The number one prospect in all of baseball is on the market- but it’s going to awfully hard to get him. Frantically searching for topflight starting pitching, the Kansas City Royals are listening to offers for 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. One team specifically mentioned as an option is the Rays, with James Shields potentially the type of pitcher the Royals are looking for. Is a Shields for Myers swap a trade that the Rays would actually do? How much should they be willing to give up to make a trade for Myers materialize?
Myers, who will turn 22 in December, is coming off an enormous season between 35 games at Double-A and 99 at Triple-A, posting a .314/.387/.600 line with 26 doubles, 6 triples, 37 homers, 109 RBI, and 6 stolen bases in 591 plate appearances. He hit so well even as the Royals tinkered with him defensively, playing primarily in centerfield and even seeing 15 games at third base after being a right fielder in 2011 and a catcher before that. The one hitch with his season was that he struck out 140 times against 61 walks. Myers features big-time power that he was able to manifest better than ever in 2012, slamming 10 more home runs than he had previously in his pro career in a little over half the plate appearances. The power came with a trade-off: strikeouts. Myers had posted an outstanding 181-137 strikeout to walk ratio from 2010 to 2011 in 957 plate appearances, but Myers swung more aggressively at fastballs in 2012, getting into trouble when he sold out for power and his swing got too long. He still has good pitch recognition, not being fooled too often by breaking balls this season, and he still walked at a nice 10.4% clip all things considered. Myers has the ability to hit 35 homers annually while still maintaining a strong average and OBP. There is certainly risk with him and he hasn’t played a single big league game yet, but he has superstar potential and could be ready for the big leagues immediately. He’s not the type of player teams typically trade. But satisfied with their offense and desperate for an upper-echelon starting pitcher, the Royals are willing to do the unspeakable and deal Myers.
James Shields is a great pitcher, having gone 31-22 with a 3.15 ERA, an 8.5 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9 (3.57 FIP) in 477 innings pitched the last two seasons. He even struck out a career-high 8.8 batters per 9 innings last season. Shields isn’t your typical frontline starter, not dominating hitters with a fastball in the 91-94 MPH range, but his changeup is devastating and he pairs his fastball and changeup with two more solid pitches in his cutter and curveball. Add in that Shields has notched 200 innings the last 6 years, averaging 222 per season, and he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. But the issues with Shields are his age- he’ll turn 31 years of age ten days after Myers turns 22- and that he’s signed for just two more seasons. Shields has the ability to be a more than capable pitcher at the top of the Royals’ rotation for the next two years. But do the Royals really want to trade a stud young outfielder who they’ll control for the next six years for a starting pitcher they’d have for just two years? Shields for Myers, with a few other players possibly being added in for both sides, might be the best trade the Rays could conceivably offer Kansas City, but what other packages could make sense for the Rays to present to the Royals?
An interesting trade option that will certainly not happen would be a swap of Myers for Matt Moore– the Rays get a big league-ready middle-of-the-lineup presence and the Royals get their potential future ace while also controlling him for 7 years- but Moore is signed to such a team friendly deal and the Rays believe that he could be one of the best pitchers in baseball within the next couple years so it makes no sense to trade him. Trading fellow lefty David Price is just about as unlikely because it’s almost impossible to picture the Rays contending next season without Price in the fold. That still leaves two more starting pitchers the Royals could be interested in: Jeremy Hellickson and Chris Archer. Jim Callis of Baseball America gave his thoughts on that package on Twitter.
But does that deal make any sense for the Rays? They would be trading a pitcher in Hellickson who posted a 3.02 ERA the last two seasons who also made major strides with his his curveball in 2012 to give him three plus pitches in addition to a fireballing right-hander in Archer with an electric mid-90’s fastball and a dynamic slider. They would be getting a player in Myers who could make a major impact to their lineup, but they would be losing two potential top-of-the-rotation pitchers at best and a mid-rotation starter and a late-inning reliever at worst. The Rays’ 2013 rotation would still be good: Price, Shields, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Jeff Niemann, but Shields and Price are both getting extremely expensive and will both leave as free agents within three years if they’re not traded beforehand (Niemann would also be a free agent but he should be easily replaceable). Losing two young starters would be a big hit to the Rays’ rotation depth, and if the Rays’ rotation falls apart, they’re hopeless. They would need a lot to happen with the next two or three years to continue to have one of the best rotations in baseball: Matt Moore would have to become a true ace, Wade Davis would have to be excellent in his return to the rotation, Cobb would have to continue being a solid mid-rotation arm, and two starting pitching prospects would have to really pan out. Between that consideration and the fact that Hellickson and Archer have more combined value than Myers because their floor is much higher, the Rays would have to get a legitimate starting pitching prospect in return for Hellickson and Archer in addition to Myers, say right-hander Jake Odorizzi, for them to be willing to do the trade. Now suddenly the Rays’ offer to the Royals is much less attractive as Kansas City would have to trade two of their top prospects.
The Rays would love to acquire Wil Myers from the Royals, but their pursuit can only go so far while remaining within reason. If the Royals are willing to carry out a trade that at its core is a Myers for James Shields swap, then great. If not, the Rays will have to look elsewhere as they look to upgrade their offense and take the next step as a franchise.