The Myth of the Royals and 2014

To me, it isn’t fair to evaluate trades in retrospect. While there can be significance there, it’ll be out-shouted by all the random noise, and you can only ever make a decision based upon the information that you have at the time. But we can still look at trades in retrospect, just to see how they worked out, and of course there’s some insight in exploring the deal that swapped James Shields and another for Wil Myers and others. Plenty was written here about the trade at the time. Shields was worth 4.5 WAR last year, and he projects for 4 WAR this year. Myers was worth 2.4 WAR last year in a partial season, and he projects for 3 WAR this year. Shields is expensive and in his contract season. Myers is cheap and under control forever. This was basically the problem all along, even ignoring all the other parts, which can’t be ignored.

I don’t think opinions of the trade have changed. Those who supported the Royals going for it still applaud the boldness. Those who criticized the Royals going for it still believe it was a poorly-timed mistake. The move was controversial enough that people have dug in to their positions, and those minds are all made up. I’m definitely still on the critical side, myself. I thought it was too short-term of a move for a team that wasn’t ready. But a lot of people have taken this one step further. There’s a common belief that, by making the trade, the Royals gave themselves a two-year window, before losing Shields to free agency. The first year is gone. So there’s one year left of the window, but really, there’s not. The truth is a lot less black and a lot less white.

Submitted to Dave’s earlier FanGraphs chat:

12:33
Comment From Dan
What’s the current window for the Royals? Can they make a playoff push in 2014?
12:33
Dave Cameron: Sure, and then they’re going to have to figure something else out when James Shields wants $150 million.

Here’s the outline of it: the Royals have put together a decent team for the 2014 season. Could be a contender. Might still make another move. Shields is by far the best starter on the team, and maybe the best player. Shields’ chances of returning after 2014 are virtually nil, since he’ll be expensive and the Royals can’t afford to commit those kinds of free-agent dollars. So a year from now, the Royals will lose an important player, picking up only a draft pick. This is supposed to signal the end of their window of contention.

Obviously, losing Shields does more harm than good, but it seems like this is a classic case of overrating the impact of any one given player, non-Trout division. Granted, that’s the same thought process that brought Shields to Kansas City in the first place, and granted, Shields isn’t the only guy the Royals stand to lose next offseason. Norichika Aoki will be a free agent. Luke Hochevar will be a free agent. Billy Butler has a club option, but it’s somewhat pricey. But this gets to something I touched on the other day: teams aren’t that fragile. The Royals are more than an individual good starting pitcher, and it’s not like the trade completely thinned the system out.

Regarding the prospects, Marc Hulet had some flattering things to say. The same goes for Baseball America. Keith Law ranked the Royals’ system seventh-best in baseball, between the Mets and the Rockies. He wrote:

This wave of talent is shallower than the last one, but the Royals’ biggest window of contention is going to start very soon.

If you’re looking for potential Shields replacements, you need look no further than Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer. Absolutely, each has plenty to prove, but they’re also upper-class starting prospects who aren’t far away from the majors. Ventura already got there late last season, and he’s among the very hardest-throwing starters in the world. There are questions about his changeup, but the velocity gives him a hell of a margin of error. Zimmer has limited experience above Single-A, but he has stuff and a track record of being overpowering, and he’s college-polished. Few systems boast two starters of this ability and this proximity to the bigs, and both could be 25-30-start guys a year from now. Ventura might be that guy this year. ZiPS gave him Matt Clement, but then Clement was pretty useful before his arm was destroyed.

The Royals stand to lose Shields, but they stand to promote from within, and in the event of injury the depth goes beyond just those two prospects. It’s probably worth noting that Danny Duffy has all kinds of upside potential if he’s actually healthy these days. The team’s locked into Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie, but Vargas should remain useful and Guthrie isn’t a total mess.

The position-player side is as stuck as it is interesting. It’s difficult to upgrade, because just about every spot is occupied by someone decent or young and potentially decent. But what that means is there’s promise remaining, and the fact that Eric Hosmer started to hit means Mike Moustakas could still improve. The system, also, has talented position players — they just aren’t as close to being impact players as Ventura and Zimmer. What the Royals have in 2014, they could basically have in 2015 if they wanted, sans Aoki, who’s simply all right. There aren’t really stars but there aren’t really holes.

