The Kansas City Royals gave up a king’s ransom to acquire starting pitcher James Shields from the Tampa Bay Rays in December of 2012. They gave up four of their top 18 prospects, including eventual American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, and trading away starting pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi isn’t looking too hot for the Royals right now either. Throw in the news that Shields has no interest in negotiating a contract extension, let alone signing one, once the season begins and it only reinforces that thought. We are roughly three weeks away from Opening Day so the clock is ticking Dayton Moore, although the Royals have confirmed that no extension talks are planned.
If the Royals allow Shields to walk via free agency, which he will be upon the conclusion of the 2014 season, then many will likely look at that blockbuster of a trade over a year ago as a bust for the Royals. Then again, some already do view the trade that way because even though the Royals desperately needed pitching help for last season and even though they had a deep enough farm system to absorb the losses – what the hell is the point if you aren’t going to make any efforts to sign James Shields to a contract extension?
Maybe you make him a qualifying offer and are able to nab a compensation pick in the 2015 Amateur Draft as a result of him leaving. Is that really the best your fan base should hope for or expect? You make one of the biggest trades in franchise history and the impression being given is that you may not even try to extend the target of your affection?
The goal with Shields is to make the playoffs for the first time since 1985 and so far all they’ve accomplished is having their first winning season since 2003. They won 86 games last season and finished seven games out of first place in the American League Central and six games back of a wild-card spot. Even if they manage to earn a postseason berth this season one playoff appearance for all that was given up for Shields doesn’t exactly scream ‘quality return’.
The Royals do have some exciting young pitching coming through the pipeline in Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer, but your expected rotation for 2014 has just one pitcher who’s a near lock to have success – James Shields. The rest, aside from Yordano Ventura if he makes the rotation, is a who’s who of aging veterans who could provide you quality innings here or there but you’re not really sure what you’re going to get on a given night.
If 2014 is indeed the final season that Shields wears that powder blue for the Royals many fans will be left wondering if it was worth it; regardless of whether the Royals make the playoffs or not. It’s a fair question to ask considering the Royals gave up an outfield bat with 30+ home run potential and hustle along with a pitching prospect that is major league ready and will likely wind up a staple in the Rays rotation at the onset of this season.
What if the Royals had never made the trade for Shields though?
They were unlikely to win the 86 games they did without Shields in 2013 but they would also be set up quite nicely for the 2014 season and beyond. Imagine a Royals rotation with the likes of Jake Odorizzi, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Jeremy Guthrie and a Jason Vargas or other similar pitcher until Kyle Zimmer is ready. Instead the Royals are missing out on Odorizzi who is likely to outperform two-thirds of the Royals rotation alone this season.
Imagine a lineup that includes Wil Myers and an outfield that has Alex Gordon in left field, Lorenzon Cain in center field and of course, Wil Myers in right field. Maybe the tradeoff of keeping Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi evens out not having James Shields for the 2013 season or maybe it doesn’t, but it certainly would be better than having just Shields this season or beyond. The Royals were 12th in overall production according to fWAR, with a lot of that coming from the sheer volume of innings covered, but their offense was incredibly mediocre.
If the Royals are to make the playoffs, even as a wild-card team, this season then they will be relying on marked improvements from hitters such as Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and even Billy Butler. If General Manager Dayton Moore would have displayed just a touch more patience the offense wouldn’t be a concern heading into the 2014 season and their 2014 rotation would have three young, extremely talented arms making their mark on the American League (Yordano Ventura, Jake Odorizzi and Danny Duffy) while veterans like Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas.
The 2014 Royals may have actually been much better if Dayton Moore didn’t pull the trigger on the imbalanced trade that brought James Shields to Kansas City.