I figured since I did a quick look at the Bluejays/Marlins blockbuster trade a month ago, I would go through this one as well (we’re all about parity here at FT411). While the implications of this trade may not be as apparent – that means not only the players included, but the salary implications as well Ahem… Loria… Ahem – the notion this trade doesn’t alter the landscape of one of the franchises is false.
To Kansas City
- SP James Shields
- SP/RP Wade Davis
- AAA OF Wil Myers
- AAA P Jake Odorizzi
- AA/AAA P Mike Montgomery
- 2011 5th Round 3B Patrick Leonard
For starters, let’s break down what each side gets in the trade, starting with the Royales with Cheese.
In James Shields, Kansas City gets a starting pitcher who has been somewhat of an enigma so far in his career. What’s not enigmatic of Shields is his durability – 200+ innings in 6 straight seasons. He has 220+ Ks in two straight years, K/BB ratio greater than 3.2 in 5 straight seasons and a WHIP under 1.2 in four of his last six seasons.
Ok that’s all fine and good, his innings, K’s and walks have been consistent. But he hasn’t been totally consistent over his career, there are blips. I look at his 2009-2010 seasons, which are drastically different from his 2011-2012 (numbers via www.baseball-reference.com):
2009: .311 BAbip – 21 LD%, 0.74 GB/FB, 11 DP% | 4.14 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
2010: .344 BAbip – 22 LD%, 0.7 GB/FB, 9 DP% | 5.18 ERA, 1.46 WHIP
2011: .260 BAbip – 17 LD%, 0.85 GB/FB, 13 DP% | 2.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
2012: .294 BAbip – 18 LD%, 1.12 GB/FB, 13 DP% | 3.52 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
For a baseline, Shields’ career BAbip is .300, career LD% is 19%, career GB/FB is 0.83 and career DP % is 12%.
You see a tale of two pitchers: one pitcher who is unlucky, but can’t keep the ball off the barrel anyway, and another pitcher who is lucky, and keeps the ball on the ground. Shields’ success over the last two years, it would seem, is by being able to get the easy outs, despite the fact that he averaged nearly 1K/IP last year. You would assume that his BAbip might suffer a bit as he puts more balls in play the last couple years, but it should be noted that Tampa Bay as a team had the fewest errors in the AL in 2011 (73) and the most in 2012 (114). A more porous defence in 2012 are a contributing factor to his .294 BAbip. A more sure-gloved infield and we might be looking at a lower number. I am not suggesting direct causation (obviously, because BAbip doesn’t include errors), but that a first-to-worst defence doesn’t help any pitcher.
My best guess is that Shields is somewhere in between 2011 and 2012, leaning a little closer to 2012. After 3 straight seasons of less than 10% swinging strike percentage, he posted a 10.7 SWstr% in 2011 and 10.9 SWstr% in 2012. He also had an elite defence behind him in 2011, and a terrible defence behind him 2012. He’s using his fastball less (3 straight declining years as a % of pitches) and his off-speed stuff more (especially his change-up and curveball), so he’s begun to pitch instead of throw, as some old-timers might say. This is bore out in his xFIP from 2011 of 3.25 (remember his ERA was 2.81) and his xFIP in 2012 of 3.24 (ERA of 3.52).
Like I said, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. His true talent with his current repertoire puts him in line to be an elite #2 pitcher or a low-end staff-ace. If you assume he’s somewhere between 2011 (4.7 WAR) and 2012 (2.2 WAR), then he’s about a 3.5 WAR pitcher. Assuming about $5M per WAR for a pitcher, if Shields can improve a bit from his 2012 performance, he’ll still be a steal for the remainder of his contract (owed $10.25M in 2013 and $12M in 2014).
Wade Davis is a conundrum. A former 3rd round pick in 2004, he posted a career 3.28 ERA in the minors, before posting back-to-back 4+ ERA seasons in 2010 and 2011 as a starter. That all changed last year when he was bumped to the bullpen as a long reliever. His main pitch selection didn’t change a TON, fastballs 3% less, slider about the same. But he used his curveball a lot more, and there were less MPH on his change-up with more MPH on his fastball, so that differential left a lot of batters off balance. In fact, his pitch values ALL INCREASED, save for his two-seamer (didn’t even know he threw one), with the curveball having the most dramatic increase. His SWstr% also skyrocketed from 5.9% in 2011 to 12% in 2012 (career 7.3%).
It seems he’s better suited for the bullpen than the rotation. Kansas City bolsters an already serviceable bullpen, who saw the most innings of any AL team last year (561.1) yet was still fourth in ERA (3.17). If they need him to start, he can. But if he doesn’t need to, they shouldn’t force the issue.
