There is no tangible evidence of “baseball gods,” of course. At least nothing beyond the weird-neighbor-saw-a-UFO type of thing. But, for a day at least, let’s go ahead and acknowledge the following truths:
1. We can’t say for sure that baseball gods don’t exist.
2. If baseball gods do exist, they sure do seem to hate Kansas City.
Because haven’t Royals fans suffered enough? Shouldn’t a franchise already working on the longest playoff drought in North American sports be spared a gratuitous indignity in what’s shaping into another string of meaningless games at the end of another season outside the postseason picture?
Apparently not, because former Royals prospect Wil Myers is hitting over .300 and tracking for a rookie season as productive as any Royal since Carlos Beltran and he’s doing it in the middle of the Rays’ lineup in a playoff chase for a once-sorry franchise that’s found a way to rebuild and win simultaneously and on Monday he’ll be doing it at Kauffman Stadium.
Last year, Myers received a standing ovation during the Futures Game.
On Monday, a snake-bitten fan base is convinced he’ll hit five home runs against them — at least.
This game wasn’t supposed to happen, you know. This was supposed to be an off day for both teams. Back in May, when this game should’ve been played, Myers was still in Class AAA. But they had to reschedule because, of all things, a snowstorm.
So here comes Myers, all grown up now, one of the American League’s better young hitters in the ballpark he was supposed to become a star.
Myers is with the Rays because the Royals needed pitching and Tampa Bay needed to shave some salary. The two front offices agreed on a trade that will go a long way in defining Royals general manager Dayton Moore’s time here.
If the Royals make their first postseason appearance since 1985 with James Shields at the front of their rotation, the trade makes sense no matter what Myers does.
But if this season continues to pogo-stick its way out of contention, next year isn’t any better, and Shields hits free agency without the Royals playing a postseason game, then the franchise will have a new front office.
At that point, those of us who could empathize with Moore’s intentions but thought he gave up too much will be proven right.
Myers, at the moment, looks like what the Royals haven’t had — a homegrown, cheap, club-controlled and instant star.
Scouts have always loved his natural power, the way baseballs seemed to boom off his bat. The Royals loved him too, of course. Myers was theirs, drafted in the third round in 2009 and paid first-round money to sign.
As much as anyone, he symbolized the organization’s renewed commitment to stocking the farm system. With a bit of wonder in their voices, some would tell the story of Myers’ first time hitting at The K, when he asked that the fountains be turned on because, “I want to hit some home runs into them.”
So, yes, the Royals loved him. But when he was coming up in the minor leagues, there was this feeling around the organization that they didn’t love himquite
as much as some others around baseball.
He struck out too much — 140 times in 134 games last year in the Royals’ system, and 71 times in 64 games in Class AAA for the Rays this year — particularly against good pitching and good breaking balls and, well, let’s just say he didn’t always seek out coaching.
There’s a story about the time George Brett tried to show Myers how to use pine tar.No, Myers told Brett. This
is how you use pine tar.
But, regardless of the details, Moore and his seven-years-and-counting reconstruction of the Royals will be judged largely on this trade. So far this year, at least, the Royals look fine.
Shields has been everything they thought he would be. Dominant on his best days, and good enough even on his mediocre days. He is on pace to pitch well over 200 innings with an ERA that puts him among the American League’s best starters. Only Felix Hernandez has thrown more innings with a better ERA than Shields.
Part of the attraction to Shields was his reputation off the mound, too. He debuted when the Rays were one of baseball’s worst teams, and was the pitching staff’s soul after they worked themselves into one of baseball’s best teams. The Royals’ young players needed to see what winners looked like up close, and Shields would be the model.
This Royals-coaster season is trending down, again, but you can’t blame that on Shields — or, even, Myers’ absence.
There is some —some
— talk among scouts that Myers might struggle the second time through the league as pitchers adjust. But more to the point, David Lough has been more than adequate in right field. According to FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement, Lough has been only slightly less valuable to the Royals than Myers has been with the Rays. According to Baseball-Reference’s metric, Lough has actually been better.
Now, a couple of qualifiers are in order here: Lough has played 20 more games, his advantage is with defense which typically takes a longer time to accurately measure, and nobody outside Lough’s immediate family and loved ones believes he’ll be better long-term than Myers.
Wherever you stand on the trade — if you’re with me and see it as an overpayment for a short-term boost or see it as a worthwhile risk — we’ll have our final answer soon enough.
But the point today is that Kansas City didn’t need a personal reminder of how well Myers is doing for a team with a lower payroll and better record.
Kansas City will see it on Monday, because a snowstorm in May forced a game to be rescheduled, and, let’s be honest — doesn’t that sound like the work of some jerk-wad baseball gods?