Rumblings and rumors have run rampant (try saying that six times fast) over the past few weeks regarding the Kansas City Royals’ search for a “frontline starter” to place atop their rotation. It’s a need the organization has been striving to fill for quite some time now, particularly given their apparent inability to date to develop their own internal options into such a pitcher. While the Royals are not often considered among the game’s larger market teams, filling such a void via free agency has never seemed to be the most viable solution to rectifying such a need. Instead, the trade route has long looked to be the best means to follow, with rumblings recently centering on the organization’s apparent willingness to include top prospect Wil Myers in such a deal.
Myers is fairly well known at this point by most that follow the game closely.
A former 3rd Round pick in the 2009 Draft, Myers has long been viewed as one of the game’s premier offensive prospects as he’s continued to develop in the Royals’ minor league system. Originally a catcher upon beginning his professional career, Myers impressed most scouts at the plate over his first 96 plate appearances that summer after signing. He’d hit .369/.427/.679 over that span, but questions began to emerge about his ability to remain behind the plate long term. Kansas City would move him to the outfield for the 2010 season, with the hope being that his bat would continue to carry him as he adjusted to the new defensive challenges. Myers would hit a combined .315/.429/.506 that season over 541 plate appearances, adding 37 doubles, 14 HR, and 83 RBI. At season’s end Baseball America would rank him as the 10th best prospect in all of baseball.
2011 wasn’t quite so kind, however, as Myers struggled with a promotion to Double-A. Over 416 plate appearances on the year he’d hit just .254/.353/.393 and his power production slipped, adding just 23 doubles and 8 HR. Defensively he seemed to be making the adjustment to the outfield with relative ease, but the cause of his offensive struggles remained uncertain. The poor season caused him to drop to 28th overall on BA’s Top 100 prospects list the following winter, though he was still highly regarded across the game despite the down season.
Myers returned to form this past year, however, eliminating doubts about his ability to play the outfield (he’d made the transition to center field with relative ease at this point) and leaving few to wonder about his future success in the field or at the plate. Myers hit a combined .314/.387/.600 on the year in 591 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A, adding 37 HR and 109 RBI. He’d be named as the Minor League Player of the Year by BA and MiLB.com by season’s end and he’s widely considered as one of, if not the top offensive prospect in the game. Myers will likely find himself in a Major League lineup this coming season, be it in Kansas City or elsewhere.
Kansas City has seemingly proven an ability to develop hitters in recent years – as evidenced by the arrivals of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and others to their Major League roster. The team has not had the same success on the pitching front, however.
Mike Montgomery was the first big name to find his name adorning the prospect rankings, having dominated the competition over the first three years of his professional career. However, once he reached Triple-A at the start of the 2011 season things seemingly imploded. Over the past two seasons at Triple-A he’s a combined 8-17 with a 5.46 ERA and 1.564 WHIP in 242.1 innings of work. John Lamb soon followed, similarly dominating the minor leagues’ lower levels. He’s thrown just 48.0 innings over the past two years, posting a 1-3 record and 4.69 ERA thanks largely to injuries. Both left-handers have largely disappointed in recent years, but both also were added to the team’s 40-man roster in advance of next week’s Rule 5 Draft. Potential still reigns supreme, despite the lack of evidence to suggest that potential will translate to success on the mound in the future.
Kansas City’s other pitching prospects have also failed to see similar success in recent years.
Tim Melville has struggled with command and has yet to pitch above Double-A. Chris Dwyer similarly stalled out in the upper minors, spending the better part of the past three seasons at Double-A. Noel Arguelles was highly touted when the team signed him after he defected from Cuba and in the two years since he’s a combined 8-19 with a 4.92 ERA. Kevin Chapman failed to seriously impress, only to seemingly turn things around after being traded last Spring to Houston. Jeremy Jeffress followed a similar path, never living up to his potential only to be traded for next to nothing.
Danny Duffy at least reached Kansas City, but went 6-10 with a 5.28 ERA in 26 starts over the past two years before undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Aaron Crow is at least serviceable, though in a bullpen role rather than the starting rotation, as the team originally hoped when they drafted him. Luke Hochevar is perhaps one of the worst examples of the Royals’ lack of success in developing pitchers, as the former #1 overall pick went a combined 38-59 with a 5.39 ERA over the past six seasons. Now he’s so out of favor in the organization that they are reportedly trying anything they can to trade him.
Sure, the Royals have a number of current prospects who many think highly of – a group including the likes of Jake Odirizzi, Yordano Ventura, Kyle Smith, and Kyle Zimmer – but it’s far too early to tell just how any of these options will pan out, let alone consider them “frontline starters”.
Considering the track record (or lack thereof), it’s easy to understand why dealing a prospect such as Myers might allow the Royals to acquire the arm they’ve long sought to lead their rotation. Myers is a unique talent who could bring in a supremely talented return should the team seriously consider moving him.
Numerous rumors have circulated over the past few weeks regarding some of the pitchers that the Royals have allegedly been targeting. Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox and James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays have been the two names more prominently tossed around, though there are reasons to believe that other big name pitchers may have also been considered (not to mention the other names that some have speculated about, purely with the hopes that their team can somehow get in the running for Myers). No deal appears to be imminent, though that may actually be for the best.
Lester and Shields are both quality pitchers with considerable upside, making them attractive options for any team to potentially acquire. Lester may be coming off a down season in 2012, but he’d still be one of the better options available if Boston were to seriously consider moving him. The left-hander is 85-48 with a 3.76 ERA over the past seven seasons, twice appearing in the All Star Game. He’s scheduled to make $11.625 Million in 2013 and there is a club option for 2014 valued at $13 Million (though the option can be voided if he is traded). Shields, meanwhile, will earn $9 Million in 2013 and the Rays hold an option for 2014 worth $12 Million. He’s 87-73 with a 3.89 ERA for his career. Both players have finished in the top four in Cy Young Award voting at least once in the past three seasons. At best, both players will hit free agency after the 2014 seasons. Considering that, and despite each pitcher’s respective successes, why would the Royals trade one of the game’s top prospects for a pitcher with just two years of team control?
Now, to be fair, adding a player such as Lester or Shields to the Royals rotation would absolutely improve that team. However, the likelihood that such an addition would be enough to push the Royals into contention in the AL Central is minimal at best. It is going to take more than one quality starting pitcher to turn the organization’s fate around.
As such, if the Royals are serious about dealing Myers in an effort to acquire a top of the rotation starting pitcher, wouldn’t it make more sense for the team to focus such efforts on finding a pitcher who’ll be under team control for a lengthier period of time? At least to date such a deal doesn’t appear to be plausible.
Kansas City seems determined to upgrade their starting rotation and for good reason. Having a frontline starter atop the rotation may be vital to the team’s ability to compete in the AL Central, but ultimately dealing Myers to accomplish such a feat may simply not be the best use of the team’s resources. The organization has had success in developing position players with offensive upside, but they haven’t seen the same on the pitching front. In time, such a trend might turn around. Until then, Royals fans might simply need to just be patient.