likely that the Royals front office felt as though they had to contend as opposed to that they would contend.

The ultimate fear in this deal is that Dayton Moore stretched himself because he is feeling the heat. As a result, he sacrificed far too much of the long term in favor of the present. Ultimately, the Royals traded what accounts for 24 seasons of team control for about 7 seasons. This is not to say the deal is clearly a bad one for Kansas City, in fact, I am amazed by the group think of the Royals Twitterverse.

Do I like the trade? No, I do not. However, it is amazing to me how an entire fanbase can achieve such singularity in thought on Twitter. Maybe this is because the trade is so obviously bad for Kansas City. More likely, there is so much pessimism and peer pressure among the Royals fan base that people are afraid to voice opinions contrary to what the so called experts think.

Once again, let me just state that I am not a fan of this trade. If I was in Dayton Moore's shoes, there is no way I would have pulled the trigger. However, I have always thought it is important to see both sides to any trade. For that reason, I am going to play a little devil's advocate for the remainder of this post.

Let's start with the most obvious point. James Shields is a damn good pitcher. In seven professional seasons he has compiled 25.3 fWAR, while logging over 200 innings in six straight seasons and posting a career ERA of 3.89. He will turn 31 in ten days and for three straight seasons has recorded over 8 K/9 while allowing just over 2 BB/9. Oh and by the way, over the past three seasons Shields has witnessed his fly ball percentage drop 9%. In 2012, for the first time in his career he recorded a ground ball percentage over 50%. If this trend continues, Shields represents that rare pitcher that not only has a strong K:BB, but also induces a solid amount of ground balls.

Contrary to what Ken Rosenthal might say, Shields is not an ace. However, there is no reason to be ashamed of having him front your team's rotation. To put it simply, anyone that is attempting to degrade this trade by bashing James Shields is ignorant of what this pitcher has accomplished throughout his career.

The other piece coming to Kansas City is Wade Davis. In his first full two seasons, Wade Davis was a pretty mediocre starting pitcher. In 2012, he threw 70 innings out of the Rays bullpen and saw his K/9 sky rocket to 11.1. The keys to Davis transition to the bullpen were the ways in which his slider and curve ball both became weapons to put away hitters. According to Fangraphs, Davis's slider rated at 4.8 runs above average, while his curve ball registered at 6.7.

The key to this trade, will be Davis's ability to translate those weapons from the bullpen into a starting job. It goes without being said that if Davis can continue to strike out hitters at his 2012 rate, he is clearly a front of the rotation piece. More likely there will be regression. If Davis can simply maintain a K rate around 7-8, while keeping his walks around 3 per 9, the Royals will have found themselves a three starter.

It may be oversimplifying matters, but whether or not Davis can keep a plus slider and curve ball in the rotation may determine if this trade is a long term win or loss for Kansas City. Davis is currently signed to guaranteed money in in 2013 and 2014 at $2.8 and $4.8 million respectively. He then has team options for $7 million, $8 million, and $10 million. Yes, the Royals have five years of team control on Davis. However, unless he can be a valuable member of the rotation, his price tag will be too high to warrant the exercising of those options.

Finally, let's get into the prospects involved. What is unfortunate, is that each of these four pieces are good prospects and it isn't hard to imagine each of them making Kansas City regret the deal on their own merit. However, there is also an overvaluation of prospects in baseball today.

According to some reports, many Royals officials view Myers as more of a Nick Markakis type than a Ryan Braun type. Also, there is a reasoning that it is much easier to find production in right field than it is to find front of the rotation pitchers. I expect Myers to have a very strong career, but it isn't a lock that he is going to be a superstar.

I've actually grown a bit bored with Jake Odorizzi and according to some the Royals don't view him in the same class of prospects as Kyle Zimmer or Yordano Ventura. In fact, several recent scouting reports slot him in as a 3/4 type, rather than the 2 starter that many of us were hoping for. Once again, I like Odorizzi. I think he is going to be a valuable piece in a big league rotation, but the upside isn't what we once thought it was. His fastball is straight and he currently is lacking an out pitch to make him a front end guy at the Major League level.

Mike Montgomery might be the most interesting piece of this entire trade. I can't wait to see if Tampa is able to bring out some of that promise. I am already preparing myself for Montgomery's breakout campaign. Royals fans will complain and rightly so, but at this point it is hard to imagine him ever taking this sort of step in the Royals organization.

Finally, there is Patrick Leonard. Leonard has excellent power and JJ Cooper even pinned him as a guy to watch moving forward for the Royals system. Ultimately, he is four years away and it makes sense to include him to get a deal like this done.

There is a good chance that the Kansas City Royals will rue the day when this trade was conducted. Myers could become a superstar, Odorizzi could throw 200 innings annually, and Montgomery could find that potential. Of course, there is also the chance that Myers isn't the superstar we all hoped, that Odorizzi doesn't have the stuff to be a mid rotation type, and that Montgomery will never live up to his once awesome potential.

Ultimately, even if the former of those things happen, there is no reason this trade can't be a win-win for both parties. The Royals haven't made the playoffs since 1985. If, by chance, the Royals do make the playoffs in 2013, should we complain? Does that make the trade a win for Kansas City?

This trade may have literally made me sick, but I've been a Royals fan for twenty years. Never in my life has Kauffman Stadium hosted playoff baseball. It is natural for Royals fans to critique moves. Every fan base should do it and it is irresponsible to not consider the implications of transactions, even if they make the current team better.

With that being said, I can't help but imagine James Shields toeing the rubber on Opening Day and I long for the summer when the Royals are actually playing meaningful games in August and dare I say September. I always attempt to evaluate moves from an analytical perspective, but first and foremost I am a fan, damn it. This trade may be incredibly costly to the Royals future, but they believe in a window and for the first time in my life they aren't just paying lip service to winning now.

1 comment:

  1. I know I'm super late on this but this might be the best take on the trade I've seen yet. Found myself nodding along to just about every point.

    Sure, it's a bad trade, definitely one I disagree with and wouldn't have made myself. However, the Royals fanbase acting like it was a horrific, franchise-altering deal, me included the night of, is a gross overreaction. It's highly, highly doubtful that Myers, Odorizzi, Montgomery AND Leonard all fulfill their potential. Let's say Myers does become a Markakis-type, Odorizzi is a decent #4 and Montgomery finds a home in the bullpen. That's probably the most likely outcome.

    If Davis can take a big step forward, that may turn out to be a win for KC. As you said, it really hinges all on Davis. I just hope Dayton or his scouts saw something that made them think he could maintain the improvement while in the rotation as opposed to merely hoping on hope.

    But, again, I appreciate you examining the trade from both angles. Too many reax pieces simply picked a side and belabored the point. Very well done