The trade we all figured would define the 2014 Royals and the general manager in charge of them isn’t yet the ground-shifting move that either side hoped for. That’s one of the problems with creating and endorsing narratives.
Reality rarely sticks to scripts, and so it is with the blockbuster trade that sent Wil Myers to Tampa Bay and James Shields to Kansas City before last season.
Shields is the Royals’ ace pitcher, a bedrock of stability in an otherwise turbulent game and season. Wade Davis came, too, and has developed into perhaps the best setup reliever in baseball — a heck of a next-man-up option if the Royals view closer Greg Holland’s growing reputation as a trade commodity.
Viewed in that prism, a trade that split the industry’s opinion is everything the Royals expected it to be.
But, about 70 percent of the way through Shields’ time in Kansas City, the rest of it is harder to clarify.
The Royals would never say this publicly, and they’d deny it if asked directly, but a driving motivation behind the trade was that the rest of the baseball world thought higher of Myers. It is a credo in baseball front offices that you have to know your own players better than anyone knows them.
If Shields’ time in Kansas City is 70 percent over, and Davis (who has three more years of club control) is between 25 and 30 percent complete, Myers is only about 15 percent of the way through his club control in Tampa.
But as much as Myers fueled a boatload of angst in Kansas City while winning the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2013 — he only played 88 games, but his .831 on-base-plus-slugging would’ve led Royals’ regulars by a fair margin — the holes that some scouts saw have been exposed this year.
Myers is out at least two months because of a wrist sprain in what looks like a lost season as the Rays have baseball’s worst record.
He strikes out on nearly one out of every four plate appearances and is having particular trouble with good fastballs. Whatever the reason, Myers isn’t making the same hard contact as his rookie year. More popups, fewer line drives, and pitch tendencies indicate opposing teams approached him with less fear than a year ago.
By now, the story is well-known of the time Myers came to Kansas City for a predraft workout and asked that the fountains be turned on so he could hit some home runs into them. This is one of those baseball stories that will always be viewed through the prism of production, so a year ago it was seen as confidence and now is tinted with a shade of arrogance.
None of this means that Myers is or will be a bust. He is 23 years old and, obviously, stocked with talent. Plus, as bad as he’s been this year, his OPS is still higher than Billy Butler’s or Mike Moustakas’.
The rest of the Rays’ haul from that trade has yet make a big impact. Jake Odorizzi has a 5.31 ERA over 12 starts and 57 2/3 innings. Left-handed starter Mike Montgomery is doing well at Class AAA, and Patrick Leonard (who has switched from third base to first) is showing some power at Class A.
Then again, from the Royals’ perspective, they didn’t look at this as strictly a tangible value proposition. They saw Shields as something more than an opening-day starter, as a sort of pitching model and swag coach for a group of bonus babies trying to find their way in the big leagues.
This is where Royals officials will comfort themselves. Privately and publicly, they credit Shields’ delicate balance of confidence (always believing he will succeed) and humility (nobody works harder to be worthy of the moment) in helping the franchise to its first winning season in a decade last year.
Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy are each having promising seasons, and Royals officials believe there is at least an indirect cause-and-effect with Shields’ presence. Duffy, in particular, says he’s learned from Shields the value of embracing his natural emotion on the mound instead of fighting it. That’s a lesson he tries to use every time he pitches.
The problem for the Royals — now as it’s always been — is that the most important part of their side of the trade will be gone after this season and the most important part they gave up is another club’s property for five more years.
So as much as Shields is the archetype the team felt a desperate need for, as a pitcher he’ll be gone in 3 1/2 months, which leaves a lot of time for the Royals to miss Myers’ talent in the lineup. That last point has been amplified by the struggles of Jeff Francoeur last year and Nori Aoki this season.
The Royals may find themselves in a place where the best way to solidify right field will be by trading Holland. The market for closers is unpredictable and volatile, dependent on the right team feeling the right kind of desperation.
But that would be a heck of a turn of events, wouldn’t it?
The Royals could trade a dominant All-Star because the secondary starting pitcher they traded for 18 months ago is ready to take over as the closer.
Neither side could’ve seen that coming, one more reason that the prevailing and immediate narratives in predicting the future are rarely worth the time.