Last offseason, when the Kansas City Royals dealt top outfield prospect Wil Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays in the James Shields trade, it was nearly incomprehensible to some. How could the Royals trade a talented player they would control for at least the next six years to have a great pitcher for two seasons? But nevertheless, they did it, and with the benefit of hindsight, we can begin to evaluate the trade. Myers predictably had a great rookie year and should be named the AL Rookie of the Year later tonight. Shields, meanwhile, went 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA in 228.2 innings pitched, leading the Royals to their most wins since 1989, and now he is interested in signing an extension. Do the Royals regret the trade? It will be tough losing Myers, but especially if they get Shields locked up for the long-term, the trade may not be a win, but it will also not be the franchise-debilitating deal that people imagined it would be. The trade gave them a chance to contend, and while they wish they had made the postseason, it did just that. But there was another side to the Royals making the deal: their uncertainty about Myers.
The Royals were an organization that had prospect after prospect come up as apparent saviors. Something always went wrong. Luke Hochevar never lived up to the number one billing and Danny Duffy got hurt. Mike Moustakas failed to hit and Salvador Perez could not stay healthy (this season was a lot better, but he still suffered a concussion). Even Alex Gordon took several years to come around. How did the Royals know that Myers would not follow the same path? James Shields was all but a sure thing, a pitcher who had thrown 200 innings for six straight years and had been dominant the previous two. Wil Myers was a possibility and a tantalizing one at that, but the Royals were through with potential and wanted results.
Now contrast that with how the Texas Rangers have acted regarding that top prospect, Jurickson Profar. Despite having a strong double play combination in Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler that is locked up for years, the Rangers are hesitant to trade Profar, valuing the depth of their minor league system. What does that mean? Kinsler and Andrus are both coming off down years, with Kinsler managing a .277/.344/.413 line (105 OPS+) and Andrus putting up just a .271/.328/.331 mark (81 OPS+). But even in those down years, both were valuable players, with Kinsler providing 4.9 wins above replacement according to Baseball-Reference and Andrus managing 4.3, both in large part due to strong defense. None of us can be totally sold on the defensive statistics, but Kinsler has never been graded as below-average by DRS since 2008 and Andrus since 2010. Kinsler has 20-20 potential and strong plate discipline to go along with his defense, and while Andrus is much more defense-dependent, he did also steal 42 bases in 2013 and managed an OBP above .340 from 2010 to 2012. Kinsler and Andrus are not perfect players, but improving their middle infielders should be the least of the Rangers’ concerns right now. This is not a situation like with the Royals where they are sacrificing an impact player from one questionable player in an attempt to fix another. Yet despite that they do not want to trade a player who has done nothing in 324 major league plate appearances?
So far in his big league career, Jurickson Profar has just a .231/.301/.343 line (75 OPS+) with 13 doubles, 7 homers, 28 RBI, and just 2 stolen bases in 6 tries. He has struck out 67 times against just 24 walks, swinging and missing a fair amount while walking at a below-average rate. But the Rangers are willing to look past all of that because they know how talented Profar is. He is just 20 years old with plenty of time to get himself together, and when he does he could be something special. He features outstanding bat speed with power that continues to develop. His plate discipline is something else for such a young player, and his struggles in the major leagues had more to do with excessive patience than the overaggressiveness that afflicts so many young players–his 4.18 pitches per plate appearance would have been in the top 15 in baseball had he qualified. Profar is still learning how to play second base and everywhere else, but he is an above-average defensive shortstop who just might turn into a Gold Glover. And then there is his speed, which is also impressive although he is still learning how to use it on the basepaths. The Rangers see a special player in Profar and they are willing to wait as long as it takes for that player to show up in earnest.
Why was Myers dealt by the Royals while Profar will continue to be a major part of the Rangers’ plans, even after a poor rookie year? The question always come down to comparing the idea of the prospect to who he truly is. When the Rays acquired Myers, fans knew he was not a finished product but they idealized him nevertheless. Myers was only a few months away from joining the Rays and setting baseball on fire with his tremendous power, and his ascension to just as good of a hitter as Evan Longoria and maybe be better would be a quick process if not instantaneous. But then Wil Myers takes the field and you realize that the ideal of him is not going to happen. He will have his slumps and make his mistakes in the field. He will win you some games but cost you some critical ones as well. The Royals could trade Wil Myers because they knew that as good as he was touted to be, there was little chance he would get there. He would probably be good and there was a real chance that he would be a star, but after a certain point, all the randomness surrounding even the best of prospects weighs on you and you have to go in a different direction.
The Rangers, meanwhile, continue to look past Profar’s rough 2013 and see the player he has the ability to be. If they hold onto him they will be taking a chance–will Profar live up to the sky-high expecations that have been put on him? Are Profar’s 2013 struggles simply the equivalent of Mike Trout‘s 2011, a little tension and a little bad luck before he begins to break out? For both the Royals and Rangers, one question has to be on their minds: is it better to be the team that had a chance to trade for a franchise-changing player and passed it up or to be the team that had an all-time great right at their fingertips and let him slip away? Last offseason, the Royals went all-in on the players they had, believing that James Shields could alter their fate and not worrying about how good Wil Myers might be. This offseason, the Rangers will be faced with the same decision, and only time will tell what they decide to do.