Are you a Kansas City Royals fan? Perhaps the better question is, did you remain a Royals fan over the past few decades? If so, this season’s been pretty happy for you, and Saturday night’s action might even have seemed a bit fortuitous for you, despite the Royals’ eventual loss to the Indians. That’s because two pieces involved in the signature trade that helped make the Royals the AL Central leaders they are today were in action.
If you’re not a Royals fan, here’s a bit of background. After a mediocre 2012 season for the Royals, in which the fruits of their vaunted farm system spoiled to a 72-90 record, there was pressure to unseat GM Dayton Moore. Keeping the faith with his plethora of position prospects, Moore addressed the teams’ pitching needs by acquiring starters James Shields and Wade Davis from the Rays for a package of prospects including highly rated outfielder Wil Myers, first baseman Patrick Leonard and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery. There were quite a few detractors on the Royals’ side of the return; Myers was one of the more highly rated hitting prospects in the game, while Shields would only be under team control for another two years. But by making such a move, Moore had made it clear he believed the Royals had a window for contention in 2013 and 2014. Remembering 2012, skeptics wondered if the Royals could put together such a swing in such a short time.
It’s been just shy of two years since that big trade. Sure, there were other actions Moore took to make the Royals contenders, including the successful promotions of pitchers Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura while building a shutdown bullpen. But it was that trade that made headlines and got second-guessed, so let’s focus on that.
For starters, “Big Game James” Shields has performed as advertised and provided an average of 6 2/3 quality innings per start since his acquisition. He led a rebuilt pitching staff in 2013 to improve the Royals on the run prevention side of the ledger where as a team they allowed 145 fewer runs in 2013 than in 2012. Finishing 2013 with a record above .500 for the first time since 1994 was a feather in Moore’s cap. Shields has similarly pitched very well in 2014, as evidenced by his seven-inning, one-run performance Saturday against Cleveland.
Davis, however, did not perform as advertised in 2013. When he wasn’t walking more than a handful of batters, they were teeing off on him. In September, the Royals returned him to the relief role the Rays had converted him to, and he has been lights-out since then. Against the Indians, he came in for an inning in relief of Shields and promptly struck out the side. Among relievers in 2014 with at least 20 innings pitched, he is in the top five in baseball in strikeout rate and top 10 in WHIP, and he has allowed less than a baserunner per inning.
The problem with the Royals the past few years has been with their undeveloped offense. Despite drawing nine walks against Cleveland on Saturday, they lost 3-2 in extra innings, including missing an opportunity to score with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the 10th. That issue could get worse in the playoffs because among the various American League playoff contenders and wild card aspirants, they have scored the fewest runs. And as much as the Royals’ run prevention has improved, they are still worse than every other contender in the non-Tigers category. Yes, they might make the playoffs, but their chances to go far aren’t all that good.
The Royals attempted to address their offense in the offseason by acquiring Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki to provide some on-base skills while hoping their young position players would develop. Unfortunately, Aoki’s 2014 showing is a career low, while Infante hasn’t missed being on base this much since 2005. Further complicating issues is that aside from Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain, virtually every Royals hitter has been more blah than bland.
Although Myers did not disappoint in 2013 for the Rays on his way to win the American League Rookie of the year, his injury-riddled and generally slow 2014 would still be comparable to Aoki’s production -- for a million dollars less. It is also arguable Odorizzi could have provided similar production to Shields and for quite a few more million dollars less. On that note, Odorizzi threw seven innings of one-hit, no-run baseball against the Red Sox this same Saturday night, which bettered Shields’ performance.
The Royals might end up achieving their goal of reaching the playoffs in 2014, but with the offensive prospects failing to develop, it’s reasonable to wonder if their chances are good to get to the World Series. In hindsight, perhaps keeping Myers and Odorizzi and planning for contention in 2015 would have been wiser and cheaper. On the other hand, I imagine Dayton Moore is just happy the Royals are on the verge of their first playoff appearance in a generation. The question then becomes: “Just how long will Royals fans remain happy?”