The Rays-Royals Trade Part I—The Truth

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The Rays traded RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis and a player to be named later to the Royals for OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery and 3B Patrick Leonard.

Let’s look at the trade from the standpoint of the Rays, the Royals and the players involved.

For the Rays

Trading away name players—specifically pitchers—for packages of minor leaguers has become the template for the Rays under their current regime. They did it with Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and Edwin Jackson. As much as their GM Andrew Friedman is worshipped for his guts and willingness to make a deal a day too early rather than a day too late, the get-back on those trades has been retrospectively mediocre. In those trades, they got a lot of stuff, the most notable up to now is Matthew Joyce, whom they received for Jackson. Apart from that, they’ve yet to show a big bang from any of those deals and mostly got salary relief.

Friedman stockpiles. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s not turn him into Branch Rickey and prepare his bust for the Hall of Fame just yet.

In this trade, the Rays cleared Shields’s $9 million for 2013. He has a club option for $12 million in 2014 with a $1 million buyout. They also got rid of Davis and his $7.6 million guarantee through 2014. (He has club options through 2017.) They received Myers, one of baseball’s top hitting prospects who, ironically, looks like a clone of Evan Longoria at the plate; they received Ororizzi, Montgomery and Leonard. Of those last three, Odorizzi is the only one close to big league ready.

Friedman maximized what he was going to get for Shields and the youngsters will certainly get a chance to play in the big leagues without the pressure and expectations to perform they would’ve been subjected to elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean they’ll become stars.

Considering the Rays’ financial constraints and strategies of bolstering the farm system by trading their veterans, this is a great move for them.

For the Royals

In 2012, the Royals were expected to take the next step (sort of like the Rays did in 2008) and have all their accumulated top draft picks vault them into contention or, at least, respectability. It didn’t work.

At some point a team has to try and win.

The Royals saw what happened when they acquired a scatterarmed and talented lefty, Jonathan Sanchez, before the 2012 season and he was about as bad as a big league pitcher can possibly be before getting hurt. Montgomery’s mechanics are heinous with a stiff front leg and across-his-body delivery; he has a power fastball with zero command and a curveball he’s yet to bridle. The young starting pitchers the Royals had developed have either faltered with inconsistency (Luke Hochevar) or gotten hurt (Danny Duffy).

They also saw a top young prospect Eric Hosmer experience a sophomore slump and exhibit why it’s not as easy as making the gradual progression with massive minor league production translating into big league stardom. The struggles of Hosmer clearly had an affect on how they viewed Myers and when he was going to help them.

With Shields, they get a proven 200+ inning arm that they have for the next two years. With Davis, they’re getting a potential starter who can also give them 200+ innings and he’s signed through 2017. We know what Shields is; Davis was very good as a reliever in 2012 and his overall numbers in two years as a starter have been mediocre. The Royals had a pitcher who’d struggled as a starter, was moved to the bullpen, pitched very well and was shifted back to the rotation. His name was Zack Greinke. Davis doesn’t have Greinke’s stuff, but his bloated ERAs from 2010 and 2011 stemmed more from individual games in which he got blasted. He’s a control pitcher who, if he doesn’t have his location, gets shelled. A pitcher like that can be a useful starter.

These are not rentals and they’re not desperation acquisitions for a GM, Dayton Moore, under fire. We’re already hearing from the armchair experts on social media making references to “cost certainty,” “team control,” and “upside.” They’re words that sound good as a reason to criticize. Most couldn’t tell you whether Myers bats righty or lefty. He’s a name to them. A hot name because he’s put up big numbers, but just a name.

It’s silly to think that the Royals don’t know what they have in their prospects, especially when the same critics make a great show of crediting Moore’s assistant Mike Arbuckle for his shrewd drafting that netted the Phillies Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and others. But in the interests of furthering the agenda to discredit the trade from the Royals’ standpoint, it suits the argument to suggest Arbuckle doesn’t know how to assess Myers, Odorizzi, Montgomery and Leonard.

Did the Royals make a trade to get better immediately and take the heat off of the GM? Possibly. Or it could be that they’ve seen firsthand the ups and downs of developing and playing their own youngsters, know that there are no guarantees, looked at a winnable AL Central, a weakened AL East and West and extra playoff spots available and decided to go for it.

2013 is Moore’s seventh year on the job. It does him no good to leave all these youngsters for his successor to look “brilliant” similar to the way in which Friedman was assisted by the posse of draft picks the Rays accumulated under Chuck LaMar because they were so terrible for so long. The list of players—B.J. Upton, Jeff Niemann, Davis, Shields, Jake McGee, Carl Crawford and Jeremy Hellickson—were there when Friedman took over as GM. That’s not diminishing the great work Friedman’s done. It’s fact.

Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler make a solid, young, and controllable foundation to score enough runs to win if they pitch.

And this has nothing to do with Jeff Francoeur. He’s a convenient buzzword designed to invite vitriol and indicate ineptitude.

Now with Shields, Davis, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, they can pitch.

When Friedman or Billy Beane makes a big trade, it’s “bold,” when Moore does, it’s “desperation.”

I don’t see it that way. The Rays did what they do with a freedom that other clubs don’t have to do it; the Royals made themselves better. It’s not the “heist” that it’s being framed as to credit Friedman while torching Moore. Both clubs get what they needed in the immediate future by making this trade.

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Trading Wil Myers Would Be “Moore” of the Same For the Royals

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Of course I’m referring to Royals GM Dayton Moore who, in his time as their GM and as an assistant with the Braves, has proven himself to be a shrewd drafter and accumulator of young, minor league talent. He has, however, faltered in signing and trading for established big leaguers. Someone with strengths and weaknesses so clearly defined might not be the best choice to run the entire organization. He’s under contract through 2014 and is going to get the opportunity to see things through for better or worse, so the Royals and their fans need to hope that he doesn’t keep doing the same things over and over and expect a different result.

During his tenure, there’s been little bottom line improvement with the Royals’ definable results—i.e. their record—but they have a farm system that is bursting with talent, particularly on offense. Rather than trade away some of that talent, they need to hang onto it and scour the market for pitchers that would be willing to sign with the Royals in a mutually beneficial deal between themselves and the club.

Considering the stagnation of Luke Hochevar (a non-tender candidate); that last season Bruce Chen was their opening day starter; that Danny Duffy needed Tommy John surgery; and that veteran imports Jonathan Sanchez have failed miserably, it’s understandable that they would use their surplus of bats to try and get a legitimate, cost-controlled young starter who could front their rotation. They’ve improved the rotation relatively cheaply and on a short-term basis with Ervin Santana and by keeping Jeremy Guthrie (who people don’t realize how good he’s been). They do need pitching and while it would help them to acquire a frontline starter like James Shields or a young, inexpensive arm such as Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Bauer, or Jonathon Niese, the Royals would be better served to wait out the falling dominos without doing something drastic like trading Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, or Billy Butler. Instead of a blockbuster deal of youngsters, perhaps signing a veteran such as Dan Haren who’s looking to revitalize his value and get one last big contract, would be preferable.

The Royals have the makings of a big time offense that’s cheap and productive. Weakening it to repeat the risky maneuvers of the past and hoping that they don’t turn into Sanchez is not the way to go. It would yield a headline and more hot stove stories of the Royals preparing to take the next step, but they’ve been there before multiple times in recent years and have wound up in the same place—70 wins or so. It’s a circular history and they’ve failed to make innocent climb into noticeable improvement, respectability, and finally contention. If any club knows first hand the risks of pitchers, it’s the Royals. The last thing they need to do is double-down on the risk and cost themselves a young bat like Myers or Hosmer before they’ve given them a chance to develop in a Royals uniform. There are pitchers like Haren who wouldn’t cost anything other than money. They think they have a comparable young replacement for Myers/Butler in Bubba Starling and you can find a first baseman, but would being patient hinder them?

If it’s an affordable price, the free agency has better options than trading young bats to get a young arm that might or might not make it and is more likely to repeat the process that has put the Royals in this position where they need pitching because the young pitchers they’ve had haven’t lived up to the hype or gotten hurt. Why do it again?

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2012 American League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.

There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.

Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.

Detroit Tigers

The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.

I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?

He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.

Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.

I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.

The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.

The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.

Chicago White Sox

Is this a rebuild or not?

Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?

The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.

It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.

When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.

Minnesota Twins

Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.

But so what?

They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.

Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.

Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Dayton Moore’s Strengths Are Superseded By His Weaknesses

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Baseball’s lower-echelon is inhabited by a “genius” (Billy Beane‘s Athletics are dreadful); an “Amazin’ Exec” (Jack Zduriencik’s Mariners couldn’t win without being able to score); and a boy wonder (Jed Hoyer of the Padres looks terrible in comparison to the man he replaced, Kevin Towers, who has the Diamondbacks in contention as the Padres are floundering).

But what of an executive whose work is ongoing? One who has made some tremendous acquisitions through the draft, but has shown drastic flaws in major aspects of how he runs his club?

