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.