Remember all the hullabaloo surrounding the Kansas City Royals’ December 2012 trade with Tampa Bay that involved James Shields and supposed wunderkind Wil Myers?
Royals fans at the time were outraged that the team could trade Myers, who in their minds was a first-ballot Hall of Famer before he had taken his first swing. They saw a potential 30-homer, 100-RBI, .300 hitter going out the door for a player who was expected to be a two-year rental.
Myers won Rookie of the Year in his first season with the Rays. This past season, he fell off so dramatically that on Wednesday he was traded to the San Diego Padres for a passel of minor leaguers.
Even when Myers was coming up through the Royals’ system as their brightest light, there always were reported whispers that he had a lot of holes in his swing, but they were masked by his tremendous upside. While Myers looked like the real deal as a rookie, the pitchers made the proper adjustments and he spent most of the time fanning fans on those hot summer days with consistent missed swings.
This is not to say that Myers won’t emerge as a star with San Diego, one of the toughest parks to hit in with its daunting dimensions. Look how poorly Alex Gordon’s career started with the Royals after he was considered the next George Brett when he was drafted.
But the bottom line is, the trade worked for the Royals.
Granted, they enjoyed Shields for only two years. He’s expected to sign a lucrative deal any day now, with San Francisco, Boston and Chicago possible landing spots.
But Shields was as much of a teacher as a pitcher. He taught the fledgling team how to win, how to be professional. You could see the change in the team’s makeup in his first year and once it had that taste, it wanted more.
Shields wasn’t exactly “Big Game James” at times but he was close. He was durable, never missing a start in his two years. He was the gold standard for the rest of the pitchers to attain.
Of course, the other part of the deal was that Kansas City received Wade Davis. After bombing in his first year with the team as a starter, he reinvented himself as a power arm out of the bullpen, turning in one of the greatest seasons in baseball history for an eighth-inning set-up man. I’m sure some thought has been given of making him a starter again, but he’s right where he needs to be. He just plays country hard ball for the inning he pitches and blows away the competition.
The Royals, given their success of making the World Series, could have taken the easy way out during the offseason and stood pat. But they knew they had three glaring holes that had to be filled and they addressed them. Kendrys Morales replaces Billy Butler as the DH (that could be about a push, though Morales will hit more homers if he’s healthy), Alex Rios was signed to play right field (probably an upgrade over Nori Aoki) and on Wednesday, Edinson Volquez was signed to replace the innings eaten up by Shields. Volquez always has had dynamite stuff, but has had trouble staying healthy. But he was solid last year for Pittsburgh and is coming into his own. Volquez should be a good influence on expected ace Yordano Ventura. The rest of the rotation includes Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy.
I’m sure there are many — me included — who expect the Royals to take a step back next year. But remember, other than Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, many of their offensive players had average years at best. It’s time for Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to have those breakout years that have been expected of them. Hosmer should be a 25-homer, 300 guy, while Moustakas should hit 20 homers and raise his average to .260 or so.
The AL Central could be one of baseball’s most balanced divisions next year. Detroit is still Detroit, even if Max Scherzer doesn’t come back. Chicago was the darling of the Winter Meetings with several shrewd moves, and Cleveland and Minnesota will be better. The times are a changin’ in the AL Central.