There are different years of control issues. Shields is under contract for two more years before becoming unrestricted, Davis is under contract until 2015, with team options for 15-16-17. If Davis can be a 1 WAR player (and he was last year), his contract and Shields’ both are a steal.
But pitch values and contract values are necessarily what this trade is about, and we’ll get to that later.
Let’s look at the haul Tampa Bay got out of this.
Wil Myers is one of the top prospects in baseball. A year ago, Baseball Prospectus called Wil Myers the top prospect in the KC organization, and they also said he’s one of the top 10 prospects for 2013. And there’s good reason. He’s consistently improved: he struggled in AA in 2011 (.745 OPS) after tearing up A+ in 2010 with a .966 OPS. He “struggled” in AAA with a .932 OPS after his call-up from AA where he was hitting at an absurd OPS clip of 1.146. Struggled was in quotations because although he failed to maintain his pace at AAA from AA (and it would have been insanity if he did), he was still the PCL hitter of the year for 2012.
As far as “can’t-miss” prospects go, Myers is one of them. And with the departure of BJ Upton, the Rays had a hole to fill in the outfield, and they did just that.
Jake Odorizzi is another player that has shown consistent improvement at every level. Just at an eye-glance, he went from a 3.43 ERA in A-ball in 2010, to 3.32 in AA at the start of 2012 to 2.93 in 107 IP and 17 starts in AAA. It should be noted that the AAA PCL league is a sluggers league, making that number all the more impressive. His BB/9 were a career high in the PCL since he was an 18-year old in the Arizona League, but I’ll contribute that to pitching around players in band boxes. Considering his BAbip of .292 in AAA is actually higher than his career average in the minors of .280, it becomes all that more impressive.
The jury is still out on Mike Montgomery. A former first round pick who was once the 19th ranked prospect by Baseball America (one spot ahead of Chris Sale), he hasn’t showed a lot of promise in the minors. He is, though, a big strong lefty (6’4″, 200 lbs, sound familiar?). He walked 64 batters in 149.2 innings between AA and AAA in 2012, and 69 in 150.2 in AAA in 2011. His BAbip between 2011-2012 and between AA-AAA never went below .310 or above .318, so he’s either been really unlucky for a couple of years, or he just might not be that good. He’s not a huge strikeout pitcher (7.7 K/9 in 2011, 6.7 K/9 in 2012) who is having trouble finding the zone. But he doesn’t turn 23 until July so there is still lots of time to figure it out. He might end up at the back of a rotation some day, but with those sorcerer-like pitching coaches in Tampa Bay, who knows what his true ceiling is.
Patrick Leonard is still a very raw third baseman. He doesn’t turn 20 until October of next year, but had a very productive rookie minor league season. Leonard had an .833 OPS in just 62 games in the Appalachian league, with 14 homers. With such a small sample size, there is no plausible guess as to how his career will turn out. For now, he remains a raw hitting prospect.
Evaluation – Tampa Bay
Let’s look at this from Tampa’s perspective first. As of this moment, they only have 8 players on the books for 2013, and got rid of two that they would have owed about $14M total to. The Rays lose a starting pitcher and a long-man from the bullpen. But you look at the depth the Rays have at pitching, and why not? You start with Price-Moore-Hellickson, throw in Jeff Niemann, and now Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer are all vying for the 5th man in the rotation, with the other two likely going to the pen (or, more likely, Odorizzi will probably just stay in the minors for at least the start of 2013). They have the pieces to fill in what they lost in Shields and Davis in their own system alone. I’m not saying Archer or Cobb will be James Shields, but they do have the pieces to at least replace what they lost.
Mike Montgomery still hasn’t proven anything, but if anyone can get the most out of their pitchers, it’s the Tampa Bay coaching staff. Patrick Leonard must be placed in the same conversation, as it’s too early to tell how he might turn out with any sort of accuracy.
As great a prospect Odorizzi might be, Myers is that much better. Losing Upton kind of forced the Rays to go look for an outfielder. And knowing how the Rays operate, getting a blue chip prospect for a starting pitcher makes sense. Myers’ OPS in 2011 between A and AA was .934. His OPS in 2012 between AA and AAA was .987. He hasn’t shown any regression in the last two years, and he’s very patient at the plate; His 61 BB in just 522 ABs in 2012 would have put him in the top-20 among MLB players (I know, I know, the many pitfalls of comparing across leagues. It was for a demonstrative purpose. He was still top-50 in walks in the PCL despite not even appearing in 100 games. So yeah, there’s that).
