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.
Comment From Dan
What’s the current window for the Royals? Can they make a playoff push in 2014?
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:
- The Royals made a mistake, in making the Shields trade
- 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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