By In Stuff

A Regrettable Trade

The other day I tweeted this:

Wow, that young Wil Myers can hit! Wonder if a team like KC could pry him away with a veteran pitcher like Shields. Oh. Wait.

— Joe Posnanski (@JPosnanski) July 25, 2013

It was just a wise-guy tweet, I know. “Too soon,” many people wrote back. But somewhere inside there, maybe, there was a point worth making. Before the season began, the Royals traded Myers for Shields — with several other subsidiary players making it a six-player deal — and I along with many other people despised the deal for the Royals. If you are a team like the Royals (small market, limited resources, longtime loser) you NEVER trade one of the game’s best prospects just as he is about to come to the major leagues. Never.

And if you do … well, no, you don’t don’t do it. Not ever.

But if the trade is so preposterously lopsided that you feel like you have to do it, well … no, you still don’t do it because it’s not as lopsided as you think if you are trading one of the game’s best prospects just as he is ready to begin. Just stop. Do not do it.

Then, to be fair, this was more than a baseball deal for Kansas City and Royals general manager Dayton Moore. It was a a bold effort to become relevant. I understand that — you can’t be around the Kansas City Royals for any length of time without understanding the strain and fatigue of trying so hard with so few good results. The team has been terrible for a quarter century, the fans have been scarred by the countless false starts, the organization has been hollowed from the inside out by the constant and unsuccessful efforts to find a way to break through. Dayton Moore looked around and made the calculation that another year of irrelevance would crush everyone’s spirits. It was time for action.

And he made these calculations:

  1. The Royals had to be come relevant. And they needed a top of the rotation pitcher to become relevant.
  2. In some ways, Myers would never be more valuable as a trade commodity. He was Baseball America’s minor league player of the year in 2012. Prospects — because of their relative inexpensiveness and their still unlimited potential — trade like gold around baseball.
  3. Myers had not played a single game in the Major Leagues yet so Moore (technically) would not be hurting the big league club by trading him.

There might be a fourth calculation* that the Royals were not quite as high on Myers as many others. But I don’t know if that’s true and, considering how he started, it’s best left in the shadows. The Royals traded Myers for Shields.

*Many people believe — and some of them written in since this first posted — that there is a fifth calculation: Dayton Moore was trying to save his job with a desperate attempt to get to the playoffs. I know Dayton Moore pretty well. I’ve known him for quite a few years. I often don’t agree with his baseball decisions. But I don’t believe for one second that his personal job security had anything to do with the trade. That’s just not who Dayton Moore is as a person.

And here’s the thing: I would say it has worked out about as well as the Royals might have reasonably hoped. Well, yes, they did hope that one of those subsidiary players, Wade Davis, would emerge as a solid starter, and he instead has a 5.92 ERA and the Royals don’t really know what to do with him.

But Shields has pitched well. He threw seven shutout innings Friday to lead the Royals to their fourth straight victory. He has a 3.09 ERA in about 150 innings of work, is among the league leaders in strikeouts and games started and is one of the big reasons the Royals are second in the American League in ERA.

And … the Royals are better. There’s no question about it. They are now two games under .500 with a realistic chance of finishing break even for the first time in a decade. Shields’ good pitching along with the resurgence of the excellent Ervin Santana — who has pitched well AND made the awesome suggestion that pitchers should have an All-Star pitchers dodgeball game, a banner year for anyone — has given the Royals a pretty good top of the rotation.

If you dare to dream, the Royals are seven games back for the second wildcard.

So, like I say, it has worked about as well as the Royals could have honestly expected. And? And it was still a disastrous trade. This is because the Royals are almost certainly not going to get that second wildcard. They might or might not get to .500, but there won’t be any parades either way. Shields will have one year left on his deal and he will turn 32 years old.

