First Pitch: What the Pirates Can Take Away From the Royals/Rays Deal

The Kansas City Royals and the Tampa Bay Rays made a big trade tonight, with Kansas City acquiring James Shields and Wade Davis in exchange for top prospects Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard. That’s a pretty big return in prospects, with Myers being one of the top prospects in the game. A lot of the reactions I saw said the Rays clearly won this deal. I’d have to agree. Rather than breaking down this trade, I thought I would take a different look at things. Here are a few things the Pirates, and Pirates fans, can take away from the deal.

1. The Rays Method is the Way to Go

This is probably no secret if you’ve read my work for a long period of time, but there’s no team I respect more than the Rays. They are clearly the best run organization in baseball. If baseball was fair, and allowed teams to compete based on smart decisions rather than outspending the rest of the competition, the Rays would have a dynasty. But that’s not the case. If you’re not in the top half in the league in spending, you’re probably not going to have a shot at winning it all. The Rays will never be in that top half.

You’ve got to respect them for this deal. What did they really lose? They traded a good pitcher in James Shields, and Wade Davis could have a shot at being a starter. After the deal the Rays have a rotation of David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, and one of the new additions. Even without Shields, that’s a great rotation.

They’d probably be better off in the short term by keeping Shields. They’re taking a risk going with one of Montgomery or Odorizzi, rather than keeping Shields and Davis for the rotation. But that risk is worth it when you consider they’re also adding one of the top hitting prospects in the game, and Montgomery and Odorizzi are two highly rated prospects themselves. With Price, Moore, and Hellickson, there’s not much pressure on either pitcher to provide an impact. They’re in the perfect situation for young, un-established starters.

That’s how the Rays do things. They’re not afraid to deal guys with a year or two of control remaining, get good value in return, and slot a prospect in the vacated major league spot. It’s not a fan friendly approach, but it’s a smart approach. The Rays are better off in the long term with Wil Myers for six years, plus their two new pitching prospects. There’s the risk that the trade might not work out, but the potential reward if the trade does work out is huge.

This is the type of deal the Pirates shouldn’t be afraid to make. It’s the type of deal they should have made last year with Joel Hanrahan. They could have gotten a much bigger return, and the trade off would have been that they would have entered the year with an unknown at closer, rather than the comfort of having Hanrahan around. It’s the same approach they should take this year with Garrett Jones. It might feel better to have Jones in the lineup, but he’s at his highest value, and chances are he won’t repeat his 2012 season. Why not trade him when his value is high, then see if Clint Robinson can be the next Jones?

2. The Value of Pitching

How many times have you seen someone just casually mention “the Pirates should just trade one of Cole, Taillon, or Heredia”? That’s usually all under the guise that the Pirates have three potential top of the rotation guys, so one of them could be expendable. If we learned anything today, it’s the value of pitching. James Shields isn’t one of the best pitchers in the game, but he landed a huge return. Wade Davis was in the deal, but he’s not even a consensus starter and shouldn’t help justify the return. Then there was the Zack Greinke deal. Greinke received a record setting $24.5 M per year from the Dodgers. He’s a great pitcher, but he’s not the best pitcher in the game.

I’ve said that the only way the Pirates can get an ace is developing one internally. Look at the cost for Shields, who isn’t even one of the top pitchers in the game. Look at the price on a guy like Greinke. The Pirates can’t afford to unload the farm for a return like Shields and Davis, and they’ll never win the bidding on a guy like Greinke. Their only chance at those types of pitchers is to develop them. They might have multiple options, but that just means two things. One, it means they have a better chance of one of those guys realizing their potential. Two, it means they have a shot at multiple aces in the rotation.

Going back to the first topic, this is an area where the Pirates need to set themselves up like the Rays. The Rays have mostly built their pitching internally. They don’t go out and sign big name free agents. The Pirates haven’t built internally. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. They’ve traded for A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, which weren’t bad trades (and the Rodriguez deal looks much better after the recent prices paid for pitching). But they shouldn’t be afraid to give chances to guys like Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke. I’ve said they should go get another starter to balance out the rotation, which would knock one of Locke or McPherson to Triple-A. That would be a good situation for the 2013 season, with one of those pitchers going from day one, and the other serving as the first call-up from the minors.

