At Home Plate: Royals’ trade signifies change of mentality

For years, the Royals have been stocking up on high draft picks after finishing near the bottom of the league. Kansas City has had a highly-touted farm system for the past few seasons, but the Major League club has not played well.

An organization can have only so much patience in waiting for a crop of prospects to turn into high-quality professional ballplayers.

The Royals have a young nucleus built around Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas. But rather than wait for the other prospects to pan out, the Royals mortgaged their future to acquire James Shields and Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays.

James Shields (Photo by Keith Allison, used under Creative Commons License)

James Shields (Photo by Keith Allison, used under Creative Commons License)

Wil Myers, who hit 37 home runs between Class A and Class AA last season, is the centerpiece of the package heading to the Rays. Promising young arms Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery are also in the deal as well as third base prospect Patrick Leonard.

The Royals took some strides in 2012 finishing in third place in the AL Central for the first time since 2003, yet they still managed just a 72-90 record.

Pitching was a significant problem, so the front office pulled off the trade for two quality starters. The Royals were ranked 23rd in 2012 in team ERA (4.30) and fifth in the league in walks (542). A 1.41 team WHIP also placed them 27th in the league.

In fact, the Royals have not had a starting pitcher win at least 12 games since Zack Grienke (16) accomplished the feat back in 2009.

Many analysts are killing the Royals for this trade, since parting with three of the team’s top five prospects may come back to haunt them. However, on the flip side, the Royals used their abundance of top prospects to address an area of need. Isn’t that the point of having a surplus?

Shields will be expected to blossom as the team’s ace now that he is out of David Price’s shadow. The 30-year-old has double-digit victories in each of the past six seasons, including 16 and 15 the past two seasons, respectively.

Shields is signed through this upcoming season and has a team option for 2014. The Royals will really need to have an impressive season for Shields to stay in blue and white.

Davis could be the X-factor of the trade. He is a starting pitcher by trade, but he was used in 54 games as a reliever last season based on Tampa Bay’s stellar starting rotation. He owns a 28-22 career record in 64 starts and will be a starter in 2013 for the Royals.

The hard-throwing righty struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings last season. Of course, that was as a reliever, so we’ll have to wait and see if that success translates into longer outings on the mound.

But if Davis can find his groove, the Royals will be in great shape from a starting pitching perspective. Davis and Shields join the recently re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, the recently acquired Ervin Santana and either Bruce Chen or Luke Hochevar (another Royals’ first-round draft pick) as the fifth starter in Kansas City’s starting rotation.

The much-improved Royals should have some success this season, but it’s too early to tell if the team is a legitimate playoff contender. If they falter, Shields is as good as gone, and maybe the front office will once again look to trade some prospects.

If that’s the case and Myers, Odorizzi and Montgomery turn into stars with Tampa Bay, Kansas City fans — the few that are still left — would be quite disappointed.

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