Shields Blockbuster: Did the Rays Really Get the Better End of the Deal?
When it was announced two Sundays ago that James Shields and Wade Davis were being traded to the Kansas City Royals in a "blockbuster deal", I immediately looked at who the Rays were receiving in return. Shields alone is worth a great hitter or starting pitcher in return, especially when you take into consideration how dominant he was the past two seasons: 31-22 record, an averaged ERA of 3.17, 476.3 Innings Pitched, 448 strikeouts, and an astounding 14 complete games. Wade Davis is a good pitcher, but with a sample size as small as his you cannot demand much from a team. Davis was incredibly effective when he came into the game after being assigned to mainly a bullpen roll, having an ERA of only 2.43 while making 54 appearances last season while being instrumental in a majority of those games. With this in mind, I found that the Rays were receiving four prospects in return and was initially both shocked and and angry at the fact that all we got in return were prospects. Since the trade was finalized and set in stone, I have pondered over whether or not the Rays got the better end of the deal or were victims of highway robbery.
After reading that the Rays received the best minor-league player last season in Wil Myers -not to mention pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, and infielder Patrick Leonard- I said to my friends that the Rays had just gotten robbed. One of my friends who is actually in the Royals minor-league system, told me that "you guys made out like bandits!", which didn't help ease my mind. Analysts on ESPN and MLB Network agreed with my friend, essentially implying that the Rays are so stacked with pitching talent that they could afford to give up Shields and Davis, without seeing a huge dropoff in pitching quality next season. You would think that experts' opinions would finally put my mind to rest, but I continued to mull things over before finally coming to this conclusion last night: Tampa Bay traded proven productivity and veteran leadership for uncertainty and cap room relief.
Before you label me as a Debbie Downer, think about this for a second: From 1990-2012, 69.2% of all Top 100 prospects have turned out to be busts, with the percentage being significantly higher for pitchers than position players (77.4% compared to 69.2%). To put that into perspective, there are 50 rounds in the MLB Draft which involves 30 teams per round, resulting in a total of 1,500 players drafted. Also take into consideraiton the Supplemental Rounds and Rule 5 round, and you're talking about 1,600-1,700 total players drafted.
If 69% of those players turn out to be busts then you're looking at about 524 players who have the potential to be successful if they focused only on playing. But there are injuries, off-the-field issues, and the prevalent "not living up to expectations" that cuts that number drastically. In order to make things simpler for everyone, that averages out to 24 players who should turn out to be successful in the majors per year. Tom Foley, the Rays Third Base Coach, has told me a few times that between 2-5% of all players drafted will ever end up seeing their name on a major-league roster, a percentage that does not comfort me when I think about the Rays-Royals trade.
We all know that the Rays and the Oakland A's epitomize what a small-market team looks/operates like, so outrageous contracts and star-studded lineups aren't something you'll see on either of the teams' rosters. Both teams rely heavily on smart draft choices and strong farm systems that will develop their players into guys that can produce when they get to The Show. James Shields was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2000 and has been with the organization the past 12 years and, while his journey towards playing for the Rays was long and full of injuries and setbacks, he finally made it to the Show in 2006.
Shields improved every year since '06 and became known as a workhorse who would give you no less than 200 innings pitched per season, even ending up in third-place in the 2011 AL Cy Young Award vote. Numbers aside, he is a proven winner whose veteran leadership helped turn the 2012 Rays' pitching staff into one of the best in the history of American League baseball, and you're telling me that's only worth prospects?
I looked up videos for all four of the Royals prospects that we received in return for Shields and Davis since I'm not one to dwell on numbers or statistics, and what I saw wasn't enough to convince me the team's future will be bright. My perception of the videos of the prospects was, simply put, minor-league players hitting/pitching successfully against minor-league competition. Wil Myers is the supposed "jewel" of the deal, and he hit .314 with 37 home runs and 109 RBIs while splitting time between AA and AAA last year, but will those numbers translate to the majors? No one knows for certain, as is the case with every highly touted prospect that is expected to get the call up to the majors soon.
Just look at what happened with Bryce Harper last season: The most hyped prospect in the history of the game, he didn't even crack a .300 average while quickly progressing through the minors, and was a decent hitter once the Nationals called him up. It wasn't what the baseball world expected though, as the power he was supposed to possess drew comparisons to Babe Ruth, so people thought of his partial season with the Nats last year as somewhat of a disappointment. Success in the minors is not a guarantee that it will be easy to attain that same degree of success in the majors, solely because of the difference in the level of competition and skill between AAA and the majors.
Don't get me wrong, I hope that Myers and Co. prove me wrong next season so that I'll have no choice but to eat my seemingly pessimistic words. It just seems like the Rays traded Shields and Davis away for prospects in order to clear up some salary cap space, while adding the top minor-league prospect from last year in the hopes that he will offer protection to Evan Longoria in the lineup. My theory is not as crazy as you make think, especially if you consider the 10-year, $100 million dollar contract extension the Rays and Evan Longoria just inked and the looming reality that David Price will probably leave Tampa Bay in a couple years if the Rays can't offer him a decent contract. Despite all this, the information I've found about the four prospects we got in return has added a bigger sense of doubt for me than I thought possible or even expected. As I said before, I'd be ecstatic if Myers and the other three prospects prove me wrong next season, but my final feeling about the trade is one of intense uncertainty.