I can't say it was a bad trade for Kansas City. I can't say it was a good one, either.
The Kansas City Royals took a big step toward going all-in for 2013 in Sunday's blockbuster deal that sent Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery to Tampa Bay as part of a four-player package for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.
It's the classic prospects for veterans trade.
There's no doubt it makes Kansas City better this season, maybe even a borderline playoff contender. But it could backfire by 2014 when the Royals may ruefully watch Myers blossom into rock-star status while Odorizzi becomes an All-Star.
It's possible, too, that the sum production of the players the Royals traded away turns out to be nothing more or nothing less than what they received.
Perhaps no team's fan base follows its minor league prospects closer than does Kansas City's — what else have they had to be excited about for the last 20 years? — so there is understandable skepticism about this deal.
Myers, Odorizzi and Montgomery have been considered among the organization's top five prospects (they were ranked third, fourth and first, respectively, by Baseball America prior to last season). Infielder Patrick Leonard was the fourth player the Royals sent to Tampa Bay, and the Royals are owed a player to be named later.
Here's the known: Myers earned minor league player of the year honors, hitting .314 with 37 homers and 109 RBIs — including .304 with 24 homers and 79 RBIs in 99 games with Class AAA Omaha. In 16 years of covering Omaha's Class AAA baseball team, I haven't seen a player with more bat speed or raw power.
Odorizzi went 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA, including 11-3 with a 2.93 ERA in Omaha — he was just a few innings short of qualifying for the Pacific Coast League ERA title. He's got multiple pitches and an idea of how to use them.
Montgomery has unquestioned talent, and maybe a move to the bullpen would jump-start his career.
Myers and Odorizzi are both 22. Montgomery is 23.
But here's the unknown: Myers struck out 98 times in 99 games in Omaha. After a white-hot start, he got fooled — a lot — at the plate by Class AAA pitchers. He still looks like he needs at least another half-season in the minors. Based on where he's at developmentally, I have a hard time seeing him, in 2013 anyway, significantly outperforming right fielder Jeff Francoeur (.235 with 16 homers last season), whom the Royals still owe $7.5 million.
Odorizzi made pitches when he needed them, but in Class AAA he also gave up 8.8 hits per nine innings and walked 3.4 per nine innings — having that many runners on base at the big-league level results in something significantly higher than a 2.93 ERA. Projections of him as a No. 3 starter sound about right — but not until 2014.
Montgomery had a second straight disappointing season and was demoted to Class AA at midseason, then went 2-6 with a 6.67 ERA for Northwest Arkansas. In 1½ seasons in Omaha, the lefty was 8-17 with a 5.46 ERA.
You never know what you're going to get with prospects. The overwhelming majority of them either flame out quickly or never live up to their billing.
I think Myers will be a star, that Odorizzi will be a solid, long-term starter and that Montgomery will find a niche as a reliever. But I've been wrong before, and so have plenty of other prospect-watchers on plenty of other prospects.
In Shields and Davis, the Royals and everyone else have a pretty good idea of what they're getting.
Shields, who will turn 31 later this month, is a workhorse who has surpassed 200 innings while winning between 11 and 16 games for each of the last six seasons. Over time he's been a slightly above-average major league pitcher. Generally, he's a solid No. 2 starter, though he becomes Kansas City's ace. Time will tell if he's been “overworked” or if he's “durable.” And he's been a lot better in his pitcher-friendly home park than he's been on the road.
Davis, 27, put together back-to-back seasons of 12-10 and 11-10, with ERAs of 4.07 and 4.45, before being shifted full-time to the bullpen last season, where he was 3-0 with a terrific 2.43 ERA. His strikeouts per nine innings more than doubled (from 5.1 to 11.1) and he cut his hits allowed by a third (from 9.3 to 6.1 per nine). Did Davis figure something out, or is he more suited to working out of the bullpen? The Royals obviously think it's the former.
Neither has a contract that is ridiculously overpriced. The Royals have an option to bring Shields back in 2014, and Davis could be under team control for up to five years.
Shields and Davis are slotted into a pitching rotation that now includes Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie and probably either Bruce Chen (who is owed $4.5 million), Luke Hochevar (whom the Royals want desperately to provide a return on their investment) or maybe even Luis Mendoza (who doesn't cost much and was better than those two).
It's a group that shouldn't strike fear into the hearts of the American League Central, but it's better than what the Royals ran out there most of last season.
When Dayton Moore took over as Royals general manager in 2006, he inherited not only an awful major league team but also a barren minor-league system. He asked me then who was the best prospect I had seen come through. I thought long and hard and came up with Jermaine Dye, and even he was originally a Braves prospect who had already been in the majors with Atlanta.
Moore has since overseen the minor league system's transformation into one of the game's best. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Myers, Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera. ... The list is impressive, and that's just the past couple of years. Another wave is about two more years away from hitting Omaha.
Minor league talent can be used two ways: One, to supplement and improve the major league roster, or, two, to use in trades to bring in pieces that supplement and improve the major league roster.
This time, Moore decided to go for option No. 2.
While Kansas City has successfully developed — or nearly developed — a number of young position players, its young pitching prospects haven't yet arrived because of injury (Danny Duffy and John Lamb), ineffectiveness (Montgomery and Chris Dwyer) or electing to use potential starters (Herrera and Aaron Crow) out of the bullpen.
The Royals weren't going to be better in 2013 without upgrading their rotation. Santana, acquired in a trade with the Angels, and Guthrie, signed as a free agent, were a start, but Kansas City needed more to contend this season.
It seems like a package of Myers, Odorizzi and Montgomery might attract more than what they got. But while Moore has made some deals that didn't turn out, he also turned Zack Greinke (and Yuniesky Betancourt) into Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Odorizzi (and the since departed Jeremy Jeffress) — working the other way on the prospects-for-veterans trade.
Greinke is headed to his third team since leaving Kansas City. Escobar is the real deal at shortstop. Cain might be in center field, or right. Davis for Odorizzi might be equal.
Many believe Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer are potentially superior to Odorizzi and Montgomery and aren't far away from the majors. And if Duffy, Lamb and Felipe Paulino return to full strength by 2014, suddenly the Royals would be awash with starting pitching.
If the Royals do contend — even win — in 2013, Kansas City suddenly becomes a more attractive place for free agents who typically aren't interested even when the Royals try to come close to offering what the big-market teams do.
Whether you like this trade right now boils down to whether you want to see Kansas City try to win now, or if you're prepared to wait for 2014 at the earliest.
But it might take years to ultimately declare a decision: win, lose or draw.
Rob White covers the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Kansas City Royals' AAA affiliate, for The World-Herald.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1027, email@example.com; twitter.com/RWhiteOWH