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December 10, 2012
The Shields/Myers Blockbuster
After a home run-heavy 2010 season, Shields changed his approach. He began pitching backward, a strategy that played to his strengths (his ability to throw strikes with his impressive secondary offerings) and downplayed his weaknesses (his fastball). The shift led to a breakout 2011 season and a solid 2012, though he did struggle at times throughout the first half. His best asset is his durability. He’s never been to the disabled list during his big league career and is as close as it gets to a safe bet to top 200 innings annually. In addition to the on-the-field value as a no. 2 starter, Shields receives high marks for his qualitative value as a tireless worker and good teammate. He’s under contract through the 2014 season.
Davis moved to the bullpen last year after two full campaigns in the Rays rotation. His results improved, but it’s unclear how much of the improvement stemmed from improved velocity versus a changed mindset. Davis attacked batters with a three-pitch mix—a fastball that touched into the upper-90s, a curveball, and a cutter—and that resulted in better interplay. The Royals’ plans for Davis are unknown. An options-laden deal has him under contract, potentially, through the 2017 season.
One of the unfortunate parts of any trade, particularly this one, is the need for instant gratification. Shields and Davis are solid pitchers capable of helping the Royals win. Whether the Royals should have made this trade is debatable, but do not confuse that argument by making Shields and Davis into punch lines. They’re better than that. —R.J. Anderson
Reportedly acquired OF-R Wil Myers, 3B-R Patrick Leonard, RHP Jake Odorizzi, and LHP Mike Montgomery from the Royals for RHPs James Shields and Wade Davis. [12/9]
From a prospect perspective, this deal is expensive, but let’s not buy stock in the narrative that suggests the Royals traded away their entire farm system for the goat in the box. The Royals received a major-league haul which might turn to sand in two years, but the return was of major-league quality; Shields was one of the hotter names on the market this off-season. That’s not to suggest that Shields was the best fit for the Royals needs in the present, just that he was a hot commodity that a queue of teams were salivating to acquire and the Royals were the ones to pull it off. Call it a foolish and short-sighted trade executed to save the jobs of the front office and placate an angry fan base that would rather win 77 games than 72, but the Royals did in fact acquire the level of pitcher they sought out to acquire. But at what price?
The main target in the trade was Wil Myers, the top prospect in the Royals’ system and a top 10 overall prospect in baseball. I’ve been watching Myers since he signed, starting in the fall instructional leagues and at every stop along the way. The skill-set is very impressive with plus grades on both the hit tool and the power; the arm is another plus tool, which gives him a weapon in the outfield. Myers isn’t a sacred cow of the prospect world, though, despite being named Player of the Year by multiple publications. First of all, he’s a corner outfielder, which can be found in more abundance than no. 1 starters or premium up-the-middle talents. He’s highly respected and every organization would gladly put a uniform on his back, but a Jurickson Profar or Dylan Bundy he is not.
Secondly, and most importantly from a scouting standpoint, Myers doesn’t project to be a superstar, at least as far as I’m concerned. Again, highly skilled and one hell of a prospect, but the offensive tools aren’t so crazy that Myers was considered untouchable or a slam-dunk MVP candidate at the highest level. A realistic projection might peg him as a first-division talent or perhaps as an All-Star in his peak years. The tools aren’t so loud or the holes not so small, however, that Myers will develop into the next Mike Trout or hit the ball so hard and so often that he can cure incurable diseases with his offensive stroke. He’s ripe with new-car smell and his sticker price is through the roof, but the reality is that Wil Myers is more likely to be a major league regular than he is a superstar.
The secondary prospect in the deal is Jake Odorizzi, a steady and surefire major league arm with a back-end starter floor and a slightly-better-than-back-end starter ceiling. The arsenal is solid-average across the board with some command hiccups that can retard said arsenal and cause it to play down. He’s athletic and competitive and will probably pitch in the majors for a very long time, but this isn’t a top-of-the-rotation arm, and he isn’t going to miraculously turn into one just because he now belongs to the Rays. He’s not in the same class as Myers, but a case can be made that he is in the back-end of the top 100 prospects in the game.
Patrick Leonard is a nice low-level bat to dream on, but he’s not a likely impact player at the highest level. He has good raw pop, but the hit tool doesn’t project to be above-average, so the profile doesn’t pack a big punch. Without an enormous ceiling, he’s more like a pleasant catnap than a fantasy dream, but he could develop into a usable player, which is the ultimate goal of the process.
Mike Montgomery was once the top prospect in the Royals’ system, but he fell apart in 2012 and ended up back at the Double-A level, where he looked very bad. His future is far from written, and a change of scenery and approach could benefit the southpaw; the hole he was digging for himself was being shoveled by his own mind and his own approach. It’s unlikely that he regains his once highly projectable form, but I wouldn’t rule out a major league role in some capacity at some point in his future. The raw arm is too good not to extract some major league value.
I’m not saying I would make this trade or that it wasn’t executed to save jobs or that a few extra wins won’t matter when you need 15 extra wins to compete, but I am saying that the Royals’ system can handle the hit. The system is very deep and features several impact-level prospects that are organizational currency, just like Myers and Odorizzi. Perhaps they will mature and cash out at the major league level or perhaps they will be used in a trade to acquire players of equal or greater value in order to help the major league team. This is why depth is so vital to the overall process, because even if this trade explodes in the Royals’ faces, they still have a healthy crop of talent growing towards the major league sun. —Jason Parks
(For more in-depth information on Myers, Odorrizi, and Montgomery, check out the recently released Royals Top 10 Prospect List.)
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson