On Monday, August 26th, the Royals will play a day game against the Tampa Bay Rays, and the elephant in the room will be the Rookie of the Year candidate playing right field for the opposition: Wil Myers.
It is going to be an awkward moment for Royals management and an awkward moment for fans as well. I suspect Wil Myers will get a standing ovation when his name is announced the first time … and the second time … and probably the third and fourth times as well. After all, he was a transcendent talent that did one thing really well: hitting. But while the Royals sucked at both pitching and hitting, they decided the first was more important and thus traded away the gem of the farm system for a good pitcher, a bad pitcher, and a utility player that was recently designated for assignment. Meanwhile, Myers is hitting .312/.364/.488. As fellow RR writer, Landon Adams, put it to me in a conversation a little while back, “we basically traded Ryan Braun.”
That fateful evening that the Royals traded Myers will live on in infamy in Kansas City, and in honor of Myers return to Kaufmann, I am writing about how I imagined the trade went down. Not from a fan perspective, but from Dayton Moore’s and Andrew Friedman’s conversation; or at least how I imagine their conversation happened.
Here is the Wil Myers trade:
It was a dark and cold December evening in St. Petersburg, where Andrew Friedman, General Manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, sat and waited by the phone. He had his council of advisors, but like with all personnel decisions, he was the final voice. But on this night, his voice was doubtful.
This was an odd occurrence. Friedman was known for being calm and cool under pressure. This level-headedness was what brought the Rays out of the cellar and into perennial contention in baseball’s toughest division. And although the Rays had found success as of late, the payroll discrepancy is the division is so vast, even the most efficiently constructed roster on the Rays budget is an underdog to the sea of money their competition has.
No one could expect the Red Sox to suck again like they had in 2012, and the Yankees are the Yankees. But even the Orioles had made the playoffs last season, and the Blue Jays had gone all in, trading away the farm for players a few hours south of St. Pete and some more for a Cy Young winner. The AL East wasn’t getting any easier, and if the Rays hoped to compete, they needed hitting. Unfortunately, good, young power hitters didn’t just grow on trees.
But they could be traded to you. And willingly.
Friedman had just returned from Winter Meetings, and while there, Dayton Moore, the GM of the Royals, had brought up a trade proposal that could send the best hitting prospect in minor league baseball to the Rays for a surplus of pitching that was expendable. Wil Myers, the highest ranked prospect by Baseball America, was BEING OFFERED to him. That’s why Friedman’s voice was so full of doubt when he spoke.
No one is that stupid.
Maybe stupidity had nothing to do with it, however. Moore was on the hot seat in Kansas City, and maybe he felt like he needed to do something big, if not desperate, to put the Royals over the top for a postseason run. While this strategy would be considered a fire-able offense with the Rays, it was standard operating procedure for the team with the longest postseason drought in American sports. And Friedman was crossing his fingers, hoping that he could be the recipient of Kansas City’s impatience.
And then, all of a sudden, the phone rang. Friedman was so deep in thought about the possibility of Evan Longoria and Myers in the same lineup that the phone call actually startled him for a moment. He quickly collected himself, and looked over at the caller I.D. The area code wasn’t local, and he knew this was it. After a deep breath, Friedman ran his fingers through his hair and thought, “Let’s take him for everything he’s got.”
“This is Andrew Friedman speaking.”
“Andrew, this is Dayton Moore with the Kansas City Royals. You were expecting my phone call, correct?”
“Yes Dayton, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
“Good. Now let’s get down to business,” said Moore. Friedman couldn’t agree more. Full of doubt seconds ago, wondering if Moore hadn’t just been pulling his chain, here he was, speaking to the one man in baseball that thought trading the number one prospect in baseball was a solid move for the future of his team. Christmas had come early.
“We need pitching. I feel we are VERY close to competing in the next year or two if we can just stabilize our rotation. We have good, young hitters on the corners that we project should continue to develop this season into some of the best in the league. We have a fantastic outfield defensively, anchored by one of the best in the game, Jeff Francouer. And our bullpen is lights out. What we need is starting pitching, and you guys down there somehow have too many. So what do you say about a straight swap of Wil Myers for James Shields?”
