The Upside to the Royals Trade
You may have noticed that I wasn’t a huge fan of the deal the Royals completed on Sunday night to acquire James Shields and Wade Davis in exchange for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard. The thing that I want to make clear is that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of bright side to this trade. In the end, I think the Royals did a nice job of adding a pitcher to the top of a rotation that was, for the most part, terrible in 2012. In many seasons, the Royals rotation was filled with pitchers who you had to hope would finally reach their potential or would have a career year or something along those lines. With this rotation, the good news is that while there are things that have to happen, they all seem at least somewhat plausible. At least more so than Luke Hochevar harnessing his stuff for a full season.
Let’s start with the principle player in the trade, James Shields. In Shields, as I mentioned in my write-up of the trade, the Royals get an absolute horse to lead their rotation. Shields was a 16th round draft pick in 2000 and was really the first success story with the Rays pitching development as he progressed through the system steadily, but not without his problems. His time in high A and his first few games in AA were a struggle, but he¬†persevered¬†and eventually made his big league debut in 2006 and showed flashes of potential but was a bit below average. It was in 2007, his first full big league season, that he evolved into the pitcher who is now the Royals ace.
In that first season, Shields threw 215 innings, allowed less hits than innings pitched, had a strikeout to walk ratio of 5.1 and was just generally very good. He did falter in 2010, but a lot of that can be explained by his BABIP, which was .341 that year compared to a high of .308 in every year since 2007. His career BABIP is .298, which is right around where you’d expect it, so I think it’s safe to assume his 2010 season was somewhat of a fluke. The innings Shields gives you are what make me love him as a pitcher so much. While pitchers from the 60s and 70s would probably scoff at the number of innings he’s pitched, for a modern day pitcher, he’s one of the best workhorses out there averaging 222 innings per year since 2007 and working on six consecutive 200 inning seasons.
Basically you can pencil James Shields in for 33 starts, 210+ innings, great control and the ability to get some strikeouts. I don’t think he’s one of baseball’s aces, but I do think he’s right there in the discussion as one of the best number two starters in all of baseball. For this version of the Royals, that’s going to be great as Shields is easily the Royals best pitcher since Zack Greinke and before that, maybe Kevin Appier. You could maybe argue Gil Meche’s name should be thrown in here, but that’s another argument for another day. There’s not a team out there who wouldn’t want James Shields in their rotation, and there are more than a few teams who would be comfortable starting him on Opening Day and not being embarrassed by it.
The other impact of the innings pitched is on the Royals young bullpen. I mentioned a few of the ifs above, and if Ervin Santana can find what he did in 2010 and 2011 and Jeremy Guthrie can pitch at 80% of what he did after coming over from the Rockies, the Royals rotation has an opportunity to really eat up the innings. With that comes the benefit of keeping guys like Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow and Greg Holland fresh late into the season. Whether or not you believe the Royals can make a run to the playoffs, if they can get there, having a rested bullpen is going to be very important as that will likely be their key to winning a series without a dominant starting pitcher. So if the top three in the Royals rotation can give them 600+ innings, that probably means good things.
The other player in the trade I’m less optimistic about, but I do think there’s reason for hope with Wade Davis. He was a third round draft pick in 2004 and made his big league debut a little quicker than James Shields, but has yet to have the success of Shields, which is why he was the second player in a deal and not he headliner. Davis was a starter full-time in 2010 and 2011 and was okay at best putting up ERAs of 4.07 and 4.45 and was below average relative to the rest of the league in those seasons. Davis has always been a pitcher I’ve had interest in from the Royals perspective, but every time I’ve seen him, I couldn’t help but think there was something missing. He just seemed like he should have better stuff than he does.
The ray of hope in Davis’s situation is that he was shifted to the bullpen prior to the 2012 season. The hope for the Rays was that he’d be able to focus on his stuff for one or two inning stints and maybe figure things out with an eye on potentially returning to the rotation. This is pretty similar to what the Royals did with Zack Greinke in 2007 and you may have heard he just signed the richest per year deal for any pitcher in the history of baseball. Of course, that’s where the comparisons end between the two. What did happen, though, is that Wade Davis saw a big uptick in his velocity and saw every single one of his secondary pitches actually improve. The million dollar question, of course, is if he can carry this back to the rotation as Greinke did. If he can, this deal looks much better because that would make him a number three starter. I’m skeptical, but the fact is that it’s not entirely insane for this to happen.
I still don’t like giving up Myers in this deal and I think adding Odorizzi just pushed it over the edge as an overpay, but this trade isn’t all negative. The 2013 team should be much better than the 2012 version and that’s even if the offense doesn’t show any improvement, which I don’t think will happen. We’re going to miss Myers and I think Odorizzi can be a legitimate middle of the rotation starter, but it’s not like the Royals got nothing back in this deal. They have a pitcher who I’m not ashamed to say is starting Opening Day and they have another pitcher who, at the very least, is a very good bullpen arm. My gut right now says the Royals are about an 82 win team in 2013, but maybe an addition or two and some good ol’ spring optimism can get me to up that total to 86 or 87. The fact that I can say that without being laughed at is a good start. Now we just hope they’re even better than that.
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