3. The Two Ways to Build a Team

I look at the Royals and I don’t see a team that can compete in the next two years, even after the deal for Shields. They’ve got some good, young players in Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar. Most of those guys are still more “potential” than “results”. Moustakas had a .708 OPS last year. Hosmer had a .663 OPS. Their offense is basically Butler and Alex Gordon.

The pitching staff didn’t have much last year. The guys who received the most innings in 2012 were Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar. They’ve pretty much built a pitching staff over the off-season with trades and free agent signings. This deal brought in Shields and Davis. They brought back Jeremy Guthrie, who was acquired last July from Colorado. Guthrie signed a three year, $25 M deal. They also traded for Ervin Santana and all of the home runs he will allow.

Most of those guys are names because they’ve been around the league a few years. That doesn’t mean they’re good options right now. The Royals might have been better off with Montgomery and Odorizzi, rather than Guthrie and Santana. Montgomery is more of a gamble since he’s coming off a down year. At the same time, Ervin Santana is coming off a horrible season, and is a gamble himself, only at a much higher price.

Both approaches are gambles. The Royals are gambling that Santana can bounce back. They’re gambling that Guthrie can repeat his numbers in Kansas City, which aren’t near his career numbers. They’re gambling that Wade Davis can make it as a starter. There’s not much to gamble with on James Shields, but he’s only under control for two years, so by trading for him, they’re gambling that they will be competitive in those two years.

Building internally is also a gamble. There’s no guarantee that Myers, Odorizzi, or Montgomery will realize their potential. On the flip side, they’re much cheaper, which means the Royals still have room to make moves if those players do work out. They’re also under control for much longer. If guys like Hosmer or Moustakas don’t break out in 2013, the Royals only have one more year with Shields. If those guys don’t break out with Myers on the team, the group is still together for several more years. They don’t just have two chances to make things work.

The trade from the Royals perspective reeks of desperation. It’s looking at how this deal might push the Royals to being contenders for two years if all the stars align, and it’s ignoring that this deal could make the Royals cringe for years while the Rays are contenders for a much longer period of time. In these situations there tends to be some forgiveness for the team in the Royals situation. Spending money or trading for established major league players usually gets the automatic praise, even if there is an over-payment involved. Dealing prospects, even top prospects, doesn’t get nearly the criticism it should since they’re still unknowns. Both of those views ignore the reality of baseball. Teams like the Royals need to build through the farm system. Guys like Wil Myers should be untouchable. They should give rotation spots to Jake Odorizzi before Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana.

It’s the same situation with the Pirates. Over the summer there were suggestions that they should trade for someone like Justin Upton, which would have required at least two top prospects. They’re better off gambling with Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole, rather than trading both of those guys and more for Upton. It doesn’t seem fair when teams like the Dodgers can go out and buy anyone they want. Unfortunately that’s just the reality of baseball. It would be great if all teams could operate the same, but MLB isn’t concerned with a level playing field.

This approach isn’t new for either team. The Royals tend to go with quick fixes and the Rays rely more on young players and prospects. There’s a reason why the Rays have been far more successful than the Royals. It’s because that’s the way small market teams need to operate to be successful. It won’t be a surprise if the Rays see a much bigger benefit from this trade than the Royals, even though both teams should be building their teams under the same approach.

Links and Notes

**Pre-order your copy of the 2013 Prospect Guide, which is expected to be released later this week.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Five More Shutout Innings For Johnson.

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@Tony Pena : ” What does Greinke have to do with my remark? ” What Greinke has to do with your remark about Wandy is to point out that he really didn’t pitch over head head last year as you mentioned. He was as consistent over a 3 year period as the guy who just received a 6 year contract for a lot of money ? That was the point I was trying to make.I really thought it would be more obvious.


Here’s an article playing devil’s advocate to this one:

Also, Royals majorly improved their SP for next year. Their offense should and will not be as bad as they were in 2012. If their core group does that again, there’s a bigger problem on the Royal’s hands than trading away Myers and those two other pitchers for Shields and Davis.


@TonyPena : Wandy R. performed over his head last year ? You do realize that Greinke ranked 41st in ERA the past 3 years ? Right there between one Wandy R. and Derek Holland ?