Now, I can hear people already saying “Yeah well, what are Myers’ and Odorizzi’s numbers in the majors?” I get that they haven’t played a single game of major league ball. But Myers is as surefire as it gets without stepping on the field. Odorizzi has not shown any reason why he can’t be #2-#3 starter. Montgomery has time to figure it out, but has the pedigree and Leonard is still raw. The point is that the Rays shed salary, had the pieces in place already to replace what they lost, got one for-sure blue chip prospect, one possible blue-chipper and two others to stock the cupboards.
Evaluation – Kansas City
What else is there to say then Kansas City thinks they can make a run for it in the next couple years? A run for what, I’m not quite sure. Yes they have a very dangerous line up, from the speedy Escobar, to the power/hitting of Moustakas, Butler and dare I say Hosmer? The outfield isn’t terrible, with Gordon, Cain and ?? (Francouer?). Salvador Perez looks like he will be an all-star catcher sooner rather than later, putting up an .810 OPS in 437 ABs between 2011-2012 and he’s only 22. While Hosmer is a bit of a question mark (he’s better than his 2012 performance), Gordon is very hot and cold and CF/RF aren’t extremely strong offensive positions for them, they still have a pretty strong line up, with a very high ceiling.
But to the pitching staff… Argh… the Royales with Cheese pitching staff. Beyond James Shields, who gives you confidence on the mound? Ervin Santana? Jeremy Guthrie? Bruce Chen? Luke Hochevar? Felipe Paulino or Danny Duffy once they’re healthy? No one really stands out. Ervin Santana sports a career HR/FB% of 8.5%, and it spiked in 2012 of 14.8%. He also had the highest LD% (14%) that he’s had since 2008. He had 5.16 ERA, second worst of his career (5.76 in 2007), despite a PALTRY .242 BAbip (career .286). His XB/H% was way up, his LD% was up, his HR/FB% was up, and as a result, he got the fucking tar smashed out of him in 2012. I’m not even sure the move to the Central Division will help him that much. Would you rather face Cleveland and Chicago WS or Seattle and Oakland? It’s a wash.
There’s really no one that Kansas City can roll out after Shields that will give them any sort of confidence. Not initially, at least. If Santana can keep the ball off the barrel, maybe him. MAYBE. But no one beyond that.
The addition of the second Wild Card, and all the goodness it brings (remember when people thought the Padres might get there last year? HA!), means teams think they have a more realistic shot than they really do.
Kansas City will not sniff the playoffs next year with the team as presently constructed. They just do not have the pitching. And as good as their line up might be, it’s no better than the line up 5-6 other AL teams can roll out on any given night.
The Rays stocked the cupboard, and got at least one blue chip prospect, while shedding salary being able to replace the holes from within their own system.
The Royales got a front line starter (good) and a long-reliever (ok), for their best hitting prospect (eek), and a probable #2-#3 starter (double eek) plus a couple other pieces. Yes I understand that we know what the Royales got, while there’s still a question mark around how the Rays’ new prospects will turn out.
But in the end, this trade is about a franchise that hasn’t been relevant since I was eating Gushers at recess, thinking that they have a shot at the playoffs next year. Now, the YOLOrioles proved this year that yes, in theory, ANY team can make the playoffs. But in practical terms, this does not improve Kansas City. All things being equal, if Shields and Davis massively outperform their talent levels in terms of WAR, they will still struggle to get to .500 as a team. And getting rid of possibly the best hitting prospect in baseball and a mid-rotation starter (plus pieces) to get a starter in his 30′s and a bullpen long-man does nothing to address what is Kansas City’s real issue: young pitchers. Without young controllable pitchers, a small market team like Kansas City will never get ahead (ahem… Oakland).
In reality, the two pitchers acquired by Kansas City have to GREATLY outperform their talent levels for this move to provide any value to the franchise (this does not relate to their value in dollar terms). In this sense, almost regardless of how Myers, Odorizzi et Al. turn out, this is a bad trade by Kansas City, because you never want your franchise motto to be “we can do what the Orioles did!” Because in real dollars, the value provided by Shields and Davis means their contracts are likely to be a steal for them. But the contracts and players seem to be less important in this trade than what the franchise in Kansas City is actually saying. And what they are saying is “we are going to try and win now”. Not a bad motto in general, but very misguided at this point.
As always, you can reach me on Twitter @SlimCliffy for fantasy questions. I cover mostly hockey, but also cover baseball and football.
*all numbers and figures taken from Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and FanGraphs.