Meanwhile, Wil Myers already looks like the star that so many people expected him to become over time. Just 31 games into his big league career he’s hitting .325/.353/.492 in the heart of the Tampa Bay lineup. The Rays are a ridiculous 22-9 since he arrived and have jolted into first place. He’s 22 yeas old, he has tremendous power, he has great bat speed, he’s a gloriously natural hitter just like the Royals kept saying when he belonged to them. The Rays now have him for the next six years, and probably longer if they sign him up. He’s become one of the more valuable properties in the game.

It is possible — likely even — that he will be a better hitter than anybody in he Kansas City Royals organization.

And the Royals traded him away in a moment of weakness, a moment when they decided that they had to DO SOMETHING. That urge to just DO SOMETHING is overpowering, and it is almost always harmful in pretty much all walks of life. It is something poker players do when they have a bad run of cards and grow tired of sitting out hand after hand — they go in with a nine-jack and kind of hope for the best.

This urge to just DO SOMETHING can hurt good teams too. I think the Washington Nationals fell for the “do something” ruse when they went out and paid big bucks to get Rafael Soriano to be their closer. It’s not exactly Soriano’s fault that the Nationals are struggling, but they did not need him. Tyler Clippard was fine as a closer, Drew Storen was fine as a closer. The Naitonals had fairly young pitchers who they had to demote (in Storen’s case, the move was disastrous, he has blown up, and he now might be trade bait), Soriano has blown his share of games, and it just wasn’t necessary.

The Myers trade wasn’t necessary either. Yes it got the Royals a little bit of short-term goodwill. Yes, it has made this season marginally more interesting. But it cost them so much. My tweet was a joke, but what do you think WOULD happen if Dayton Moore called the Rays GM Andrew Friedman and said, “Hey, listen, we’d like to trade you James Shields for Wil Myers?” Exactly.

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38 Responses to A Regrettable Trade

  1. Ben Wildner says:

    Did Rafael Soriano change his last name to Santana when I wasn’t looking?

  2. invitro says:

    I’d feel sorry for you Royals fans, but it’s hard to when you don’t directly call for Moore’s ouster. My impression of him, which comes almost entirely from this blog, is that he’s almost as much of a franchise-wrecker as Cam Bonifay was for the Pirates.

    Are sabermetricians of any consensus on a GM’s value? I believe a good GM can build a long period of success, and vice-versa, but that’s just a guess. Are there any quantitative measures of their value? Or predictors of trade outcomes in wins/losses? Is there anyone willing to dare a guess on the win/loss difference that would result if the Royals had Friedman, and the Rays had Moore, for the last seven years?

    • The screams for Dayton’s ouster aren’t as loud as they should be, but they’re there. Oh, yes. Royals Review in particular is super critical of Moore and his seven year run of unmitigated failure. We were pretty much down on Dayton even before the horrific Myers trade. Seven long years of pointless trades followed by one really, really, really bad one.

    • buster09 says:

      invitro : don’t put all the blame on Can Bonifay. He did have a hand in the disaster in Pittsburgh,but I would put the largest share of the blame on Dave Littlefiekd. What he did after taking over from Cam was darned near criminal !

    • buster09 says:

      should have been ” Cam “,not Can,and ” Littlefield “,no k. All apologies

    • Josh Duggan says:

      I write at Royals Review and before that at Royalscentricity. I’ve been very clearly calling for him to be sent packing for at least three years. 2009 was when it was obvious that he’d not be able to get the Royals over the hump. I’ve consistently said he was not cut out for the job. You’ll find very few who write about the Royals outside of the MSM who believe that Moore should be given longer to further ruin the franchise.

    • BobDD says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • BobDD says:

      yep, signing Guillan, Yuni, and Frenchy; all to two or three year contracts could have easily been headlines from ‘The Onion’ – or the Twilight Zone!

