The rumors have been coming pretty heavily out of the Winter Meetings that the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays have been in discussions over trading OF Wil Myers for P James Shields. Wil Myers was selected as Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2012, and was coincidentally in Nashville Thursday for that reason. Myers turns 22 years old in a few days. He has an on base percentage near .400 for his minor league career, and last year hit over .300 while hitting 37 home runs between AA and AAA.
James Shields, known as “Big Game James”, has been a very good pitcher the last two years. He was extremely good in 2011 at age 29, finishing 3rd in Cy Young voting. In 2012, he was an above average starter, finishing in the Top 15 in starter ERA. Of course, one thing that needs to be accounted is park factors, and that Tampa is a pitcher’s park. (The Royals perk up their ears briefly, but only very briefly). Taking into account adjustments, Shields is still an above average pitcher, but it mutes those numbers somewhat. To illustrate this (via Rany Jazerlyi): Shields’ career home ERA (all in Tampa) 3.33; Shields’ career road ERA 4.54.
So this is not to denigrate Shields at all. As a Royals fan, I would love to have him on the team. Just not at the price being discussed, and not with the belief that he will be at age 29 and 30 in Tampa Bay what he would be at age 31 and 32 in Kansas City.
I mean, Wil Myers is a top hitting prospect. Many disagree, but he’s worth more than Shields as an asset before we even get into finances. But this from Jeff Passan:
“Tampa Bay’s talks with Kansas City stalled late Wednesday over the strength of the Royals’ offer. While top prospect Wil Myers is a starting point, the Rays “want a lot more,” according to a source. Some of that is posturing, but a majority of executives agree: almost seven years of Myers does not necessarily equal two reasonable-cost years of Shields.”
Bob Dutton, the Kansas City beat writer, also said “believe Royals won’t hesitate to trade Myers for Shields. Probably would require more than Myers. How much more is the debate.” According to an anonymous club official, “It’s not like we’re going to bend over backward. We’re not going to do that. We want to make a trade to get another starter, be it Shields or someone else, but we don’t feel we have to make a trade.”
He’s right, though. The Royals aren’t bending over backwards. They are doing it the traditional way. Wil Myers is just the starting point? The Rays already have the Royals where they want them, and the only hope is that they overplay their hand.
To sort of frame my thoughts, though, and see if my instincts are reasonable, I found similar pitchers to Shields. Here are guys with the most similar ERA+ (league and park adjusted ERA’s) at ages 28 to 30, with age 30 weighted most heavily, and age 29 weighted more heavily than 28.
Andy Benes, for example, was almost exactly like James Shields the last two years, except he was better at age 28. The same is true for Bronson Arroyo and Charles Nagy. Looking at this group, the average ERA+ at ages 31 and 32 was 102 and 106 respectively (where 100 is league average). The wins above replacement for the two years was 1.9 and 2.1. Shields’ wins above replacement was 2.2 last year, so basically, put an average expectation of last year on the next two. However, projecting another 2011 season as he enters age 31 is as optimistic as expecting a hot prospect to become an MVP candidate.
On the other hand, there is Wil Myers, where the last Minor League Player of the Year was a MVP Candidate (Mike Trout). Here is a list of the winners of Baseball America’s Minor League POY, going back to 1981. Do we know what will happen with Myers? No. But merely throwing up your hands and saying “prospects often fail” is ridiculous. The list of hitters who have won includes more superstars than busts. The average wins above replacement the year after they were named is 2.6. In year two, it is 2.2, and it climbs to 3.7 in year three.
That’s right. The Wil Myers of the world have had slightly more value in the first two years they came to the big leagues, than the James Shields type pitchers, who were still, on average, quality #2 starters at ages 31 and 32.
That is before we even get to things like relative cost and surplus value, years of future service, and that those players weren’t even in their primes yet. Why would a team that had 90 wins last year be trading one of their starting pitchers? You think they are really rebuilding, or that they see an opportunity to not hurt their team at all short term, while loading for the future?
Dayton Moore is wanting to correct the speck on the pitching mound while ignoring the mote in right field. I mean, the Royals have the worst every day outfielder in a power position in Jeff Francoeur, and magically have just the remedy in the Minor League Player of the Year who plays the same position. Yes, the starting pitching was awful. Luke Hochevar was at -1.7 wins below replacement and started all year. Francoeur is actually worse. Putting Myers in the lineup, if he is an average elite prospect, would improve the Royals by 5-6 games merely because Frenchy is so bad.
When Oakland made the playoffs and lost again, the talk of Moneyball came up. The comparison isn’t the Athletics to the Yankees, though. It is teams like Tampa Bay and Oakland to Kansas City. Now, the conversation has shifted to not just trading Myers, but that the Royals need to give more. I’ve been on the verge of sickness. I’m a Royals fan, so I fully expect this deal to happen. Just check on me, okay?
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]