Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said it succinctly on Twitter — “Hate . . . HATE to lose James and Wade. But this who we are. This is how we have to operate. Excited about the guys we are getting.”
Sunday night the Rays lopped more money off their payroll by trading much-sought-after pitcher James Shields and righthander Wade Davis to Kansas City for slugging outfielder Wil Myers and other prospects.
The Rays finally got rid of some of their arms to obtain hitting. Shields, arguably one of the best starters in the game, and Davis, a reliever only because there was no spot for him in Tampa Bay’s rotation, were sent to the Royals, who finally got the pitching they needed.
Those teams had been viewed as trade partners for months. It was just a matter of how all the pieces fit. At first it was a Shields-for-Myers deal, but with other teams interested in Shields, such as Texas, and with the Royals also eyeing Jon Lester of the Red Sox, Tampa Bay and Kansas City both added some pieces.
The Rays got the talented Myers, a power righthanded bat and a player many believe could become an All-Star. They also got top pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi and two other good prospects in hard-throwing lefthander Mike Montgomery and power-hitting Patrick Leonard, a third baseman who gets good marks from a number of scouts, and who could be converted to the outfield (with Evan Longoria in the house).
It would seem Myers is the only player who could help Tampa Bay this season, but the money the Rays saved on Shields and not re-signing B.J. Upton might allow them to spend on more hitting. They may now be able to afford a designated hitter/outfielder such as Lance Berkman and/or Travis Hafner, or even another catcher, such as A.J. Pierzynski.
They will use Desmond Jennings in center, with Myers likely playing right. They also recently acquired shortstop Yunel Escobar from Miami, which could mean Ben Zobrist shifts to second permanently, unless Maddon wants to keep moving him around.
So how do the Rays fit in the American League East without Shields and Upton and the effective Davis out of the bullpen?
The rotation is still strong with David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, and Alex Cobb. Then they’ve got good prospects in Chris Archer, Alexander Colome, Odorizzi, Montgomery, and Alex Torres in the minors.
The problem is that prospects are not sure things, but the hope is that Moore, Hellickson, and Cobb, all under 25 years old, will continue to develop into significant starting pitchers. There’s no reason to believe they won’t.
The bullpen remains solid, with Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, and Jake McGee at the end of the game.
The issue remains offense.
The Rays should benefit by having Longoria healthy from the outset. They need Jennings to blossom with Upton gone, and Zobrist and Matt Joyce are still effective hitters. We’ll see what kind of splash Myers can make in his first season in the majors. First baseman James Loney will try to rebound from a terrible season. But the Rays still need help.
They need some power, and it appears that former Indians DH Hafner could one of the players they’re considering.
The loss of Shields certainly closes the gap between the Red Sox and Rays, but we haven’t seen the end of moves for either team.
Clearly, the Royals finally addressed their true need — a front-line starter. Last season Shields compared favorably to Zack Greinke, who just signed a six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers, and he gives the Royals a bona-fide No. 1 and is a better choice than Lester.
The Royals have Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen, Ervin Santana, and Davis. They were able to keep their lineup intact, and we’ll see whether the decision to let Myers go, as opposed to veteran Alex Gordon, is wise long-term. Sure, the Royals did give up a lot of good young talent to the Rays, but with one winning season since 1994 and with their young lineup maturing, it seemed as if the time was right for general manager Dayton Moore to go for it.
The Royals now have an interesting and diverse lineup with Lorenzo Cain in center, Alcides Escobar at short, Gordon in left, Billy Butler as the DH, Mike Moustakas at third, Salvador Perez behind the plate, Eric Hosmer at first, Jeff Francoeur in right, and Chris Getz at second base.
The Royals may be contenders in the AL Central. It’s been a long time since anyone has been able to say that.
There’s a camp that believes the Royals gave up too much and a camp that believes they did what they had to do to finally compete for a playoff spot.
“The Rays are the only team, when you look around, that could have made a deal like that,” said one longtime National League scout. “They had the established, young veteran pitching, and they got some of Kansas City’s best young players. I think both teams did what they had to do given where each is in their development. It’s amazing that Tampa Bay can unload two excellent pitchers like that and still have so much left. And that they can make a deal like that and still be considered contenders. Because with their pitching, and maybe an enhanced offense, the down side to this even initially isn’t going be that bad for them.”
The Rays may elect to keep Myers in Triple A until May so they have one more year of control over him. It also wouldn’t be shocking if the Rays decided to approach Myers much as they did Longoria and try to tie him up with a long-term deal through his arbitration years.
One NL scout was amazed at how many peers he’s spoken to who thought Tampa Bay got the best of the deal.
“I guess I’m in the minority,” said the scout. “I thought KC did a great job. You add two quality starting pitchers to your rotation like they did, I think you’ve done a lot. Some of those prospects are talented kids, but they’re prospects.”
So before getting too excited about Shields’s departure from the AL East, just think about the fact that Tampa Bay has more pitchers where Shields and Davis came from. And now they’ve added two more in Odorizzi and Montgomery, who could be very good down the road.