    • Edgar Bergen says:

      I question the conclusion that Dayton Moore’s failures are only the result of incompetence rather than attempts to “save his job.” First, it is impossible to be this incompetent. There is no one in the entire world that thought this was a good trade when it was made. There is no way that Dayton Moore could be this stupid. It is an insult to Moore for Joe to even suggest that he could possibly be this incompetent.
      Therefore, there must be some other reason. I agree that he does not want to “save his job.” Who grows up to desire to be the GM of the Kansas City Royals? I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
      However, he does, have severe self-confidence problems. He wants to win, sure. But he wants to win only in such a way that proves to everyone, including himself, that he is smart. He thinks that he must do what do one else would do and this will prove to him that he is smart. No one else would make this trade, so if it succeeds, I will get the glory and I will prove that I am not as stupid as I think.
      These are the reasons he keeps Francour long past when ANYONE thinks he can do anything other than make the Royals worse with him than they would be otherwise.
      Moore and Pioli have the exact same problem: Lack of self-confidence. They spent so much of their time trying to convince themselves that they are smart. It is a recipe for disaster.

  3. Zach says:

    The ultimate “DO SOMETHING” trade (at least in recent memory) was the Mariners trading Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, and George Sherrill (as well as go-nowhere prospect Tony Butler) for Erik Bedard. The team had been an unexpected success in 2007 (88-74), but their negative run differential and relative lack of talent should have made it clear that the team wasn’t all that close to contention. Meanwhile, Adam Jones had emerged as one of the top prospects in baseball, and Chris Tillman was a highly-touted pitching prospect. Erik Bedard was a very good pitcher when healthy, but he struggled to stay on the mound.

    The trade was lambasted by those with any sense when it went down, and time has only made it look worse. It remains to be seen if the Myers-Shields deal will be as bad for the Royals, but it sure looks likely.

    • frightwig says:

      And don’t forget sending Shin-Soo Choo and Asdriubal Cabrera to the Indians, in separate deals, for Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez. At least the Bedard deal had potential upside, though it didn’t work out. The Cleveland trades were completely baffling even on the days they were announced. Just think of how much better the M’s would be, and would have been the last few years, with Jones, Cabrera, Choo, and Tillman on the roster.

      Bill Bavasi, everybody!

    • Josh Duggan says:

      And Bavasi could have had Billy Butler for Yuniesky Betancourt but turned down Dayton Moore’s offer.

  4. Matt Lavery says:

    Missing a point – WOULD Myers have been this good in a Royals uni. Butler, Gordon, Moose, Hoch we kept and only Gordon has become a star and that was slow coming. Can’t be a coincidence that the one the Royals dropped happens to be the one young phenom in the group. Royals traded Carlos Beltran for (among others) John Buck. Fans embraced him, bought Buck jerseys and truly wanted him to be a star. He was given every opportunity and then some because the Royals and fans wanted to believe we got our money’s worth by trading one of the games best young players. After all that, the Royals finally trade him and now look at his numbers.

    I truly believe it is a mix of poor player development, a cloud of desperation in the clubhouse and some horrible luck.

    • Kyle Finley says:

      Absolutely agree with this. Wil Myers has even spoken about the sit-downs he received upon arriving in Tampa to learn the basics he never was taught in the Royals organization. The success of the Rays coaching staff and organization in developing young players has to play a factor in any review of this trade. Not to mention what it means for Myers to join a tradition of winning, albeit short, versus a club that is young and hasn’t consistently won in decades. He would have had a ton of pressure on him in KC as the man. In Tampa, he is just a member of the team.

    • Uhh, well then Dayton Moore should be fired for running a terrible organization in addition to making terrible decisions. James Shields has been as good or better than anyone expected, the lesser pitching prospects given up by the Royals have been completely underwhelming, and you know it to be true that Tampa would NEVER take this trade back, which makes it a horrible, horrible, god-f’ing awful trade for the Royals. That’s not bad luck–it’s a bad GM.

