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Apocalypse Now: The Big Trade, the Royals, and 2013

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The big news in baseball this morning is the huge trade pulled off by the Kansas City Royals and the Tampa Bay Rays late Sunday night. As you likely know, the Royals sent top outfield prospect Wil Myers, top pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi, and minor leaguers Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard to the Rays, receiving starting pitcher James Shields and reliever Wade Davis in return.

Opinion among Royals fans seems sharply divided. Casual fans, local TV pundits, some radio hosts, and "we must win now" people seem to like it, feeling that the front office is finally trying to win and switch from rebuilding to competing.

Many prospect-oriented Royals fans feel that the Mayans were onto something, that the Apocalypse is nigh, and are stumbling around Saigon hotel rooms this morning in a PTSD haze like Captain Benjamin L. Willard:

My personal, immediate reaction to the trade was that it was a bad deal for the Royals, that they were giving up too much in an attempt to bolster the pitching staff. However, I'm a prospect guy and felt that it might cloud my judgment, so I decided to sleep on it and think about it more before deciding that definitely.

First, let's look at the prospects.

Patrick Leonard, 3B: Leonard was a fifth round pick in 2011, from high school in Houston, Texas. A 20-year-old right-handed power hitter, he hit .251/.340/.494 with 14 homers, 30 walks, and 55 strikeouts this year for Burlington in the Appalachian League. His defense at third needs more polish, but he's got good range for a big guy (6-4, 225) and a chance to stick at the position. The key for Leonard, however, is the bat: he's got excellent raw power, some feel for the strike zone, and didn't strike out excessively in his pro debut. I regard him as a significant sleeper prospect who could break out in 2013.

Mike Montgomery, LHP:
A 6-4, 200 pound, 23-year-old lefty, Montgomery was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball a couple of years ago, but has since fallen on hard times. He went 3-6, 5.69 with a 67/43 K/BB and 110 hits allowed in 92 innings for Triple-A Omaha this year, and was even worse after being demoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in July (2-6, 6.67, 44/21 K/BB, 69 hits in 58 innings). He had a poor season in 2011 as well, and hasn't been truly effective since the first half of 2010.

When he's right, Montgomery shows a 93-96 MPH fastball along with a solid changeup and curve. When he's wrong, his velocity dips into the upper-80s and his secondary pitches flatten out. There is no evidence of an injury problem and the issues are traced to inconsistent mechanics and a wandering release point. I think a change of scenery would be helpful for him. Whatever the Royals were doing wasn't working for Montgomery.

Wil Myers, OF:
Myers is the best or second-best outfield prospect in baseball, ranking up there with Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals and shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar of the Rangers when elite talents are discussed. After an erratic and injury-plagued 2011 season, Myers turned everything around with a monster 2012, hitting .343/.414/.731 with 13 homers in 35 games in Double-A, then .304/.378/.554 in 99 games in Triple-A. His overall line was .314/.387/.600 with 22 doubles, 37 homers, 109 RBI, 61 walks, and 140 strikeouts in 522 at-bats.

Myers is a 6-3, 205 pound right-handed hitter and thrower who turned 22 years old last week. He has excellent bat speed but also shows some selectivity at the plate, laying off breaking pitches more readily this year while continuing to crush fastballs, showing power to all fields. His strikeout rate was higher this year, scouts attributing this to greater power-consciousness on his part as he was trying to slug his way onto the major league roster. Although the friendly environment of the Pacific Coast League helped his numbers, his bat is for real and I don't think anyone seriously doubts his hitting skills. He's always mashed when healthy.

Myers has a strong arm and runs well for a bigger guy, making him a good fit in right field although the Royals gave him time in center (as well as third base). He's not perfect but even the best prospects aren't, and he's a Grade A for me.

Jake Odorizzi, RHP:
Acquired from the Brewers in the 2010 Zack Greinke trade, Odorizzi had a solid campaign in 2012, posting a 3.32 ERA with a 47/10 K/BB in 38 innings in Double-A, then a 2.93 ERA with an 88/40 K/BB in 107 innings in 18 Triple-A starts, impressive performance in the difficult Pacific Coast League. Overall he went 15-5, 3.03 in 26 minor league starts this year, with a 135/50 K/BB in 145 innings with 132 hits allowed. He made two major league starts in September, giving up four runs in 7.1 innings with a 4/4 K/BB.

Odorizzi is 22 years old, listed at 6-2, 175. He is an outstanding overall athlete who was a multi-sport start at an Illinois high school before being drafted. He's got an 89-94 MPH fastball that he's aggressive about using, and he generally locates it well. His curveball, slider, and changeup are all major league average, giving him a four-pitch mix. Although his stuff isn't spectacular, it tends to play up due to his command, confidence, and makeup. His greatest weakness is a tendency to work high in the strike zone, leaving him vulnerable to gopher balls if he makes a location mistake. He's got good mechanics and has shown he can eat innings without getting hurt. Overall, Odorizzi projects as a sound number three starter.