There it was, out in the open. The trade that seemed impossible of a player that should have been untouchable. The Royals were willing to sacrifice SIX YEARS of team control for TWO YEARS of James Shields. Well, if Moore was willing to sacrifice him, what else would he sacrifice?
“Sorry Dayton, but Wil who?”
“Wil Myers. Our top prospect. He plays right field. Used to be a catcher. I think Baseball America really likes him. Hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs and 109 RBI between AA and AAA. You know Wil Myers don’t you?!”
“Oh yeah, Wil Myers. Yeah, I’ve heard of him. But there’s no way we can trade BIG GAME JAMES for some unproven minor league player. I mean, this is BIG GAME JAMES! The leader of the rotation. The fire behind the engine. The wind beneath our wings. Myers is just some guy that hits good in a hitter’s league. We’d be taking a big risk in doing that. I just don’t see that trade being in the best interests of my ball club.”
“Well shucks Andrew, I think Myers is a pretty good player.”
“I mean, he MIGHT be, but BIG GAME JAMES IS a good player.”
“I guess you’re right Andrew, I just don’t know what to do … I draft all these players and they turn out to not be very good and all the fans are mad at me and the owner is breathing down my neck. I just don’t know why none of the pitchers I draft don’t work out …”
The conversation was then interrupted by intense sobbing on the other end of the phone, and Friendman looked befuddled. Never, in all his years of baseball, had he ever heard a man start crying on the other end of the phone. He kind of felt bad for Moore now, but not bad enough to pop the brakes on what could be the greatest trade in his franchise’s history (and they’re the ones that traded Delmon Young).
“Now, now Dayton, it’s alright, it’s gonna be alright. In fact, I think I have a counter offer for you that could work out REAL well for the Royals.”
“Wha, wha, what’s that [sniffle]?”
“What would you say if I traded you TWO starting pitchers?”
“Well I’d say you had yourself a God [expletive] deal!”
“All it would take was for you to trade me Myers and then a couple of minor league pitchers. I don’t know your system too well but … [Friedman motions to one of his council members to hand him a sheet with the Royals top prospects and their corresponding stats. Two look particularly interesting. Could he really pull this off? Absolutely.] how does Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery sound?”
“That sounds fantastic! So would Shields be one of the starting pitchers I got?”
“Yeah Dayton, I’m trying to do you a favor pal! I’ll give you Shields and one of our best young pitchers, Wade Davis. And if you were wondering why we had moved him to the bullpen and out of the rotation, it was because he was so good at pitching, we just couldn’t afford to have him pitch just every fifth day. We wanted available game in and game out.”
“That makes a lot of sense! I could learn so much from you!”
Well you’re catching on pretty quick at this whole bending over thing, thought Friedman.
“You know what, just to sweeten the deal, I even think I’ll throw in a player to be named later. That’s how much I like you Dayton.”
“Andrew, I don’t know how to thank you. Hopefully it’s that Elliott Johnson guy. He looks like a real Royal.”
“Whatever you want Dayton, whatever you want.”
“There’s just one thing I’d like to ask of you Drew.”
“Oh, sorry! There’s just one thing I’d like to ask of you Andrew. We play each other early next year, so could you possibly not bring Myers up from the minors until we’re done playing each other?”
This was going to be tough to swallow. An impact bat like Myers was needed immediately in the lineup, but if this was going to cause a snag in the trade, waiting a couple of months for Myers services was worth it. Besides, if they waited just enough time, they could control Myers in Tampa even longer. Yes, he was willing to accept this condition. Besides, there was always the chance a game could be rained out in Kansas City earlier in the season and Myers could play against his former organization in, say, August.
“Dayton, you have yourself a deal.”
“Oh, thank heavens! I’ll sign the paper work as soon as I can and fax it over. The fans in Kansas City are going to LOVE this!”
“That’s because you’re the best in the business Dayton! It was a pleasure doing business with you.”
And with that, Friedman hung up the phone, and his perfect night was complete. He had just acquired a franchise-changing player, and the Rays had the chance to continue competing in the toughest division. This was why Friedman, and not Moore, was the best in the business. And although his acumen had been written about by Jonah Keri in the book “The Extra 2%,” tonight, it felt more like 200%.
And that’s why books aren’t written about Kansas City front offices.