Royals bet big, get 'the piece' in James Shields after blockbuster trade with Rays

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

View gallery

.
James Shields gives the Royals the ace they've been seeking. (AP)

James Shields gives the Royals the ace they've been seeking. (AP)

For four days, Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore sequestered himself in his suite at the Gaylord Opryland hotel and hunted for his ace. He burned up his phone's battery and sent his lieutenants out on reconnaissance missions to gauge the prices on every starting pitcher the Royals liked, wanting to leave the winter meetings with another starter. When he arrived at gate C-17 at Nashville International Airport on Thursday morning without his pitcher, he at least had a better sense of who he wanted – and who, in one of the biggest deals in years, he landed.

James Shields represents something different to the Royals than their trade partner, the Tampa Bay Rays, from whom they acquired him Sunday night in a blockbuster that sent the Rays consensus minor league player of the year Wil Myers as the headliner in a four-prospect package. The Rays valued him as a 200-inning workhorse, a pitcher on whom every homegrown pitcher they developed could model themselves – "a presence," one Rays executive said, forsaking the numbers-based analysis at which they excel for the sort of intangible in which they believe.

To the Royals, Shields is The Piece. In his six years as general manager, Moore has done something his predecessors dating back to John Schuerholz couldn't: build a team that looks like it can contend, one with a dynamic core of young everyday players and a dynamite bullpen that assaults radar guns everywhere. The only thing missing was starting pitching. This was Moore's flaw as GM. The starting pitchers he drafted either blew out or flamed out. And so when he traded for Ervin Santana and signed Jeremy Guthrie, those were mere precursors to finding the pitcher to start April 1, 2013, against the Chicago White Sox.

View gallery

.

The Royals paid a steep price giving up Wil Myers.

Desperate? Hell yeah this was a desperate trade. More than a quarter-century of irrelevance tends to foster desperation. The awful feeling of Tommy John surgeries piling up tends to hasten desperation. The knowledge that almost no team in baseball can match the Royals' youth – catcher Salvador Perez, first baseman Eric Hosmer, shortstop Alcides Escobar, third baseman Mike Moustakas, left fielder Alex Gordon, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and DH Billy Butler – and that they were primed to piss away another year of it to mediocre starting pitching tends to activate desperation.

Across the game Sunday night, they dropped LOLs in text messages about the Royals doing it again – about one of the teams that must rely on young, controllable talent giving away Myers, pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery and power-hitting Patrick Leonard for two years of Shields and up to five of Wade Davis, who they'll try to return to the rotation after a breakout year in the bullpen. They laughed because in a straightforward analysis of talent, cost and control, this was not a good trade for the Royals.

[Related: Rays give up big piece for top prospects]

They failed to recognize it was a necessary trade. Not necessary because Moore is trying to save his job – any GM who cultivates the farm system Moore has and locks in Perez, Escobar, Gordon and Butler to superb contracts is doing something right – but because he understood that without better pitching, the Royals weren't winning the American League Central, let alone a World Series. And with owner David Glass handcuffing the team's budget and making a run at Anibal Sanchez an impossibility, Moore's options were to dip into a deep cache of young talent and trade for a starter or jam a lesser free agent into an opening day role.

While Shields is a known quantity – six straight seasons of 200-plus innings, a strikeout rate that approached one per inning last year and battle scars of the AL East to show for it – there is little allure in the expected. The fetishization of prospects is a baseball-wide malady, and it's why sentiment skewed decidedly in the Rays' favor. Granted, it should – Myers has the sort of talent that wins awards, Odorizzi looks like a mid-rotation starter, Montgomery is a high-ceiling left-hander and Leonard comes with the one tool, power, that everybody wants – but not nearly to the degree it did.

There's a reason Tampa Bay turned down Myers for Shields straight up. There's a reason Oakland turned down Myers for Brett Anderson straight up. Despite the scouting reports that glow and the awards he won this year, the 22-year-old Myers remains a risk. He is a safer one than most – his .314/.387/.600 line with 37 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last season portends stardom – but any number of players have aced the minor leagues only to lag behind early in their major league careers.

Gordon was Myers six years ago, and it took him four seasons to establish himself. Hosmer and Moustakas were Myers two years ago, and both still have plenty of flaws heading into their third seasons. Scouts agree that Myers has far too much swing-and-miss in his game and that strikeouts could hinder his productivity, especially early in his career. Some don't think Myers' power will translate to the major leagues, either, though that opinion isn't altogether common.

View gallery

.

