It's amazing how hard the Royals are getting slammed for the James Shields-Wil Myers trade. Royals' fans who had been preaching that Dayton Moore needs to make a big move are now complaining that the Royals just sacrificed the future for a mediocre present. They gave up four guys. Yes, losing Wil Myers hurts, but the fact is the guy has never taken a single major league at-bat. We have no clue what kind of major leaguer he'll end up being. Jake Odorizzi seems like he should end up being a solid starter, but again, he's had just two major league starts. Former wunderkind Mike Montgomery has lost his control and struggled not just in Omaha, but even more so after being demoted to Northwest Arkansas. And Patrick Leonard was the second best prospect at third base in the organization, behind Cheslor Cuthbert, with both being blocked by Mike Moustakas.
The Royals have young, talented players at first, shortstop, third, catcher and centerfield. They have established, good players at left field and dh. Those upset by this trade because Myers was going to be the missing bat in the lineup were banking on a best case scenario of a rookie playing to his fullest potential. You know, just a couple of years ago, Eric Hosmer and Moustakas were even hotter prospects than Myers is now. Yet after last season, people have cooled on both of them quite a bit. How about banking on the much more realistic scenario of Hosmer bouncing back from a poor sophomore season, Moustakas building on a solid second year in which he hit 20 homers, Jeff Francouer playing at a level somewhere between his good first year in KC and his down second year. All three are not best case scenarios, but simply reasonable expectations for the coming season that, combined with the continued high level of play from Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, would allow the offense to take another step forward. Dream a little bigger, and it's not hard to imagine Hosmer fulfilling his promise by reaching the level of elite first basemen, while Moustakas joins him and they both ascend to 30-homer territory. That's what these two were projected for just a couple of years ago. Add in another year of experience for Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain, and this is an offense that seems on the verge of being among baseball's best.
The major problem that Royals fans and Kansas City media talked about was the lack of solid starters in the rotation. Bruce Chen starting on opening day should be a sign that your rotation is not ready to contend. James Shields on the other hand? Say what you want about him not being an ace, but the guy has been the opening day starter for a 90-win ballclub the last three seasons. A rotation with Shields starting on opening day, and Chen being the number 5 is much more likely to contend. Throw in Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie and Wade Davis, and the Royals have a legitimate rotation. Santana had a horrible season last year, but this is a guy who before that had been one of the Angels' most reliable starters and a former All-Star. This is not like the Jonathan Sanchez trade, where the guy had one decent season. This is the case of a talented workhorse pitcher having a bad year. He just happens to now be in the final year of his deal. Throw that in with a change of scenery and pitching in front of arguably the best defense in baseball, and Santana may be in for a career year. After several chances last year, the Royals finally gave up on Sanchez and traded him to the Rockies in a swap of high-profile offseason acquisitions turned major disappointments. Guthrie came to the Royals after getting obliterated in Coors Field. After a couple of poor starts, he began to rediscover the form he displayed in Baltimore the prior few seasons. By the end of the season, Guthrie was the Royals' best pitcher. After testing the market, he decided to give it another go in Kansas City, inking a three-year deal. And then there is Davis. A former top prospect for the Rays, Davis has not panned out as the Rays had hoped. But that doesn't mean he was a bust. Davis owns an ERA under 4 for his career. This is a guy who would start for a lot of teams. But Tampa Bay happens to have a glutton of talented starters, leaving Davis the odd man out. He gracefully accepted a position in the bullpen, and thrived there for the Rays, sporting an ERA in the mid 2s. And finally there is Chen. The pitcher who two years ago was the Royals pitcher of the year. And started on opening day last year. He is now the front-runner for the number 5 spot in a race that includes Luis Mendoza, Luke Hochever, Everett Teaford and Will Smith. That was your rotation for part of last year. Now those five are competing for one spot. Talk about upgrade. And that doesn't even account for the mid-season returns of Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino, last season's best two pitchers who both succumbed to elbow injuries needing Tommy John surgery.
Now you let those pitchers hurl in front of the Royals' defense. A defense featuring Gold-Glove caliber players at first base, shortstop, third base, catcher and all three outfield spots. Gordon owns two and Francouer owns one. It was robbery that Escobar didn't win one last season, but as the Royals have more success, he will get more chances. And it seems just a matter of time before Perez and Hosmer start collecting them, with Moustakas quite possibly snagging one or two as well. Shields, Santana and Davis will soon learn what Guthrie learned:having a defense like that behind you makes life a lot easier. And whenever they do struggle, they will give way to one of the deepest bullpens in baseball, led by flame-throwing and ice-veined Greg Holland.
As Royals' fans, we are trained to keep expectations low. And I am still a realistic Royals' fan. All of this could blow up in our faces. Shields could decline, Santana could prove that last year was the beginning of the end for him, Hosmer and Moustakas could continue their sophomore struggles, Escobar and Perez could regress, more ligaments could blow in pitchers' elbows, Butler or Gordon could suffer serious injury. But we expect the worst every season because we require so many what-ifs to come true for us to have a chance. Slowly, Dayton Moore and his people have whittled away those what-ifs, turning hopes into realities. When the Royals needed to rebuild, he scouted and drafted and spent money until he had the best farm system in baseball. When the kids were ready to play in the Show, he promoted them, and gave them every opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, together as a team. And now when the pitchers haven't been able to keep up with the hitters, he used his resources to make the moves to acquire pitchers. With a great defense, a talented offense poised to improve, a deep bullpen and a revamped rotation, the Royals, for the first time in twenty years, have all four phases at a level ready to compete. For the first time in a long time, people are coming up with more negative what-ifs to protect themselves from the usual disappointment than positive what-ifs to give them hope through what has always been the inevitable heartache. In the process, they have lost sight of why we root in the first place. We root because they are our team. We root because we care. We root because we want to win. We root because of the ultimate what if...what if we win it all. Open your eyes Kansas City. Put away the cynicism for a second and believe. Because right now, the hope of fulfilling the ultimate what if is closer to becoming reality than it has been since the days of Wilson, Saberhagen, White and Brett. This town believed in that team. We need to believe in this team. After all, what if they are ready to do something special.