When Dayton Moore was hired by the Royals to be their GM, I thought it was an inspired choice. Not only did he have a solid reputation as a development man, but he’d worked under a fine executive in John Schuerholz with the Braves and made well-thought-out changes to the way the Royals ran their scouting staff and minor league system.

There are people who are not meant to be the overseers of an entire operation and that appears to be the case with Moore.

The Royals have an abundance of talent finally bursting through to the big leagues. But that doesn’t eliminate the mistakes and haphazard intractability/capriciousness Moore has shown in signing players and making trades.

Gil Meche pitched well for two of the five years for which he was signed as a free agent and the only saving grace for Moore in the final year of the deal was that Meche basically gave $11 million back because he couldn’t pitch due to injury.

Willie Bloomquist, Jose Guillen, Kyle Farnsworth and Horacio Ramirez were predictable disasters and his trade of a power arm like Leo Nunez for a one-dimensional bat like Mike Jacobs were failures.

He jumped the gun in trading former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke and got a fraction of what he should’ve gotten had he waited.

Now the Royals are again in last place.

Now they’re considering dealing veterans to contending clubs.

But again, Moore has it wrong.

The price for closer Joakim Soria is said to be “exorbitant” for reasons that only Moore can understand. Soria was so bad earlier in the year that he lost his closer’s role and has had arm trouble in the past, possibly due to overwork at the hands of overmatched former manager Trey Hillman. Wouldn’t it be better to deal him now?

With Soria, at least there’s an argument to keeping him. He’s a proven closer and is signed through 2014 at a very reasonable rate.

But for the likes of Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur and Wilson Betemit, Moore is being delusional in both his demands and vacillation as to whether or not he’ll trade them.

Cabrera has played well this season (37 extra base hits; 11 homers; .781 OPS); Francoeur is what he is—a defensive ace with some pop and a head as hard as quartz, but he has use for a contender; Betemit is Betemit—a journeyman player for whom the Royals should sell high while he’s back to the Betemit he was with the Braves and Dodgers and not the one from the Yankees and White Sox which allowed him to wind up with the Royals in the first place.

But according to this posting on MLBTradeRumors, the Royals are “willing to move Betemit in the right deal”.

Right deal?

What’s the “right deal”?

With all their young players starting to graduate to the big leagues, does Moore truly believe that Betemit, Cabrera or Francoeur are going to be key parts of a resurgence after the 2-3 years it’s going to take before they’re ready to contend?

I’m not of the belief that the GM should only get blame for the bad stuff and no credit for the good stuff. Royals Senior Advisor Mike Arbuckle was largely credited to drafting the foundation of the Phillies with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels with nothing but vitriol rained down on former GM Ed Wade.

It doesn’t work that way with me.

The GM is the boss; he gets the credit, he gets the blame.

It’s the same way with Moore.

He’s done a masterful job of finding talent like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Louis Coleman and others on the way.

The Royals are going to get better simply by nature of more talent in the pipeline that was accrued after Moore took control.

He gets the credit.

But the GM is still making ghastly mistakes at the big league level with free agents and trades.

He takes the blame.

To a large degree, the poor decisions sabotage the good work he’s done in building up that farm system.

He’s going to be the GM for the long term with a contract through 2014, but given the mistakes he’s made (and is apparently going to repeat again-and-again), maybe he shouldn’t be.

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The Perils Of Prospects

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The Royals oft-repeated “embarrassment of riches” in prospects took a hit today as it was reported that Double A lefty pitcher John Lamb will require Tommy John surgery—ESPN Story.

I don’t know much of anything about Lamb, but his numbers in the minors are impressive and he’s part of the bountiful crop of young players working their way up to Kansas City to join Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and the rising minor leaguer Mike Moustakas and a few others in returning the Royals to glory.

It may happen and it may not. But the way in which the Royals have been compared to another club that took years and years of losing and turned it into a vast array of young prospects to become a powerhouse—the Rays—is short-sighted and missing the reality about player development: sometimes they don’t make it; sometimes they take years to find their niche; sometimes they get hurt as Lamb has.

Ranking prospects and focusing on the draft is something to kill time and manufacture stuff to write about I suppose, but does it really matter which prospect is ranked #1 in all of minor league baseball on Keith Law’s list? Who’s ranked #25?

Is it truly relevant to most people which team takes what player in the draft to the point where mock drafts are being constructed as if this is the NFL/NBA?

To a man it takes years for a drafted/signed player to make it to the big leagues. I feel as if I’m being sold something with the attention being paid to the draft—something I’m not interested in buying.

With prospects, we won’t know until we know. As the injury to Lamb shows, there are a myriad of things that can happen to sabotage even the most hyped players whether they’re non-prospects or potential stars.

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