What’s most assuredly clear is that the Royals aren’t going to have it easy. They’re a good deal worse than the Tigers this coming season, and the season after that could lean heavily on a couple hard-throwing young pitching prospects. They’ll be able to re-invest some money saved on Shields and Hochevar and Aoki and others, but that sum also isn’t very big, and the Royals are a smaller-budget operation. They need to have a fairly constant infusion of cheap youth, and that’s another way that exchanging Myers for Shields worked against their own best interests. They need guys like Myers more than they need guys like Shields.

But I think it’s fair and entirely reasonable to hold two simultaneous positions:

  1. The Royals made a mistake, in making the Shields trade
  2. The trade wasn’t crippling and the team can succeed even after Shields is gone

There is no 2013-2014 window. The Royals don’t need to behave as if it’s 2014 or bust, and they haven’t behaved that way, really. It was a trade intended to improve two seasons at a long-term cost, but it hasn’t been devastating to the organizational health, and it’s okay if the Royals don’t make the playoffs this October. More people at that point would look at the Shields move as an error, but I feel like we already know that much to be true. But most errors, teams can survive, and while the Royals could be worse without Shields, they won’t go from good to bad. It’s not binary. As usual, it’ll be nothing but a matter of percentage points.

To me, the Royals made one of the worst realistic trades you can make. Today they’re sitting in a half-decent position, for both the present and for the future. The lesson is — well, there are a lot of lessons. The important thing is to learn them.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Cidron
Member
Cidron

I disagree, yet agree. In the realm of talent/time/money, the trade was a bad trade. Or at best, questionable. That said, it came from a team that was saddled with low budgets, questionable GM’s, long losing history, etc. They needed to announce that this was a place that would do something (finally) to end the meh and embrace some cheer. Did they overpay, Yes.

They had a team that was long in youth and talent, but woefully short on knowledge and experience. Shields brought in the knowledge of how playoff teams prepare, and the experience of the long season. It gave him credibility when he talked with the players, when he set the example in the clubhouse.

George Brett has it too, but his glory days are well before most of the players were born. They didn’t look up to him. Their dad’s did. He, to the team, is a front office suit. Shields can relate, and pass on a wealth of information. That is where his real value to the team lies.

The Narrative Strikes Again
Guest
The Narrative Strikes Again

So you’re saying professional baseball teams that don’t make the playoffs don’t know how to prepare?

and how many wins is Shields’ “presence” in the clubhouse worth?

How about announcing that you are going for it by fielding the best team possible. If Shields was the answer then just cite his WAR from last season and projected WAR like the author of this article already did. Otherwise, you’re talking about subjective and unquantifiable aspects of a team. I could say that the Wil Myers trade weakened the clubhouse morale and lead to players like Hosmer, Moose, etc to put extra pressure on themselves to perform. There again, a subjective and utter meaningless narrative. A typical fan buys into the “go for it” and “clubhouse chemistry” narrative to trade and trade for players. Plan and simple, the Royals aren’t a good enough team and traded a cheap controllable asset for a minuscule chance to make the playoffs. That trade only needs to happen if the Royals were already a playoff team and wanted to make a serious run at a World Series.

Mo
Guest
Mo

to be fair, as a brewers fan growing up in the high point of their failures (at least we had the Sausage race and Jeromy Bernitz) and someone who remembers the Sabathia trade (though i was out of the state), that small chance means a lot it changes the atmosphere and fan buy in (in mood if not also in cash)

The Narrative Strikes Again
Guest

And now you have one of the worst farm systems in baseball and have to climb over a perennial contender in the Cardinals and the rising Pirates and Cubs. Good luck sniffing the playoffs again for the next 5+ years.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B

As a Blue Jays fan, would I trade not being competitive for five years for a playoff appearance? At this point, given that they haven’t been to the playoffs at all since 1993, probably.

For a different team or fan base (a perennial contender like ATL, STL, or BOS)? I imagine that answer would be a resounding “NO”.

placidity
Guest
placidity

Plus, it’ not like the Brewers would be much/any better off with all the pieces they gave up for Sabathia, Marcum, and Greinke than they are with Segura.

Mark
Guest
Mark

Why do the Royals get scrutinized for the trade and not the Rays. If the Rays had Shields last year, instead of Wil Myers they win the division instead of being a wild card. Also, the deal is yet to be completed because you have to wait and see what the Royals return on Shields is (either prospects if traded at the deadline) or a draft pick.

Laz
Guest
Laz

Would shields have been worth the 5 games difference?
Even if he was, Would that have mattered though?

Rays still beat the Indians in the wildcard game, so they still did become a full series playoff team. Yet they saved money and built for the future.

