MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Royals make worthwhile gamble on Shields

Justice: Royals make worthwhile gamble on Shields

Royals make worthwhile gamble on Shields
Royals general manager Dayton Moore got tired of the rebuilding process. In the end, that's what this trade is about.

If the Royals make the playoffs in 2013, Moore will have gotten what he wanted out of it. If it looks different three years from now, if Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi are helping the Rays win a championship, so be it.

Kansas City hasn't made the playoffs in 27 long years. That's 27 years of frustration and disappointment.

The Royals were once one of the franchises every other was measured against. Kansas City is a terrific baseball city, too. Fans there have been waiting for a reason to get excited about their team.

OK, folks, here you go. With James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, Wade Davis and Bruce Chen, the Royals finally have a rotation capable of getting them back to the playoffs for the first time since 1985.

Look, this trade is a huge gamble for Moore. He's taking on age and money and giving up talented kids making very little money. This trade is going to be trashed by a lot of people, but there's a Kansas City side to it, too.

That is, Moore has decided it's time to go for it. Six years ago, he took over a franchise that was in bad shape.

Moore laid out his vision of the franchise to owner David Glass, and in the six years since, he has done pretty much everything he promised to do. Moore has poured money into scouting and player development and has hired all kinds of good people.

Kansas City has accumulated talent, too; lots of it, more than almost any franchise in baseball. Moore has methodically moved the Royals in the right direction, steering them from 65 to 67 to 71 to 72 victories the last four seasons.

Some of us thought the Royals had turned a corner a year ago when they went 33-33 after July 18. As Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer settled into the lineup, Kansas City was good enough to play with almost anyone.

Moore cautioned that all those kids still had some adjusting to do. He also cautioned that the franchise's best young pitchers were a year or two behind the hitters.

Regardless, another 90-loss season was bitterly disappointing. Moore could have taken a deep breath and announced the Royals were still on course, that they'd acquired too much talent not to be back in contention soon.

Instead, he decided to hurry up the process. Moore began the offseason saying he'd attempt to acquire three starting pitchers. First, he re-signed Guthrie, who'd been acquired during the season.

Then, on Sunday night, Moore made a huge trade, a trade that will be debated for years, a trade that carries all sorts of risk for the Royals. He sent one of baseball's best hitting prospects, 22-year-old outfielder Myers, and three other young players to the Rays for Shields and Davis.

Shields, 30, was instrumental in helping the Rays become winners. His work ethic and pitching smarts impacted every other pitcher who has worn the Tampa Bay uniform the last seven seasons.

If Shields does for the Royals what he did for the Rays -- that is, if he pitches his usual 222 innings and wins his usual 14 games, if he sets an example with his poise and work -- this trade could work out exactly how Moore hopes it will.

Davis, 27, is less of a known quantity. He settled nicely into a relief role this season, but he pitched 168 and 184 innings as a starter in 2010 and '11. The Royals are hoping Davis will take the ball and fall in line somewhere behind Shields in the starting rotation.

The Royals obviously have dozens of other questions, but for the first time in years, the trade gives them a rotation that seems capable of contending in a weak division.

For the Rays, the trade brings a bounty of young talent, not just Myers, although he might end up being enough, but also 22-year-old right-hander Odorizzi, who has a big arm and a bright future.

The Rays got two other kids, 23-year-old left-hander Mike Montgomery and 20-year-old third baseman Patrick Leonard. Myers seems likely to help the Rays in 2013. As for the others, they provide depth to a solid Minor League system.

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has listened to offers for Shields for a few weeks, and he said he'd have to be blown away to trade him. The Royals did just that. They kept putting talent on the table, and Friedman eventually couldn't walk away.

Again, though, Tampa Bay's side of this deal will play out over the next few years. For Kansas City, it's about 2013.

The Royals will have Shields under control for just two seasons. By the time he's a free agent, Moore is hoping that his best young pitchers are pushing for places on the big league club.

He's also hoping that he has changed the way people think about the Royals. That's what a couple of playoff appearances would do. Moore will be criticized for not allowing his best young guys more time to develop. But he shouldn't be faulted for trying to win. He simply was tired of waiting.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.