  5. Matt Lavery says:

    Missing a point – WOULD Myers have been this good in a Royals uni. Butler, Gordon, Moose, Hoch we kept and only Gordon has become a star and that was slow coming. Can’t be a coincidence that the one the Royals dropped happens to be the one young phenom in the group. Royals traded Carlos Beltran for (among others) John Buck. Fans embraced him, bought Buck jerseys and truly wanted him to be a star. He was given every opportunity and then some because the Royals and fans wanted to believe we got our money’s worth by trading one of the games best young players. After all that, the Royals finally trade him and now look at his numbers.

    I truly believe it is a mix of poor player development, a cloud of desperation in the clubhouse and some horrible luck.

  6. sanford says:

    I am assuming Kansas City isl around the same market size as St Louis. Some how they find a way to remain competitive and win pennants and the world series every so often. A guy goes down and they find some one to replace him. They lose Albert and it doesn’t seem to matter They lose a closer and they find a replacement. Here is Tampa that probably has a lower pay roll than the Royals and they go from 7 back a month ago and into first place. Oakland doesn’t pay much either plays in a crappy stadium and they are doing well as well.

    I live in near Milwaukee. The Brewers were having a bad season before Braun got suspended. Even if that didn’t happen they would still be terrible. I think Melvin is a fair general manager, but he hasn’t found the way to do it the way the Cards do. Money does not seem to be the be all and end all either. Yanks are terrible but somehow they have at least remained in the Wild Card race. The Mets despite the Wilpons dealings with Maddof have some money to spend and they are terrible. Same goes for the Cubs and White Sox who are big market teams.

    It just goes to show how difficult it is to find good players. It is pretty hard to determine how well a young kid will mature in any sport. A lot of luck is involved in sports.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I don’t think luck has much to do with it. Certain teams, like the Braves, draft and trade well, and have the setup do develop a consistent pipeline of young players. Players go down to injury, and up comes the next wave. The Royals seem to draft good players (they should with their drafting positions) but they don’t seem to develop the players… and trading top talent away at age 22 is just stupid.

    • Unknown says:

      St. Louis’ market size (according to Baseball Prospectus) is twice the size of KC’s. KC is 30th (last) and St. Louis is 19th in rankings of MLB teams. St. Louis metro population is 50% higher but a lot of other factors were included in the BP rankings.

  7. BobDD says:

    Some people say that the trade was good because Shields was a sure thing and Myers and the others with him were just prospects that might not pan out. But that argument leaves out a salient point: that was six years of the minor league player of the year for two years of a 30-something pitcher. At least Shields was a rather safe predictively very good pitcher, but 3 times the years for the top prospect at much less money? 2 expensive years vs. 6 inexpensive years. The only way the trade could be a win for KC is for Myers to completely tank and never become more than a below average player. Awful gamble.

    KC public relations director presumed publicity release: “Yes, we once thought Myers, the minor league player of the year, might possibly be good enough to someday replace Jeff Francoer, but we discovered this last off-season that Myers couldn’t even walk and chew gum at the same time. And the need to trade him was sealed when we found out he was in a polygamous marriage with seven pit bulls. We were lucky we could get the greatest pitcher in the game for him before the rest of baseball could find out the awful truth. We had to do this to keep ‘The Plan’ ™ on track.”

  8. Nowhere in either the post or comments is the name David Lough mentioned.

  9. Didn’t Eric Hosmer look like an uberstud in his first 30 games too? His entire rookie season was solid and he seems to finally be awakening now, but he fell off the map for a year and a half.

    Just seems odd that this would be ignored. Royals fans have a recent example of someone who’s supposed to be a star looking like a star and then not being one. Which makes declaring Myers one after 30 a bit strange.