What does Greinke have to do with my remark?

I replied to the comment he was “surprised” they did so well. My point – his reason for the surprise is due to AJ and Wandy’s performance over the last few years, their ages and trends. Burnett had a much better year and Wandy pitched better in Pittsburgh than he did in Houston.

It is rare players at their ages improve. It is more rare their improvement is lasting for more than one year.


Much like the Fangraph’s Dave Cameron,I think the Royals have mortgaged the future to be mediocre currently. For all of NH ‘s shortcomings,I pray he never makes a deal like this one !

Lee Young

NH has come out several times and said that when he starts making moves to save his job, he’s gonna lose it.

So, I don’t see it happening.

Lee Young

The question is: Will Wil Meyers be the next Beltran or the next Matt Laporta?

You just never know with prospects. In 2011 I wished we had taken Hosmer. In 2012, Pedro looked like the better pick.

This is a definite ‘wait and see’ deal. I would’ve loved to have seen Shields in a Bucco uni, but not at the cost KC paid. However, if I had a crystal ball….lol


NorCal Buc

LY ~ In 2013, how many MORE wins may Shields have over Wandy? Say Wandy is good for 15 this year, conservatively speaking (he won 13 last year, with 60% of the yr. in HOU).

Shields may win 3 or 4 more. At the cost KC paid? NO thanks.

Lee Young

with ya all the way on that note buddy.


Shields had one ace-caliber year, so maybe he could replicate that.

What i do see is a very good #2 or 3 who has thrown less than 215 innings just ONCE since 2007, in a year when he still went over 200. The guy is an absolute horse and will do wonders for their rotation.

Let’s not forget why the Royals were able to make this deal… they still have a very good system even after trading those guys. Prospects are there so that you keep some to be on your team, and so that you trade some to fill holes.

Everyone is acting like the royals got fleeced here, but they got one of the more sure 215 inning, 3.5 ERA guys in baseball for a good OF prospect, and two pitchers who slot in as #4 types.

I do like the deal for the rays though, but i dont think the deal is as one-sided as many are acting


Actually KC’s system isn’t all that good due to graduation and nearly every SP prospect flopping. Take a look –

Starling looks like he could be a huge bust.

Lee Young

Starling is looking like a true bust??

Are you kidding me? After just two months of play?

Maybe you need to get a GM job with that type of foresight.

You may be proven correct, but there’s no way to tell right now!


Read scouting reports from 2012, his swing was awful and many scouts have soured. Stats are just about irrelevant in the low minors.


yeah he hit .275/.371/.485 and still looks like a 5 tool stud from what i’ve read.

But i believe in Zimmer and some of their hitting prospects like Cuthbert and Mondesi.


Bubba Starling is extremely K-prone, due to a nasty hitch in his swing. He’s not “Donovan Tate” bust level, but he has a lot of work to do.


I’m guessing you haven’t seen the Starling swing video, so here it is.

If the Pirates just paid $6M for that swing, I’d be furious.

Ian Rothermund

Oh wait, I was wrong…would’ve been his freshman year

Ian Rothermund

Maybe he’ll never amount to anything. Then again, what was up with him being a consensus top-10 pick going into the draft? I hope all those guys lose their jobs for not even watching the guy’s swing before giving him that much money.

I still saw bat speed, and if an entire organization can’t teach a guy how and where to hold his hands in some respectable amount of time, then he was going to be a flop regardless. I think it will be more relevant to take a look at those mechanics again at the end of next season….if he hasn’t improved, then yes, I’ll agree with you, they may have made a poor selection. However, this year would have been his…sophomore year in college? Looks like he’ll be 20 until August ’13. Another argument I might bring up is that the past year and a half has probably been the only time in his life that he’s focused exclusively on playing and learning baseball. Everyone else in the industry probably didn’t realize that either though..

Lee Young

wow…that IS ugly.

Wes Freeman anyone?

Compare their swings.

Ian Rothermund

I think he was drafted with the expectation that he’d be a project. He’s extremely raw, but an exceptional athlete. That’s why he was drafted where he was. Yes, people can look at draft statistics and say its a crap shoot. But only morons expect the numbers right away from a guy like that. If anyone else has noticed, if there’s one thing in common with MLB players, it’s that supreme athleticism always seems to play a factor in development.