Putting this altogether, the Royals gave up an outstanding hitting prospect who is major league ready, a very solid pitching prospect who is ready or almost ready, another pitching prospect who has talent but is stagnating and needs a change of scenery, and a third base prospect with significant sleeper potential.

In exchange, they got James Shields, a 31-year-old right-hander who has pitched very well over the last two seasons, and Wade Davis, a failed starting pitcher who thrived once he moved to the bullpen. Shields immediately gives the Royals something they have lacked since the Greinke trade: a rotation anchor. It sounds like they will give Davis another shot at the rotation, although whether that works or not is an open question.

Let's assume that Shields stays healthy and continues to pitch like he did the last two years. Give him the 32 starts that the Royals gave Luke Hochevar and his 5.73 ERA. Obviously that improves the team up front, replacing a cipher with a consistently above-average, sometimes excellent starter at the top of the rotation. Let's further assume that they use Wade Davis as a starter and that he puts up league-average numbers. That isn't as safe of an assumption as Shields: Davis might return to mediocrity as he did in '10 and '11. But even so, giving Davis the 28 starts that went to Jonathan Sanchez and Will Smith and their 6.23 ERA last year would improve the team, even if he can't duplicate what he did in the bullpen.

But does it improve the team enough? Even if Shields and Davis turn out to be everything the Royals hope, does it justify the trade?

Remember, the Royals have more problems than bad starting pitchers. Eric Hosmer, supposed to be the lineup anchor, was awful last year. They don't have an answer yet at second base. Mike Moustakas at third has power and is still very young, but his poor OBP drags the offense. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are excellent players, but Jeff Francoeur is bad at everything except impressing Dayton, and they don't have a proven answer in center field. The team has given lip service to the importance of OBP for years but doesn't seem to do anything about it. The front office still seems to have an unnatural attraction to players with grit and makeup who can't actually play very well, especially if they have some connection to the Braves organization. There are vague rumors that the front office wasn't impressed with Myers' makeup and didn't consider him a team player.

But let's draw a best-case scenario here. Let's say that Shields is great, that Davis is above-average. Let's say that Hosmer and Moustakas take large steps forward with the bat, that Gordon is excellent, that Butler is excellent, that Chris Getz hits .300, that Lorenzo Cain turns into Adam Jones. Are those things all possible? Yes, particularly the improvement at the infield corners. Those things could very well happen. If they did, the Royals would push over .500 and compete for the division title. It is clear that this is what the front office is hoping will happen.

But some of those things are more likely than others, and it is doubtful that all the good things will happen at the same time. Bad things happen too, and the team does not have the roster depth at the upper levels of the organization to cover for a major injury or slump from one of their key players.

This team went 72-90 last year, with a Pythagorean projection of 74-88. I think it is entirely possible that this team will win 80-82, maybe 84 games next year, if Shields and Davis work out and the incumbents show marginal improvements. Obviously Dayton Moore thinks this. But would winning 82-84 games be enough to get the team to the post-season? Unless the Tigers and White Sox collapse, no. Would it be enough to save Dayton Moore's job? Probably.

Would I personally have made his trade? No. I like Myers too much, I think he's a star in the making and possibly a superstar. Dumping Francoeur in favor of Myers would improve the team by itself and you wouldn't have to empty the farm system to do it. I also like Odorizzi, and while Montgomery may be a washout, Leonard is a pretty intriguing guy. It was a lot to give up. As for other major league positions, there are guys wandering around Triple-A who are better than Getz, and there is just no reason for the bench to be as bad as it's been. The Royals are simply not very good at identifying cheap talent. Their methods in that department are unsound.

I understand why the trade was made. There's some logic behind it, especially if you think that Myers is overrated, which the Royals apparently do, and if it is imperative to get an ace starter right now to make a run for .500 in 2013, which it apparently is. Overall, while I don't think the trade was completely insane, I don't think it was wise either, and not in the best medium and long-term interests of the organization.

James Shields is a very, very good pitcher, and he'll help the team win more games in 2013. But will adding Shields and Davis be enough to get the Royals to the post season? No. Not without large improvements from other roster spots, which this trade does not address. Maybe those improvements will come organically or from other acquisitions.

By itself, this trade won't be enough. By itself, this trade won't save Dayton Moore's job. If Shields and Davis don't work out, and if Myers and Odorizzi do, Moore will get fired. I think he knows that.

Bottom line: I wouldn't have made the trade, but I'm also not fighting for my job. The trade is NOT the Apocalypse for the Royals and it might work, if they continue to follow up and work on their other roster holes. If they stand pat, it probably won't work, and probably harms the system for little long-term gain. Let's see if they follow up.