ROYALS’ MOORE MAKES BOLD MOVE TO CONTEND

An already-busy hot stove season saw a high-stakes move on December 9th when the Royals and Rays hooked up for a multi-player trade that brought veteran hurlers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City. It was a logical haul that filled a desperate need for GM Dayton Moore’s club, but it was the package of highly-touted minor-leaguers that went to Tampa that had many observers criticising the deal from the Kansas City side.

ROYALS GET: RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis and a player to be named.
RAYS GET: INF/OF Wil Myers, LHP Mike Montgomery, 3B Patrick Leonard and RHP Jake Odorizzi.

Tampa Bay executive VP Andrew Friedman dealt from a position of organizational strength and received Baseball America’s 2012 minor league player of the year in Myers. The Rays also got Kansas City’s top organizational prospect going into 2012, Mongtomery, and their number 4 prospect, Odorizzi. The public torching of Moore was immediate.

Like all trades, the winner and loser isn’t determined before any of the principles has been fitted for their new uniforms. Given the youth of the minor-leaguers heading to Tampa Bay, it could be years before this one can be evaluated with any certainty. For now, looking forward, Moore certainly has a lot riding on the results of this move, but it is way too early to call it any of the derogatory adjectives (desperate, crazy, stupid) that flew around the Twitter-verse on the 9th of December.

The Royals, winners of the 1985 World Series and a very solid team, for the most part, until 1993, have had a tough go of it since joining the newly formed AL central in 1994. Their last winning season was 2003 (83-79) and in 2012 they finished 72-90, their 4th straight 90-loss season and 7th in the last 8 seasons. As bad as that sounds, that’s an improvement over the three year span from 2004-2006 where they dropped 100 or more games each season.

Young talent has arrived at the big league level in recent years and the Royals were a trendy pick going into the 2012 season to make a splash. A core of Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Salvador Perez are in place and have all been getting major league experience, some performing better than others. The offense isn’t spectacular, but the boat anchor holding this club down while it has been trying to rise is the pitching.

The 2012 numbers aren’t pretty. Royals’ pitching ranked 23rd in ERA (4.30) and 26th in xFIP (4.29). Collectively, Kansas City’s pitchers posted 7.30 K/9 (20th) and 3.36 BB/9 (24th). It wasn’t difficult for Moore to identify his greatest need.

This offseason, he went out and got proven major league pitching. First, on October 31st, Moore brought Ervin Santana over from the Angels for a minor leaguer. Next was the signing of free agent Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched well for the Royals after coming over in a July 20 trade that eradicated the Jonathan Sanchez debacle from the club. Then came the December 9th trade that knocked the Mayan calendar off the front page. With Santana, Shields and Davis, the Royals got a trio that has combined for a record of 211-175.

The losses of Myers and Odorizzi were the biggest causes of concern. A spectacular season like Myers had in 2012 at the AA and AAA levels would seem to validate his lofty status as a prospect. Odorizzi was good enough at those same levels to get 2 starts for KC as a September callup. While Shields has been a succesful workhorse and Davis has been very effective both as a starter and out of the bullpen, the potential of major league stardom, for Myers especially, is a nearly intoxicating force. He has seen his skillset survive the climb up through the minors while still appearing to be that of a franchise major leaguer. To have a prospect of that caliber flipped, with other top prospects, for a package of a middle-of-the-rotation starter and a swingman, criticism is to be expected.

But this is Dayton Moore’s gambit. While Shields wasn’t the ace in Tampa Bay, the state of Kansas City’s rotation earns him a spot near the front. This was the Royals’ need and it cost them. Not any of the players that have already performed well on the big league level, but big-name prospects. Therein lies the logic for Moore.

He knows what he is getting in Shields and Davis. No one knows how the prospects sent to Tampa will fare. Having seen Alex Gordon come up in 2007 as the next George Brett, struggle mightily, then put it together four years later as an outfielder, Moore knows a little bit about “can’t-miss.”  Moustakis and Hosmer haven’t just stepped in and started raking. Bringing those huge minor league numbers up to The Show is harder than it looks. Moore’s going to let Friedman ride that roller coaster. In the meantime, Kansas City can use the 200+ innings that Shieds has posted each of the last six seasons.

Dayton Moore got lambasted for this trade, understandably, but I’m not ready to tar-and-feather him. The AL central is a neighborhood where you can move up quickly if you can show some improvement. If we knew how all the trade pieces were going to perform, there wouldn’t be any risk involved. This one’s loaded with risk. The biggest concern being Moore letting a franchise player get away.

But the Royals, despite not meeting expectations in 2012, continued trending upward over the last four seasons. From 65 wins in 2009, they have improved to 67, 71 and now 72. That’s about as far as they can go with Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar & Co. leading the arms race.

Let’s hold off judgement on this one. For now, I give Moore credit for getting proven major league talent in an area of extreme need for unproven minor league talent. Contending for a post-season spot would be major progress for the Royals. This trade could be enough to make things interesting in the second half of 2013, maybe make Kansas City buyers at the trade deadline.That’s what Moore is shooting for with these offseason moves. Immediate help to get the franchise relevant again.

This trade can’t be evaluated until we know how all the youngsters sent to Tampa pan out, as well as the ones already playing in the majors for the Royals. Good for Dayton Moore to make the tough decision.

RELATED LINKS

Joe Posnanski on Sports On Earth
Lyle Spencer on MLB.com
A look at trade piece Mike Montgomery by Joseph Zucker of Bleacher Report

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