I hope Baltimore Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette is paying attention because there will be a test afterwards. The Tampa Bay Rays traded starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for top prospects Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard. This is a trade that helps the Royals win now, at the expense of their future of course, but I’m still not convinced they will be able to overtake a healthy Detroit Tigers roster for the American League Central crown.
Perhaps this will help them win a wild-card spot but even that’s not a slam dunk because they still have to compete with the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, and the teams I didn’t mention who are likely to win their respective divisions. But hey, at least this move has thrust them into the playoff contender conversation now. Again though, I still don’t believe this was a smart move by Royals GM Dayton Moore because I don’t feel it really propels them to the top of their own division, a weak-ish division at that.
This trade is another perfect example of why the Rays are in constant contention for the postseason year after year, in one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball mind you, and most other organizations lag so far behind them. Shields is a workhorse starting pitcher, the closest thing to a lock for 200 innings as you’ll find around baseball, and will keep his team in just about every game he pitches.
Davis spent his first two full seasons in the big leagues a part of the Rays rotation and enjoyed some success (posting a 4.04 ERA in 210 and a 4.45 ERA in 2011). He was then moved to the bullpen this past season where he enjoyed a great deal of success, but we can’t really know if the change in roles was the cause of that, the change of his mentality going into the games, or if he simply matured more as a pitcher. The Royals do intend to use him as a starter though.
The assortment of prospects that the Rays received in exchange for Shields and Davis are far from sure things, as any prospect is far from a sure thing, but they did receive one hell of a return for their two pitchers. Myers was ranked the number 28 prospect in all of baseball before the 2012 season by Baseball America and combined to hit 37 homeruns and had a .314/.387/.600 batting line between Double-A and Triple-A last season in the Royals system. Odorizzi was ranked the 68th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America last year and had a 15-5 record with a 3.03 ERA over 25 starts and 145.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.
The real wild-card in this deal is the big left-hander Mike Montgomery, who after putting up back-to-back horrible seasons in the minor leagues is still ranked as the 23rd best prospect in all of baseball. He posted a 6.07 ERA over 27 starts and 149.2 innings of work between Double-A and Triple-A last season and put up a 5.32 ERA over 150.2 innings of work in Triple-A the season before that. But again, the talent and tools are there so it’s possible all he really needs is a change of scenery and an organization that has a tendency to develop starting pitching to the fullest.
Finally, we have Patrick Leonard who I don’t want to say is necessarily a throw-in prospect to this deal because he does have some projectable talent and is just 20 years old, but he’s basically a throw-in low level prospect to sweeten this deal for the Rays a little. I wouldn’t view Leonard as someone who is going to develop into an everyday player and instead would likely become a serviceable bench guy, a decent utility player if you will.
The point to all of this though is that the Rays, once again, have proven that you can never have enough starting pitching – especially when you’re the most capable organization at scouting, drafting, and developing your own – because you can trade that excess to further stock your minor league system with top shelf talent that will contribute at the big league level sooner rather than later. This is how the Rays are built to win and Duquette and the Orioles should be taking notes.
I won’t say that the Orioles have the same pitching depth or quality of pitching, that the Rays do because that would be asinine of me to insinuate. What I am saying, however, is that the way you compete in the American League East is by leveraging the one thing all organizations covet – starting pitching, quality starting pitching – and use that as leverage to get exactly what you want in return for it and nothing less. We are likely a year too early for the Orioles to be able to do that to this degree, but if Orioles pitchers continue to develop and continue to improve for another year than they will be in a position where they can expect a solid package in return for some of their pitching depth too.