James Shields joins a team loaded with young talent like Mike Moustakas. (AP)

Perhaps the most important point is why the Rays and A's wouldn't deal two years of Shields or three years of Anderson for Myers' entire pre-free agency career: He's a right fielder, and corner outfielders, while not a dime a dozen – see: Reggie Sanders, Jose Guillen, Jeff Francoeur and the misery they've unleashed upon Kansas City – are not exactly bank-breaking sorts, either. Whether it's Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel or Ryan Ludwick, it's easy to find someone cheap who can hit in a corner-outfield spot. Unless Myers develops into a Gold Glove-caliber fielder – no scouts expect that – he needs to hit like Ryan Braun to develop into a star .And there are but five players in baseball with Braun's bat.

When Moore talks with his amateur scouts, he tells them to target four things: center fielders, shortstops, catchers and starting pitchers. He recognizes and appreciates positional value, and that was the genesis of this deal. Starting pitching of Shields' caliber on the free-agent market takes five years and at least $15 million a season, the sort of contract that would suck up 20 percent of the Royals' budget and leave them a ligament tear away from disaster. At around $22 million over the next two seasons, Shields, who will be 31 and 32 during those years, represents a bargain.

[Related: Indians, Reynolds agree to one-year deal]

Which is why when the talks began in October, Myers wasn't enough. It took more than two months of haggling to finally settle on the pieces exchanged Sunday. The inclusion of Davis is the deal's wild card. He was a mediocre-at-best starter his first three seasons and thrived in a bullpen role last year. Now the Royals will shift him back to the rotation despite past shoulder- and forearm-related trips to the DL and hope he makes the three options they hold on him – for $7 million, $8 million and $10 million, through 2017 – worth exercising.

The Rays, in the meantime, celebrated Sunday night. As much as it hurt to lose Shields, the idea of an Evan Longoria-Ben Zobrist-Wil Myers heart of the order tickled them. To add the promise of Odorizzi, the possibility of Montgomery and the pop of Leonard sated them all the more. Freeing up salary to help fill a hole via free agency was like a second gumball coming with just one turn.

Still, the Rays understand for all of their celebration, and all of the industry's of them, this is the sort of deal on which they must hit to continue their tap dance around the reality of their finances. They were scared when they signed Evan Longoria to a six-year, $17.5 million contract in 2008 before he took a single major league at-bat. That one hit the jackpot. They took the same confidence into the draft that year. With the No. 1 pick, they chose Tim Beckham over Buster Posey.

Even the Rays whiff, and while chances are this turns into a signature deal for them, that doesn't render it a disaster for the Royals. Look at Moore's most renowned trade to this point: turning a massively leveraged Zack Greinke – he had requested out of Kansas City, which should've neutered his value – into Escobar, Cain, Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. Escobar is a wizard at shortstop, Cain could be a well-above-average center fielder and Odorizzi helped land Shields. Huge win for the Royals.

[Related: Yahoo! free-agent tracker]

And, it turns out, for the Brewers. In Greinke's first season, he helped pitch them into the playoffs. And when they struggled last year, they flipped him at the trade deadline for shortstop Jean Segura and two hard-throwing right-handed pitchers – a lesser value, sure, but one that coupled with the postseason appearance made the original deal worthwhile.

If this whole thing blows up for Moore – if Perez doesn't develop into an MVP candidate and Hosmer or Moustakas don't grow and Francoeur continues to collect at-bats in right field – there's always the possibility of a talent-salvaging deal come 2014. For now, the Royals would prefer thinking about 2013 and how winning no longer seems like some far-fetched dream.

The Royals believed they were one starter away from contention, and while it's easy to sneer at that – and maybe rightful – they justify the means because their vision of the end is so bright. Both on paper and in spreadsheet this trade is wrong, and yet the Royals were tired of sitting around and watching others make bold moves.

Moore made those phone calls, and his lieutenants asked around, and this was the deal on which they settled. Was it the best available? Absolutely, Royals people say. Wish they would've called us, others retort. Maybe there would've been something there. Just not James Shields.

The last glimpse the baseball world got of Shields came Oct. 2. He threw arguably one of the best games of the last decade: nine innings, two hits, no walks, 15 strikeouts and one run on the one mistake of his night, which Chris Davis hit about 450 feet to dead center field. While a team cannot base a trade on a single game, this was the sort of pitcher the Royals envisioned putting atop their rotation: one who can stare at a playoff-bound Baltimore Orioles team and strike out 15 of those sumbitches.