    • Rob Smith says:

      See Francoeur, Jeff for fast first 30 day MLB starts. I think it’s a bit early to declare Myers a superstart…. same as Yasiel Puig, and to a lesser extent Jason Heyward. Give them a couple of years (maybe 3 or 4) before the coronation. But even if he tanks, it’s still a bad deal. The Royals were never going to be more than a .500 team this year. Teams like that trade veterans for youth, not vice versa. The Royals’ veterans should be plug ins keeping their lineup spots warm for the youngsters. The only thing good about Shields, if they are smart, is that they should have him on the market right now. In a thin trade deadline starting pitcher market, they may find themselves a couple of Will Myers’. That’s what teams like the Royals should be doing right now. Shields could be a difference maker to a contending team looking for one final piece.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Also… patience is needed with Hosmer. How many guys come out of the gate and are stars in their first two years? Those guys tend to be invited to their share of All Star games & get consideration for the HOF. Most guys struggle with inconsistency as they adjust to the approaches of pitchers with great skills and impecible scouting reports. Jason Heyward is similar. I firmly believe he has the goods to be a star, but he’s been very up and down. In his fourth year, surely he’d be getting it together, right? Then I realize that he’s still only 23…. same as Hosmer. The magic year that everyone says starts the peak for most players is age 27. Give it a little time.

  10. BobDD says:

    So far everyone here who references Myers as a superstar or supposed to become one are just his naysayers. The Rays won the deal even if he is an absolutely average RF, because of the difference between 2 and 6 yrs, and the difference between $12M and $1M (kept the math as simple as I could). If he ends up being even a one-time all-star or any of the other prospects give anything above replacement level, then the deal just gets even more lopsided.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Another team could have made that deal and won it with Shields… if the team was competing and won a World Series. The Royals are not that team. There are those that say Detroit “won” trading John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander since Alexander went close to undefeated and was a big reason for their winning the World Series. Of course, he was not good for long and Smoltz ended up haveing (probably) a HOF career. Though, he won only one World Series too. OK… nobody says Detroit won that deal. Nevermind.

    • BobDD says:

      Hey didn’t I used to know your sister, Roseanne Rosanna Danna 🙂

    • Rob, the Tigers didn’t win the World Series when Alexander was traded for Smoltz in 1987. Alexander was a HUGE factor in them winning the AL East, but Minnesota beat them 4-1 in the ALCS.

  11. KHAZAD says:

    According to BR, The Royals have (prior to Wade Davis’ good start tonight, which may help out his negative WAR) 1.6 WAR this year from the three players they got in the deal. They are paying the 3 players they received $12.3 million this year. Tampa is at 0.8 WAR from Myers and Odorizzi, they also got two minor leaguers, and are paying the 4 players a total of about $1 million. Fangraphs, who does (especially pitching, where innings get you WAR almost no matter how bad you are)WAR much differently, has the Royals ahead 4.1 to 1.0. Those gaps may get smaller the second half of the season as Myers plays every day. And this is the year the Royals were supposed to reap the benefits.

    Also, though I know RBI’s mean very little, it is still a fun fact that Myers already has more than the Royal’s struggling regular third baseman Mike Moustakas.

  12. KHAZAD says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. buster09 says:

    There is a really good lesson in what Joe says for every ( so called ) Pirate fan out there who thinks they should make a deal for the legendary ” big bat “,using Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco as the bait.

  14. Hosmer looked like a major leaguer in his first season and has looked less than stellar since. Wil looks great now, but let’s save the I told you so’s for a few seasons.

  15. BobDD says:

    I told you so’s have been appropriate since the announcement of the poor trade.

  16. I was listening to the radio the other day, and some analyst said that the reason the Pirates had finally broken out this year was that they had kept all of their prospects and not gone for the ostensibly blockbuster deals. Immediately, this trade came to mind.

    That said, when this trade first occurred, I thought the same that Matt Lavery brought up above. How many Royals prospects have been hyped and thus far been decent to above average? Hosmer and Moustakas came immediately to mind. Gordon struggled for years. Maybe Myers would be tearing it up in a Royals uniform. Maybe he’d be the next coming of the Beltran/Damon/Dye days. Or maybe there would be some flaw that this system has where he would struggle in the blue and white.

  17. […] and GM Dayton Moore by anyone who knows anything about the Royals (your Rany Jazayerlis, your Joe Posnanskis) right up until early September 2014 was always couched in “I hope I’m wrong, but this […]

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