I’m just honestly not a fan of judging prospects harshly that early as long as they’re at an age appropriate league and not being dominated entirely. If he had gone to college and spent two years there, you could assume the shock of transitioning levels would be considerably less. No one would be the wiser if he had gone to OK and hit .300 as a freshman, then .330 as a sophomore…hypothetically.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that everyone in the rookie leagues has something to work on, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there.

IC Bob

What separates the Bucs from KC is we are not in position to compete this year. It would be foolish to trade for a front line pitcher using top prospects with out addressing all the other areas of need. That said I think you are down playing Wade Davis. He was suppose to be a star however he has been slow to develop. The Royals will have him for years to come and he could wind up being a fantastic get. I don’t think either of the KC pitching prospects even come close to Davis in potential.

I wish we as Bucs fans could really be part of a trade like this from either side. It would mean that meaningful baseball is expected to be played or is being played in Pittsburgh.


what do you mean not in a position to compete in 2013? The Bucs filled the only major hole in the line up by getting Russell Martin.

If they can’t compete this year when are they ever going to be able to compete? It doesn’t take 10 years to acquire enough talent to contend.

Ian Rothermund

My guess is that they’ll be able to better compete when and if the young great-looking arms progress to the majors and start to produce.

IC Bob

We are average to weak at 1st, SS, RF, C. We have big time risk at 3rd and LF. Our bullpen is about to be trashed so to think it will be anything better then average is being overly optimistic. Our backups are across the board below average. Our starting depth is thin and adding Shields would help but not make this staff a top 10 in baseball.

I love my Bucs but its going to take everything going right just to get us over 500. I am not trading top prospects today for that. Now that said I do believe their will be a time in the near future to make a bold move and at that time I am all for it.

Now add Hamilton in FA then a move like KCs makes sense today.

NorCal Buc



Defensively we are strong at 1st, SS, C, rf. lf, cf, 3rd, 2nd, that is a good start to compete, very strong 3 thru 5 hitting, could be strong 6 and 7, no one is strong at 8, the big question mark is leadoff?
Pitching is the determining factor for the Pirates, both starting and relieving. not hitting or defense.


How can a team that was way over 500 in August have that many holes going into a season? Perhaps a couple more moves will be made this off season to strengthen a couple positions (I’m expecting either Tabata or Snider or combination to at least get league average production out of right field and Marte to do better than that out of left. I’m worried about AJ regressing.

NorCal Buc

IC ~ We have competed for better-than-half of the past two seasons. In the NL Central, we will again compete this year.

However, there is a difference with 2013. Marte will be a starter form the get-go, replacing Jose Tabata in LF. McCutchen is coming off of a .325.33.96 season, rather than his .255 2011. Alvarez too major steps last year. McDonald progressed. Etcetera.

The question is not, “Will we compete?”

The question is, “Can we compete for 162 games?” We will find out.


Neither is KC. This is not the kind of trade that the Pirates should EVER be making.

NorCal Buc

Let’s not forget the trade potential the Royals have for next summer, to deal Shields to a contender such as the Phillies or Angels. KC could recoup a nice return by dealing Shields at that time.


Besides, they arn’t making this deal to turnaround and trade Shields. They would have just kept Myers if that were the case.


You have a ton more faith than I do in Dayton Moore getting talent. His Greinke trade has yielded Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar right now and that’s a good deal for him. He gave away Melky for Jonathan Sanchez last year.


Terrible trade for KC. If you think that Shields and Davis are going to make them better than Detroit you’re nuts. Friedman continually proves how good a GM can be and how it should be done on a small budget. He has two cornerstone principles 1) don’t waste money in free agency on big contracts and 2) don’t trade prospects for quick fixes. His ability to get a stud bat and two very interesting arms for 2 years of Shields is astounding. When you see how a great GM does it, it sure makes you realize that our guy isn’t even in the same league.


I agree. Now if we can hire his #2 as our GM maybe we can actually turn this franchise into champions.

Lee Young

Both us and KC hired #2 ’s from good GM’s. Remember Littlefield?

That didn’t work out so well.

It ain’t saying much, but I’d take NH over Moore.

