Kansas City Royals Finally Decide It’s Time to Win Now

The Royals have decided that they are going to make a run at the play-offs in 2013 and 2014, after years and years of unsuccessful rebuilding.  The Royals haven’t had a winning season since 2003, haven’t won 90 games in a season since 1989 and haven’t played in the post-season since 1985 (when thankfully for Royals’ fans, they won the World Series).  At least, that’s the only way to understand the big James Shields/Wade Davis trade.

The Royals certainly gave up a boat-load of talent to get Shields and Davis.  Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi are definitely grade-A prospects — both look like they are ready to start 2013 in the major leagues.  Mike Montgomery, who turns 24 next July 1st, didn’t have even AAA command in 2012 but appears to have major league stuff.  Patrick Leonard at age 19 hit 14 HRs in 62 games in the rookie Appalachian League, propelling him to an .833 OPS even though he hit only .251.

In short, the Rays unloaded salary (although the deals they had for Shields and Davis going forward are extremely reasonable by MLB standard) and got a lot of cheap, controllable talent for the years to come.  The Rays are a small market team playing in a crappy in-door stadium; this is the kind of painful trade they must occasionally make to stay competitive given their budget constraints.  Needless to say, they won’t get the flack the Marlins got for the latter’s big salary dump this off-season, since they just extended their franchise player Evan Longoria through 2023.

The Royals gave up a lot, but they addressed their biggest need going into 2013 — pitching.  Shields is a legitimate No. 1 starter, and the addition of Wade Davis should give the Royals one of the best bullpens (if not the best) in the American League.

Despite the addition of James Shields and Ervin Santana, the Royals’ 2013 rotation looks weak.  It’s hard to get excited about Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar.

At least the Royals now have some options.  If/when some of the bottom three starters prove they haven’t got any more of what little they once had, the Royals can fall back on Luis Mendoza, Will Smith, Felipe Paulino, and, when he’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, Danny Duffy, at least pending trades now that the Royals have brought in Shields and Santana.

In fact, roster spots for Royals pitchers on Opening Day suddenly look extremely hard to come by.  With the addition of Wade Davis, the Royals should have a terrific bullpen in 2013.  Among Kelvin Herrera, Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Louis Coleman, none had an ERA above 3.71, a Ks/9IP ratio lower than 8.2, a Ks/BBs ratio of less than 2.7, or will be older than 27 in 2013. Wow!

The only knock on the Royals’ bullpen plus Wade Davis is that only one of the six pitchers is a lefty (Tim Collins is listed as 5’7″ and 165 lbs and has the nickname “Tiny” — only lefties can get away with being this small in MLB).  That’s good news for lefty Francisley Bueno, a Cuban defector who as a 31 year old rookie had a 1.56 ERA (but only struck out seven in 17.1 innings pitched across 18 appearances) in 2012.

The Royals need to hope that their bullpen remains healthy in 2013, because they are likely to be worked hard.

The Royals still have a lot of questions at 2B, CF and RF.  Christian Colon should be ready soon to plug the 2B hole, but in an ideal world, he’d start 2013 in AAA.  Johnny Giavotella also looks like he’s ready to help the Royals there.

In center, Jarrod Dyson is probably a better player than his stats and age indicate at first glance.  While his batting skills are suspect, he gets on base, he runs extremely well and he covers the ground on defense.  He’s likely good enough for at least 2013.

In right field, the Royals need to do better than Jeff Francoeur gave them in 2012.  While Francoeur still has the best right field arm in baseball (19 assists in 2012 and 116 assists in his career), he didn’t do anything else well in 2012.  The Royals are on the hook to him for $7.5 million in 2013, so it comes down to the fact that Francoeur needs to hit better in 2013.  At least, he’s only 29 next year, so it could happen.

I’m also not as sold on catcher Salvador Perez as the Royals apparently are, at least for 2013 and 2014.  Perez’s talent is obvious, but his inability/unwillingness to draw walks is a major concern.  In his career, Perez has walked only 73 times in 1397 minor league plate appearances and 19 times in 463 major league plate appearances.  At some point, likely sooner rather than later, major league pitchers will stop throwing Perez strikes.  It remains to be seen whether he can take enough of those balls to force pitchers to throw him strikes again.

At the very least, the Royals have finally dumped Yuniesky Betancourt, which should improve the team at least a little bit in 2013.

As a final note, opinions have been all over the map regarding this trade.  An article (apparently) by Jay Jaffe on SI.com particularly caught my attention, due to the way the author manipulates the statistics to support his pre-conceived opinion. Among other things, the article argues that James Shields really isn’t a No. 1 starter because his ERA was only 3.80 over the last six seasons.

Um, Shields had ERAs of 2.82 and 3.52 the last two seasons while striking out 448 and walking only 123 in 477 innings pitched.  2011 and 2012 are a lot more relevant to project Shields’ likely performance 2013 and 2104, the years he’s under contract, than 2007-2010.  The only thing that’s likely to keep Shields from being a great pitcher in 2013 and 2014 is a sore arm from too many innings pitched the last two years.

The author also suggests that Shields isn’t a true No. 1 starter because he isn’t one of the best five starters in the American League.  Technically, any pitcher who qualifies as one of the 14 best starters in the AL would be a No. 1 starter, given the number of teams in the league.

Fangraphs says that Shields’ performance over the last two seasons was worth $41.2 million, but Shields will be paid, if he pitches well, $21 million over the next two seasons.  ‘Nuff said.

The Sports Illustrated writer also foolishly looks at Wade Davis’ career 3.94 ERA, which is stated to be above league average.  However, this fails to take into account how well Davis pitched in relief in 2012, or, even assuming he returns to the starting rotation in 2013, how good his career ERA would be for a starter.

The author then indirectly criticizes Wil Myers for not being Jurickson Profar or Dylan Bundy, perhaps the two best prospects in baseball.  You don’t have to be Alex Rodriguez to be a great major league player.  It’s a little like saying that Mike Trout has no right to be good because he was only the 25th selection of the 2009 Draft.

At the end of the day, the Royals have made a trade that will, absent injuries, make them a better team in 2013.  For a team that hasn’t been competitive for a long, long time, it’s a refreshing change.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers

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