This trade will define Dayton Moore's tenure as Royals GM more than any of his other moves because it marked the day he declared Kansas City a contender. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren't. Maybe Wil Myers will be another Ryan Braun or maybe he'll be another Brandon Wood. Even the surest thing in this trade, James Shields, is a maybe because he throws a baseball, and nothing in the game is quite as fallible as a pitcher's arm.

What cannot be deemed a maybe is the Royals' tack. They want to win. They want to win now. They want to win a weak AL Central. They're desperate, all right. In a city that hasn't seen a winner since 1985, it's tough to blame them.

Fantasy football advice on Yahoo! Sports:

  • Pineda banned 10 games for pine tar, won't appeal

    Pineda banned 10 games for pine tar, won't appeal

    New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was suspended for 10 games Thursday after being caught using pine tar. ''I accept it,'' Pineda said before Thursday night's game at Fenway Park. Pineda was ejected in the second inning of Wednesday night's … More »

    AP - Sports - 6 minutes ago
  • Cal Poly baseball team is toast of the West Coast

    Cal Poly has long been known for turning out great engineers and architects. The San Luis Obispo school that produced Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith in the 1970s is enjoying its finest season since joining Division I in 1995. At 35-5, the Mustangs … More »

    AP - Sports - 9 minutes ago
  • Raptors ready for road test in Game 3 in Brooklyn

    Raptors ready for road test in Game 3 in Brooklyn

    NEW YORK (AP) -- If Dwane Casey has any concerns coming to Brooklyn, they aren't about his players. … More »

    AP - Sports - 10 minutes ago
  • Some rules regarding Northwestern union vote

    In the wake of a ruling by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board that they qualify as employees under federal law, Northwestern football players are voting Friday on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes. … More »

    AP - Sports - 11 minutes ago
  • The 10-man rotation, starring a very cool time-lapse drawing of LeBron James (Video)

    The 10-man rotation, starring a very cool time-lapse drawing of LeBron James (Video)

    A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out. … More »

    Ball Don't Lie - 11 minutes ago
  • Benfica and Sevilla secure Europa League wins

    Benfica and Sevilla secure Europa League wins

    By Toby Davis LONDON (Reuters) - A stunning late goal from Benfica's Lima left Juventus's hopes of reaching a home Europa League final hanging in the balance after a 2-1 first-leg defeat, while Sevilla won 2-0 against Valencia in Thursday's … More »

    Reuters - 11 minutes ago
  • NFL draft's most precarious pick: Jadeveon Clowney

    NFL draft's most precarious pick: Jadeveon Clowney

    If the South Carolina standout doesn’t live up to his potential, it's more than possible the blame will fall on his coaching staff for not fully unlocking his immense talent. They will get the burden of proof, because look at how talented Clowney … More »

    Yahoo Sports - 12 minutes ago
  • Dice-K 1st save since 2000; Mets top Cards 4-1

    Dice-K 1st save since 2000; Mets top Cards 4-1

    Daisuke Matsuzaka pinched his eyelids, clenched his teeth and thought back. After 123 starts during seven seasons in Major League Baseball, the 33-year-old right-hander was turned into a reliever by the New York Mets when they brought him up from … More »

    AP - Sports - 13 minutes ago
  • NLRB to review Northwestern union ruling

    NLRB to review Northwestern union ruling

    Northwestern University's football players will cast secret ballots Friday on whether to form the nation's first union for college athletes - a potentially landmark vote that will be kept sealed for months and possibly years. The National Labor … More »

    AP - Sports - 17 minutes ago
  • NCAA proposal for governance change

    Highlights from the proposal to change the NCAA's governance structure, which was endorsed Thursday by the NCAA's board of directors. A formal vote is not expected until the board's quarterly meeting in August: - The five biggest football … More »

    AP - Sports - 17 minutes ago
  • New statue of Penn State's Paterno set for 2015 unveiling: alumni

    New statue of Penn State's Paterno set for 2015 unveiling: alumni

    By David DeKok HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Fundraising for a new statue depicting Joe Paterno "as the man he was and not Joe the football coach" is set to begin two years after his image was removed from Penn State University because of a … More »

    Reuters - 19 minutes ago
  • George Hincapie offers an unvarnished look at cycling in new memoir

    George Hincapie offers an unvarnished look at cycling in new memoir

    George Hincapie was the "Loyal Lieutenant" who helped Lance Armstrong to seven Tour de France titles, only to later provide the key testimony that brought his downfall. Now, Hincapie is talking again about one of the darkest eras in cycling. In a … More »

