The Myers-Shields trade has not been popular among many baseball thinkers and Royals fans - even though the general consensus is that trading Myers for Shields makes the Royals better this year.
Fans are upset because: 1) it is also generally agreed that the move does not make the Royals good enough to make the playoffs in 2013, and 2) Dayton Moore traded away the best hitting prospect in all of baseball who also happens to play a position that will be vacant next year (and should be vacant this year). Even though so much scrutiny has been placed on Myers-Shields, that move was not made in a vacuum. Moore also added Ervin Santana, Wade Davis, and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie – leaving only one spot open for anyone who started in the 5-man rotation last year.
"So what?" you say, "Do you think I've been living in a cave? I’m reading about the Royals in February. You have yet to tell me anything I don’t already know." Right. And you won’t learn any new facts here, but let’s put this in perspective:
Four rotation spots are locked up and all indications are that the fifth will go to Hochevar or Chen, but Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy were the team’s most effective pitchers in 2012 (albeit, in limited action). Neither looked like an ace, but both looked like mid-rotation starters. Jake Odorizzi also looked like he’d end up as something between a #2 and a #4 depending on how hard you squint. Then there’s Mendoza. He had a rough start to 2012, but had a 3.82 ERA in his last 20 starts. And don’t look now, but Kyle Zimmer is going to be pushing for a roster spot… maybe not this year, but likely next. Will all these guys reach their potential this year or next? Probably not, but I’m guessing that you could put together a pretty solid two-through-five for 2014 among Guthrie, Paulino, Duffy, Odorizzi, Mendoza, Zimmer, and Hochevar without bringing on a single new arm or trading away Myers.
By adding Santana, Davis, and Shields, Dayton Moore declared to the world that he wanted to Win Now. But, here’s the problem… even though the Royals probably aren’t good enough to contend in 2013, Dayton Moore has blown his *ahem* financial cushion and has left himself no way to upgrade his other need positions next year. Dayton Moore is giving us the best Royals team he could for 2013, but it’s not enough… and what’s worse is that he missed his chance to have a real contender in 2014.
Let’s do a little mental exercise and undo all the damage trades from this past Winter. Without all the pitching upgrades, the Royals’ 2013 looks like a slightly-better version of 2012. Guthrie is the opening day starter followed by Hochevar, Chen, Mendoza, and Odorizzi who does just enough to make the 25-man roster in spring training. The first half of the season isn’t pretty, but Moose and Hosmer look more like the pair we all hoped for, Perez does what Perez does, Cain stays healthy, and nobody regresses awfully. The Royals are around 0.470 at the all-star break, but around that time Duffy and Paulino return and push Chen and Hochevar out of the lineup. Myers shows he can’t be kept down any longer, and replaces Frenchy in Right and KC plays .500 baseball the rest of the way and end 2013 79-83. Now, except for re-signing Guthrie, Moore hasn’t spent a dime and he’s got a team playing 0.500 baseball before he makes his first move of the ‘13-‘14 offseason. Now, from 2012 you’ve added Guthrie’s $8 million salary, but you've freed up $15 million you were paying to Hochevar, Chen, and Frenchy in 2013. If we assume the same financial limits, you add in the $20 million that the Royals are actually paying Santana, Shields, and Davis, and you have $27 million to spread between finding an ace to head your rotation, a second-baseman, and (sure, let’s be greedy) a power-hitting center-fielder. Not enough cash for all three? Then you can use the farm system to bargain with, because you've already used the players you had to fill your needs.
That, my friends, is the time to go out and spend like a drunken sailor, because a Royals team that finishes up 2013 playing 0.500-level baseball with no changes can very reasonably expect to pick up between 4-6 wins by upgrading both 2B and CF and adding a 5-WAR ace to bump your replacement-level #5 pitcher means the Royals really could have fielded a team projected to win 91 games in 2014 instead of playing the game of If A and B and C All Go Right in 2013. If only Moore could have waited just one more year.
The fans are restless, yes, but it’s been since 1985. We understand the farm system because we've been looking forward to the day when we could contend… really contend. But instead of waiting for a good pitch, Dayton swung at the first pitch he saw. Gee… maybe Frenchy really has more influence than any of us thought.