Even if it dropped a couple wins off their total last year the Rays are better off over the 6.5 years they control Myers than the 2 of shields.

The Narrative Strikes Again
Guest
The Narrative Strikes Again

The Rays don’t get scrutinized for the trade because they have a history of success with their current financial model. That model doesn’t allow them to trade for a James Shields or keep a James Shields around. They simply can’t afford it. It was foolish for the Royals to think they where a James Shields trade away from making the playoffs last year.

The Rays are also doing the same thing with David Price. Even most industry experts agree that they won’t get the same type of deal like they got for Shields. That’s how ludicrous that trade was even at the time. Myers was ready to contribute to a Royals team right away and in RF where they had a terrible current option.

Antonio bananas
Guest
Antonio bananas

The rays don’t get criticized because being good for 6 more years is better than being slightly better this year and winning the division then being mediocre for 6 years. Trading shields may have hurt their 2013 chances and cost them the division, but it extended their window so it’s something they’ll live with

John C
Guest
John C

No, they wouldn’t have. The Rays with Shields and sans Myers were still not a better team than Boston was. You can probably give them all of the 4.1 bWAR that Shields posted, seeing as how bad the back of Tampa’s rotation was, but you’d have to give back what Myers gave them (and then some, if Sam Fuld played more as a result). That still leaves the Red Sox at least three games ahead, even leaving the Rays with their five-game positive deviation from pythag.

The reason it was a terrible deal for the Royals in 2013 was that they stuck with Jeff Francoeur in right way too long because they didn’t have Myers, and that they started Wade Davis ahead of Bruce Chen most of the season, and Davis was so bad that he negated a lot of Shields’ value. Francoeur negated the rest of it.

chris moran
Guest

It was a terrible move, and anybody who says otherwise is wrong. Sure they played meaningful games in September, but the season played out as well as they could have hoped for, and they still didn’t make the playoffs.

Also, people often leave Odorizzi out of the trade discussion. Sure he’s no Myers, but he’s a very solid bet to have at least a couple seasons around +2 WAR. Honestly, Odorizzi and another decent prospect would probably be an entirely fair offering for Shields.

OKHoff
Guest
OKHoff

I don’t think the Royals’ 2013 “played out as well as they could hope for.” They went 8-20 in May of last season. You’re not going to make the playoffs with such a poor month-long stretch, even with a strong second half like the Royals had last year.

Marsupial jones
Guest
Marsupial jones

Even if your are right about Odorizzi (and that’s a big if at this point) Wade Davis is already basically a 2 WAR pitcher so it’s really a moot point. They cancel each other out.

Surrealistic Pillow
Guest
Surrealistic Pillow

Given service time and cost, they don’t remotely cancel each other out.

KCExile
Guest
KCExile

He’s only worth those two wins in the pen. An area of epic strength for this club. He’s worth negative value as a starter- which is why he was dealt.

Douglas Fairbanks
Guest
Douglas Fairbanks

Well if we are going to play the “what if game”, what if Wade Davis finally puts it all together and becomes, for example, a 3+ WAR pitcher?

Both sides can play this game.

Otis
Guest
Otis

If the Royals hadn’t made that trade they would have been 10 games under .500 last year, and people would be griping that DM didn’t do anything to make a run. I thought it was a solid trade that helped both teams. The problem the Royals had was that none of the top pitching talent they developed had reached the Majors. If they had, that trade would never have happened. Without an Ace you’re not going anywhere.

John C
Guest
John C

No, they would have been better if they hadn’t made the trade.

Wade Davis was so bad that he negated a lot of Shields’ positive value to the team. If Bruce Chen had been in the rotation all season instead of Davis, that’s probably worth about three extra wins.

The loss of Myers also caused the Royals to stick with Jeff Francoeur in right field much longer than they would have if they’d had a viable alternative ready to play. That’s about three more wins right there.

And last but not least, if you don’t make the trade, you have the money you’re not paying James Shields and can use it to pay someone else. Worse case scenario is that you give it to Edwin Jackson and his negative 1.3 bWAR. But the best case is that you give it to Kyle Lohse and his 3.3 bWAR.

Regardless of what you do, the Royals are better off without the trade. They’d win between 87 and 91 games, depending on what they did with the money.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Surprised this isn’t more downvoted… based on what we know about WAR, and what was the entire point of the article, the switch from Shields + Frenchy to Myers would have made 3 wins difference, at most.

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