    The Canadian Press - 19 minutes ago
  • Texas' Kouzmanoff to have back evaluated

    Texas' Kouzmanoff to have back evaluated

    Texas third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff was scheduled to be evaluated Friday at home by a back specialist before the Rangers make a roster move to activate Adrian Beltre from the disabled list. Kouzmanoff, who is hitting .362 in 13 games and is the … More »

    AP - Sports - 20 minutes ago
  • Gomez helps spark aggressive Brewers' hot start

    Gomez helps spark aggressive Brewers' hot start

    MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The Brewers' new leadoff hitter can aggravate pitchers by slugging homers or stealing bases. Carlos Gomez is flustering foes, and his energetic approach has helped Milwaukee jump out to the best record in baseball. … More »

    AP - Sports - 21 minutes ago
  • Armstrong teammate Hincapie pens stark memoir

    Armstrong teammate Hincapie pens stark memoir

    George Hincapie was the ''Loyal Lieutenant'' who helped Lance Armstrong to seven Tour de France titles, only to later provide the key testimony that brought his downfall. Now, Hincapie is talking again about one of the darkest eras in cycling. In … More »

    AP - Sports - 23 minutes ago
  • Twins get rare road series win vs. Rays

    Twins get rare road series win vs. Rays

    ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Sam Fuld had enjoyed plenty of success at Tropicana Field. For the Minnesota Twins, big moments in the ballpark had been fleeting. … More »

    AP - Sports - 24 minutes ago
  • Colorado PG Dinwiddie entering NBA draft

    Colorado PG Dinwiddie entering NBA draft

    Spencer Dinwiddie expects to be healthy and wealthy by summer's end. The University of Colorado star point guard announced Thursday he's skipping his senior season and will declare for the NBA draft. Dinwiddie said at a news conference in Boulder, … More »

    AP - Sports - 29 minutes ago
  • Former Rangers great Jardine dies aged 65

    Former Rangers and Scotland defender Sandy Jardine has died at the age of 65 after battling cancer for 18 months, the Glasgow club said on Thursday. Jardine made almost 800 appearances for Rangers, winning three league titles, and was twice voted … More »

    Reuters - 29 minutes ago
  • Bills hire Dixon as pro scout

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- The Buffalo Bills have hired Gerald Dixon as a pro scout. … More »

    AP - Sports - 32 minutes ago
  • NCAA endorses more power for big schools

    NCAA endorses more power for big schools

    The NCAA's board of directors took the first step toward shifting power to the five largest football conferences on Thursday, endorsing a 57-page plan that calls for giving 65 of the nation's biggest schools more autonomy in how to fund … More »

    AP - Sports - 32 minutes ago
  • US ski coach gets 4 months for money laundering

    The head coach of the U.S. Alpine speed team, Andreas Evers, was fired by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association on Thursday, hours after the Austrian was sentenced to four months in prison plus 20 months on probation for money laundering. ''Core … More »

    AP - Sports - 36 minutes ago
  • Sevilla earn two-goal cushion against Valencia

    Stephane MBia and Carlos Bacca were on target for Sevilla as they took a big step towards reaching the Europa League final with a 2-0 victory over Valencia on Thursday. The Andalusian side continued their good form which has seen them win nine of … More »

    Reuters - 37 minutes ago
  • NASCAR hopes Track Takeover brings fans

    RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- They are calling it ''Track Takeover'' at Richmond International Raceway, and it's an idea that track President Dennis Bickmeier hopes will not only improve the experience NASCAR fans have only hours before cars start racing on … More »

    AP - Sports - 37 minutes ago
  • Ducks unsure on Getzlaf, mum on goalie

    Ducks unsure on Getzlaf, mum on goalie

    ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Two-thirds of the Anaheim Ducks' top line is injured, including their captain and leading scorer. Their most beloved player has been benched, and their rookie goalie looks shakier with every game. … More »

    AP - Sports - 41 minutes ago
  • Henrik Zetterberg a game-time decision for Red Wings in all-important Game 4

    Henrik Zetterberg a game-time decision for Red Wings in all-important Game 4

    The Detroit Red Wings' locker room is bursting with new life. … More »

    Puck Daddy - 42 minutes ago
  • No Bills cheerleaders in 2014 after suit

    Pack up the pom-poms in Buffalo, because the Bills will be playing without the support of their official cheerleaders this year. Stephanie Mateczun, whose company manages the Buffalo Jills cheerleading squad, said Thursday she has suspended … More »