NorCal Buc

Wandy Rodgriguez. Let’s compare that trade with this Shieds trade.

Arguably, Wandy is a very good #2 pitcher, at the lest, When acquired, he had the #3 numbers for NL lefthanders over the previous three seasons; and for a very bad team, to boot.

The Pirates have control over Wandy for the next two years, I believe. In 2013, Wandy has the potential to put up some very nice numbers, with the offense the Pirates have put together. 15 wins is not out of the question, along with a 3.50 ERA.

The cost for Wandy DID NOT “break” the Buc’s farm system. The two prize returns for the Astros were Grossman and Owens, our offensive and pitching minor-legue -player of-the-years for the 2011. However, they were not top prospects, like Starling Marte, Allen Hanson and the three top pitching prizes.

For a very decent, at least a top-line #2 starter, the Bucs traded away two mid-tier prospects. In summary, that this was a very decent acquisition by the Bucs.

Last year, Huntington and Company made three acquisitions that could pay off quite nicely in 2012: Wandy, AJ, and Travis Snyder. All we lost there was Brad Lincoln and a couple of decent level prospects.


Wandy and Shields arn’t even close. 4.1 WAR the last two years vs 9.2.

I’d rather have Owens, Grossman, and Cain.

Lee Young

I still would like to have Grossman, but Owens and Cain are just dime a dozen lefties.

NorCal Buc

j ~ We have to give up something to get decent return. I’ll take Wandy over those three prospects.


That’s where we disagree, I’m not sure Wandy is that decent. A 34 year old 2WAR SP who has declining velocity isn’t my cup of tea.

NorCal Buc

BOTH AJ and Wandy, crafty ole veterans, performed quite admirably last year!

Lee Young

They both surprised ME!

Hopefully we get more of the same in 2013!


There is a reason they surprised you…both played over their heads last year. Tough to do that two years in a row.


I’d also add the Shields is a true #1 and probably in between the 10th-15th best pitcher in baseball. He had 11 CGs in 2011 and almost 500 innings in the last two years.

I’d say he’s a top pitcher.

Lee Young

I’ll give him ‘True #2 ’.

Either way, I’d take him in a minute.


How about:

#4 Corner OFs are a dime a dozen.


Tim: KC strikes again. Wade Davis is a reliever, and James Shields is a VG pitcher with only 2 years left on options, so he is with KC for 2013 and 2014 and then a Free Agent. The gave away the future, and Friedman must have some secret power that enables him to keep making deals like this that keep the Rays on top. Myers is MLB ready at 22, Montgomery at AAA at 23, and Odorizzi at AA at 22.

The value of pitching is only as good as your development program – TB drafts, develops, and promotes; the Piratres draft, develop, and then leave them die on the vine at AAA while they go after the flavor of the year as a SP. Once they start to rotate guys up to the majors, other teams will look to them for a trade. We are a year or two away from where TB was 3 years ago.


i actually respect the trade from the Royals standpoint. KC has very nice offensive weapons in place for the next decade, and is good as Myers may end up being, he is still surplus for the Royals. plus it takes someone like a Myers to bring in a guy like Shields. The only guy we had close to a Myers is Marte and that wouldnt be good enough for the Rays in return.

the Royals are all in this year, just like the Blue Jays. They added Shields, Santana and Guthrie to a pitching staff that sorely needed help, yet they kept their offense intact.

good job by both the rays AND royals, imho


The Royals are impatient and deserve what they are about to get – no championships for the next decade.

They should have built prospects into players, traded the players for minor league prospects and repeated the cycle. If you do this right often enough you compete year after year – like the Rays.

Congratulations to the Rays for finding a sucker. Shame on the Royals for being impatient.


I would, by and large, agree with what you’re saying about the Royals, at least in the sense that they are doing what teams like the Pirates, Royals, and other bottom-tier payroll teams have to do–realize that you will have limited windows of opportunity to strike post-season gold, and make moves designed to seize that opportunity. I don’t know if the Royals are picking the right time to do that–they might have been better served by waiting on Myers and Odorizzi than trading them–but they are working on the assumption that you can’t wait for tomorrow for ever, and that you have to realize that sometimes you play to win today, and I can’t fault them for that.

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