We heard for a while that the Kansas City Royals were targeting a topflight pitcher and were willing to trade top outfield prospect Wil Myers to make it happen. It eventually became clear that their top target was Tampa Bay Rays right-hander James Shields and that came into fruition on Sunday night when the Rays traded Myers, pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and lefty Mike Montgomery, and third base prospect Patrick Leonard to the Rays for Shields and fellow right-hander Wade Davis. But before that happened, the Royals tried to execute one other trade. A couple of days ago, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports sent out a very surprising tweet.
Myers for Shields wasn’t only straight-up deal Royals tried. KC offered Wil Myers to Oakland for Brett Anderson and were turned down, too.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 10, 2012
Wait a second: the Royals offered one of the very best prospects in baseball for an injury-prone left-handed pitcher coming off of Tommy John Surgery and Billy Beane and the Athletics said no?! What’s going on here?
In Shields, the Royals acquired a dependable top of the rotation starter who will give them 200 innings the next two years and assuming his significant improvement of the last two years continues, he should manage an ERA in the lower range of the 3.00’s. Shields is the exact opposite of a player like Wil Myers, who has superstar potential but at the same time struck out 140 times at Triple-A next season and has plenty of risk involved with him. Myers’ upside is about as good as it gets. But because of the uncertainty surrounding his future, the Rays wanted more than just Myers for Shields, and the Royals eventually obliged- but not before trying for Brett Anderson. What was Royals GM Dayton Moore thinking trying to trade Myers for Anderson when Shields was available?
The obvious first reason is that the Royals would rather have held on to the other prospects they dealt to the Rays along with Myers. But secondly, Myers for Anderson sounds like a very fair trade. Why? They’re in the same situation. Myers is 22 while Anderson is 25. But both of them are players with excellent potential but also plenty of risk involved, Myers in that he still has adjustments to make before he’s ready to hit big league pitching and Anderson in terms of his injury problems. Anderson has dealt with elbow issues that have sidelined him for a significant amount of time the last three seasons. He hasn’t thrown as many as 135 innings in a season since 2009. But with Anderson coming off Tommy John Surgery, the Royals may think that he will finally stay healthy and become the ace-type pitcher he has shown flashes of being in Oakland. Shields is a great pitcher, but his upside is not that high. Finally, there’s the money issue: Shields is signed in Kansas City for two more years and 22.25 million dollars while Anderson is set to make just 5.75 million dollars in 2012 and 25.575 million dollars over the next three years. Anderson would allow the Royals to keep their non-Myers prospects and if he could stay healthy he would have the ability to give the Royals better performance than Shields at a fraction of the price. Anderson for Myers would have been an extremely risky deal for the Royals, but they had to feel good about Anderson’s medicals and feel like they had a good chance to find an excellent value.
Now why did the A’s turn down the deal? For the same reasons the Royals pursued specifically Anderson: because they think he can stay healthy and if he does he’s an awfully good pitcher making money well below the market rate. Anderson throws a low-90’s fastball, a dynamic slider, and two other potential plus pitches in his curveball and slider. He was excellent when he returned in 2012, going 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA and a 25-7 strikeout to walk ratio in 6 starts and 35 innings pitched before winning his lone postseason start, going 6 innings of 2-hit ball while striking out 6 and walking 2. The Athletics clearly think he has turned a corner on the injury front and he’s ready to finally become the established frontline pitcher they’ve known he could be for years. In the aftermath of this deal, A’s fans may want to look at Billy Beane’s rejection of the Myers-Anderson trade as a missed opportunity, but they should realize that Beane turning down the deal says just how much the Athletics think of Anderson and what he can give them over the next three years.