The Rays-Royals Trade Part II—The Responses

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When someone has a following—justified or not—they can pretty much do or say anything and that base is going to agree with them; purchase what they’re selling; and spread the supposed gospel. When this is done, not in public where there’s a face and consequences, but from the privacy and safety of behind a computer screen, on blogs, and in social media, it degenerates into an irresistible force crashing into an immovable object; of those who spout theories vs individuals who have an actual stake in the outcome.

The Royals traded top minor league outfield prospect Wil Myers, righty pitcher Jake Odorizzi, lefty pitcher Mike Montgomery, and low minor league infielder Patrick Leonard to the Rays for righty pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and a player to be named later. This sparked reactions that ran the gamut, mostly falling in line with the factions of baseball analysis establishing their positions and following their leaders.

Let’s look at the reactions and assessments.

Royals GM Dayton Moore

Moore may or may not be under pressure to win in 2013 with his job on the line. His response to the criticism of this trade can be read here in a Bob Nightengale piece, but he seemed most annoyed at the implication by ESPN’s Keith Law that Moore did this to try and save his job.

Law has a right to his opinion—presumably there will be a Latin-laced reply coming soon—but looking at it from Moore’s point-of-view, having his baseball GM chops would be far preferable to having his integrity questioned. The entire basis of the argument is somewhat faulty. Does it turn Moore into a conniving schemer if he makes a move to try and win now if that’s what his bosses want?

I can see where Law and Rany Jazayerli are coming from in questioning the wisdom of this trade. Jazayerli makes a compelling case on Grantland. But the overwhelming and toe-the-line agreement coming from their loyalists is bordering on disturbing. If you’re the GM of a baseball team who’s spent your life in baseball and is respected, perhaps not for the work as a GM, but as an overall body of work in scouting and development and you’re forced to endure the taunts of a guy who is working at Best Buy and used his break to tweet about what an idiot you are, it would tend to get on your nerves. Multiply that by 1000. By 10,000. How would you react?

And this is the problem with the new age of baseball. Everyone’s an expert, thinks they know more than baseball lifers, and is free to critique with impunity. There’s no checking of credentials before they’ve carved themselves a forum and are somehow given credibility through osmosis and fantasy. It’s beyond comprehension for someone who has never picked up a baseball in his life and started watching the game two years ago to have the unmitigated arrogance to think his ability to read a stat sheet has injected him with some form of expertise.

Following the initial ganging up on Moore based on past maneuvers and current perceptions, the judgment of his trade has been mostly split with even people who are immersed in prospects such as Jim Callis saying that he doesn’t think it’s a terrible deal.

As I said in my prior posting concerning this trade, I think it’s an understandable decision for both the Rays and Royals.

The Jeff Francoeur factor

I’m missing the connection where it was said that the presence of Jeff Francoeur was the “reason” the Royals felt comfortable trading Myers.

If the goal is to create a firestorm, the easiest way to do it is inserting Francoeur into any conversation whether he belongs there or not. This trade had nothing to do with Francoeur vs Myers. It had to do with the Royals using a prime asset for the future to get themselves better in the present. You can disagree with the logic, but not by using Francoeur to bolster your case because not even the Royals think that Francoeur is the long-term solution in right field. In fact, they might be working on a deal to find someone to replace him as we speak. Then what’s the reaction going to be?

Was Myers the long-term solution in right field? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It’s pointless to compare him to other players based on numbers, him winning minor league player of the year, other attributes used to provide “reasons” why he shouldn’t have been traded. The number of factors that go into a prospect making it or not making it and when he does it are so vast and variable that the word “prospect” is rife with questions on its face. It comes down to projection, analysis, opportunity, and performance.

I don’t know what Myers is and nor do you. It’s easy to attach oneself to buzzwords and think you know, but the Royals have had Myers since he was drafted and clearly felt that he was expendable in comparison to other players they might have been able to slip into the deal in his place  such as Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas and still gotten Shields or a Shields-type.

Truth be told, I would not have made this trade if I were the Royals. But I’m not in Moore’s position and the opinion “I wouldn’t have done it” doesn’t make it wrong.

Andrew Friedman lust

It’s interesting that in the above-linked Baseball America Q&A, Callis says that the trade moves the Rays from middle of the pack in terms of a farm system from “middle of the pack” to “upper quartile.”

The “brilliant” GM of the Rays who stockpiles prospects and uses cutting edge, secretive techniques to find players only had a middle of the pack farm system? And Jazayerli writes in the Grantland piece of Moore, “After the 2010 season, the Royals had fashioned the greatest farm system in baseball, the greatest anyone had seen in years.”

But Moore is an imbecile who deserves to be fired?

How does this work? If someone agrees with you or has success based on a myriad of undefinable, unpredictable aspects, they’re a “genius.” If they don’t they’re subject to relentless attacks not just on their credibility but on their professionalism and integrity?

Any GM is only one bad deal away from being put on notice; one bad season—regardless of prior success—of being fired. Considering the pressures and scrutiny they have to endure now in comparison to 20 years ago, I don’t know why anyone would want the job as a GM in the first place.

As for Friedman, fans and media members with about 25 of the other 29 teams are musing as to what their team would look like if he were their GM. Again, like Myers, we don’t know. Friedman has a freedom with the Rays to do what he wants because he works hand-in-hand with his ownership and has that success rate to fall back on. But he also has freedom because the Rays don’t have any money; have a limited fanbase; and in spite of recent years, an excuse for failure circling back to the lack of money.

Would Friedman be able to do the things he does—trading top-tier arms like Shields or Matt Garza—if he were running the Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Red Sox or whoever? No. He wouldn’t. Because those are different markets, with different needs, different constraints, and different expectations than the ones confronting him now with the Rays. Much like taking a player out of a situation that he can handle like Josh Hamilton in Texas and putting him in New York, Boston or Philly can have severe consequences to him as a person and a player, it’s the same thing with front office people, managers, and coaches.

Friedman is who he is and does what he does because of a situation with the Rays that is unlike most others.

Much like Myers, there’s no quantifying it because we don’t know.

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The Rays-Royals Trade Part I—The Truth

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

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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