    AP - Sports - 43 minutes ago
  • Yankees lose Nova to Tommy John surgery

    Yankees lose Nova to Tommy John surgery

    BOSTON (AP) -- New York Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova has decided to have season-ending Tommy John surgery for a partially torn elbow ligament. … More »

    AP - Sports - 47 minutes ago
  • Jason Collins named one of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people, for good reason

    Jason Collins named one of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people, for good reason

    The impact of the Brooklyn Nets center continues to be felt. … More »

    Ball Don't Lie - 48 minutes ago
  • Owners to discuss expanded playoffs

    Owners to discuss expanded playoffs

    The NFL will discuss expanded playoffs at the owners' meetings next month in Atlanta. Commissioner Roger Goodell told a gathering of Associated Press Sports Editors on Thursday that a vote is uncertain on the proposal to add two teams to the … More »

    AP - Sports - 59 minutes ago
  • Pagenaud still upset with Power over Long Beach

    A week off did nothing to mellow the tension between Simon Pagenaud and Will Power stemming from contact between the two at Long Beach. Pagenaud refused to accept an apology from Power following the April 13 race in which Pagenaud was spun from … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 4 minutes ago
  • Florida diving coach killed in boating accident

    University of Florida diving coach Donnie Craine died Thursday morning in a boating accident off the coast of Bokeelia, the school announced. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is investigating the accident, says two … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 5 minutes ago
  • Optimistic Arizona Cardinals begin conditioning

    Optimistic Arizona Cardinals begin conditioning

    TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- The optimistic Arizona Cardinals began work this week under an intense new conditioning coach in their first formal gathering to prepare for the coming season. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 8 minutes ago
  • Reds beat Pirates for seventh win in 9

    Reds beat Pirates for seventh win in 9

    Considering the Cincinnati Reds started the year at 3-8, however, they were happy to get their record to 11-11 on Thursday. Ryan Ludwick lined a two-run double after two batters were hit by pitches, lifting Tony Cingrani and the Reds over the … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 8 minutes ago
  • Blues, Blackhawks prepare for key Game 5

    Blues, Blackhawks prepare for key Game 5

    ST. LOUIS (AP) -- One more game, and the Chicago Blackhawks will have linchpin defenseman Brent Seabrook back in the lineup. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 10 minutes ago
  • CB Trufant retires as Seahawk

    CB Trufant retires as Seahawk

    When it was clear Marcus Trufant's time with the Seattle Seahawks was over following the 2012 season, he was given a message by general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll on his way out. If it became apparent that Trufant was ready to … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 12 minutes ago
  • McRoberts fined $20K for foul on James

    McRoberts fined $20K for foul on James

    NEW YORK (AP) -- Charlotte Bobcats forward Josh McRoberts was fined $20,000 by the NBA on Thursday for making unnecessary and excessive contact with Miami Heat forward LeBron James. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 12 minutes ago
  • Arizona's Bolsinger gets first MLB win

    Arizona's Bolsinger gets first MLB win

    Mike Bolsinger earned his first major league win, pitching into the seventh inning and hitting an RBI single as the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Chicago Cubs 5-2 Thursday. Bolsinger (1-1) allowed one unearned run and four hits in 6 2-3 innings. … More »

    AP - Sports - 1 hour 13 minutes ago
  • Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda suspended 10 games for using pine tar

    Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda suspended 10 games for using pine tar

    BOSTON - New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was suspended for 10 games by Major League Baseball on Thursday for using pine tar to help him grip the ball. "I accept it," Pineda said before Thursday's game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway … More »

    The Canadian Press - 1 hour 22 minutes ago
  • Impact brass confident new coach Klopas can turn around bad MLS season start

    MONTREAL - Montreal Impact management are confident that new coach Frank Klopas will get the team back on track after a horrendous start to the Major League Soccer season. Sporting director Nick De Santis said Thursday that Klopas has done a good … More »

    The Canadian Press - 1 hour 24 minutes ago
  • NBA fines Josh McRoberts $20K for forearm to LeBron James' throat, upgrades foul to flagrant-2 (Video)

    NBA fines Josh McRoberts $20K for forearm to LeBron James' throat, upgrades foul to flagrant-2 (Video)

    Despite the increased penalty and fine, the Charlotte Bobcats forward avoids suspension, and will be available for Game 3 in North Carolina. … More »

    Ball Don't Lie - 1 hour 26 minutes ago