Fantasy baseball's No. 1 prospect (arguably), Wil Myers, is on the move. And, no, it is not to the obvious destination: right field in Kansas City, in place of Jeff Francoeur.
The Kansas City Royals, who kept Myers in the minors for the entire 2012 season, where he wound up winning the Baseball America, J.G. Taylor Spink and USA Today Minor League Player of the Year awards, dealt from their wealthy stable of prospects Sunday night, shipping Myers, right-hander Jake Odorizzi, left-hander Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis and a player to be named.
You read that right: The Rays, the third-winningest team in the past five seasons combined (458 regular-season victories) and theoretically a contender in 2013, traded their most experienced starting pitcher to the team that has the worst winning percentage in the majors since the 1994 strike (.425), the Royals. By making the deal, the Rays' aim is to keep their payroll in check, while the Royals are cashing in their chips in an attempt to compete in the American League Central.
Based on stature in the league and in fantasy -- he was the No. 15 starting pitcher on the 2012 Player Rater -- Shields would be the obvious headliner, right?
Not necessarily so. Remember, fantasy owners love their prospects.
Shields will certainly rank higher and be drafted before him, but Wil Myers is the name fantasy owners will surely gravitate toward first. It makes sense, as he managed eye-popping .314/.387/.600 offensive rates between Double-A Northwest Arkansas (35 games) and Triple-A Omaha (99) last season, won all that hardware and was routinely the subject of the question: "When, oh when, will the Royals call up Wil Myers?" With -- or even without -- the deal, Myers would've been many people's prediction for 2013 AL Rookie of the Year, and because he has now switched teams, he'll potentially garner more attention in fantasy drafts.
The problem is that, by landing in Tampa Bay, Myers' fantasy value -- his redraft-league or short-term value -- might actually have suffered. The Rays are notorious for suave management of their young players' service time, pertaining to arbitration and free-agent eligibility, and come Opening Day fantasy owners who select Myers might again find themselves asking about his probable big-league debut date.
To that point, eight Rays prospects placed among the top 25 overall on Keith Law's annual spring prospect rankings between 2008 and 2012 after having already accrued Triple-A service time, and five of them (Evan Longoria in 2008, David Price in 2009, Jeremy Hellickson and Desmond Jennings in 2010, and Jennings again in 2011) began the subsequent year back in Triple-A, three of them only reaching the majors after the All-Star break. A sixth, Matt Moore, spent the entire 2012 campaign in the majors, but only after agreeing to a five-year, $14 million contract the previous December. Longoria, as well, signed a long-term deal during his debut year of 2008, within days after his promotion, signaling that perhaps an arrangement had been in place to facilitate his promotion.
Myers could break camp with the 2013 Rays, or he could sign a similar long-term deal to Longoria or Moore. Certainly on skills, he'll be well worth the wait whenever he eventually debuts. But to assume he'll be the Rays' Opening Day right-fielder is taking a gamble, and if it means pushing his draft value into the middle rounds in a redraft league, he's probably not worth it.
Myers ranked 237th on my top 250 players before the deal, and I was tempted to remove him altogether recalling the frustrating tales of Price and Jennings, similarly touted youngsters in past seasons. That said, he remains there because on skills alone I'm expecting one of two things: (A) That he's polished enough to present the Rays with an impossible decision on demoting him, or (B) That even if we don't see him until May 1, that he's the closest thing fantasy owners are going to see to a 2012 Mike Trout/Bryce Harper type of instant impact next season.
This is the type of hitter who, while hardly the .303 hitter as he was during his minor league career, might manage a batting average in the .270 range with as many as 20 to 25 homers in 2013. Long-term, Myers has MVP potential, as evidenced by his No. 83 ranking overall on my midseason top 250 keeper rankings.
Shifting to Shields, the "safer" fantasy piece in the deal albeit one lacking in top-shelf, Myers-caliber upside, a move to Kansas City shouldn't remotely ruin him. A major benefit is that he'll finally be freed of a good number of those AL East matchups, including the ones against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, against whom he's 15-27 with a 4.56 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 49 career starts. Facing an additional number of Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins matchups can only help Shields in the ERA/WHIP departments.
Two concerns for Shields are that he had a significant home/road split with the Rays, as he had a 3.33 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 112 career games at Tropicana Field, compared with 4.54/1.29 in 106 on the road, meaning he might be somewhat more comfortable pitching indoors than outdoors. A 3.58 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in his 32 road starts in 2011-12 combined, however, should ease those worries. The Royals, too, might present Shields with less win potential, being that the Rays have been typically a 90-win team during his career, while the Royals might have a difficult time scratching out each win above 81.
Wade Davis could be an intriguing AL-only target as a result of the deal, as the Royals plan to move him back to the rotation following a 2012 spent entirely in relief. He might've been a sleeper for saves in either the Rays' or Royals' bullpens, but as a starter he'd at least warrant matchups consideration. Working in a less-competitive division would help, and while the deal won't move him into my top 75 starting pitchers, he'd rank barely outside of it, would warrant late-round consideration and perhaps a $3 to $5 bid in AL-only leagues.
Odorizzi, who made two late-season starts for the Royals, and Montgomery, who split 2012 between Double- and Triple-A, will presumably begin the year in the minors. Odorizzi could be the Rays' new Alex Cobb, who himself was their new Davis, who himself was their new Hellickson, and so on meaning their emergency call-up in the event of an in-season rotation opening. Odorizzi's ceiling is higher than that of Cobb or Jeff Niemann, themselves rotation candidates, meaning he warrants a stash in AL-only league and would be worthy of a pickup in mixed leagues the instant he gets the call.
Montgomery, meanwhile, is coming off awful back-to-back years at the Triple-A level, with a 5.46 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 45 combined games (44 starts) there. His command is sketchy, meaning his WHIP would be at risk even if he reaches the majors this season, and even in keeper leagues he's not as promising a prospect as he's ranked in the on-field game. Leonard is a 20-year-old who managed .251/.340/.494 rates and 14 homers in 62 games for the Royals' rookie-league affiliate; fantasy owners can check back on him in a few seasons.
Among players not directly involved in the trade, perhaps no one benefits as much as Rays right-hander Chris Archer. One of the team's better prospects, and one acquired in the January 2011 Matt Garza trade, Archer managed a 1.23 WHIP and 11.05 strikeouts per nine innings in six games (four starts) for the big league club late last year. Archer's prospects of making the 2013 rotation increase as a result of the deal, and his strikeout potential makes him worth a look ahead of either Davis or Odorizzi in AL-only formats.