Royals opt for proven arms over prospects
The Kansas City Royals celebrated the first, and only, World Series championship in franchise history in 1985, highlighting a decade of dominance in which the franchise advanced to the postseason seven times.They haven't been back since. Toronto (1993) and Pittsburgh (1992) are the only other big league teams who haven't been a part of baseball's postseason since the advent of three divisions and the Wild Card in 1995. After 27 years, baseball's longest current postseason drought, the Royals and their fans are tired of waiting. General manager Dayton Moore made that perfectly clear on Sunday night. With six First-Year Player Drafts with which to stock the farm system, Moore quit looking at the future and put the focus on the present. "It's time for us to start winning at the Major League level," Moore said. The Royals gave up some highly touted prospects to acquire the foundation for their rotation from Tampa Bay. But there is a reason they are called prospects -- they have not yet proven themselves at the big league level. Wil Myers, who turned 22 on Monday, was the consensus professional baseball Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .314 with 37 home runs and 109 RBIs between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, and right-hander Jake Odorizzi, the top pitching prospect in the organization, went 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 26 games combined at Double-A and Triple-A. Also sent to the Rays were lefty Mike Montgomery, who two years ago was considered the Royals' top pitching prospect but has since struggled, going 10-34 with a 5.69 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A, and third baseman Patrick Leonard, a fifth-round Draft choice in 2011 who debuted in pro ball at short-season Class A in 2012. It was just two years ago that Odorizzi was the prime prospect Kansas City received as part of a package from Milwaukee in exchange for Zack Greinke, who the Brewers felt, rightfully so, was the part they needed to win the National League Central. Now, with Lorenzo Cain having laid claim to the center-field spot, Alcides Escobar earning rave reviews for his play at shortstop, and Jeremy Jeffress sent packing, Odorizzi is back in the role of being a cornerstone of a package of prospects. The Royals landed a proven top of the rotation right-hander, James Shields from Tampa Bay, where he was 81-65 over the past six years. They also acquired Wade Davis, a key part of the Rays' bullpen last season when he was 3-0 with a 2.54 ERA in 54 games after two seasons as a quality member of a contending rotation when he was 23-20 with a 4.27 ERA, and Tampa Bay won 33 of his 58 starts. Good deal? Well, they do have Shields under contract for two more years (same as Milwaukee with Greinke when he was acquired from Kansas City), and Davis is signed through 2017, including options in the final two seasons. And if the Royals win a division title within the next two seasons, consider it mission accomplished. If not, well, that's not something Kansas City's current regime wants to think about. This will, after all, be Moore's seventh full season on the job, having been hired May 31, 2006, and current manager Ned Yost is the third man to fill out the lineup card since Moore's hiring, the second hired by Moore. He inherited Buddy Bell and later replaced him with Trey Hillman before hiring Yost. The Royals haven't had a winning record in the six full seasons Moore has been in charge and have lost fewer than 90 games only once. But then Kansas City has had only one winning season (83-79 in 2003) in the last 18 years, and the club has lost 90-plus games 12 times, including more than 100 in four seasons. Enough is enough. That's why they gave up so much to get from Tampa Bay what the Royals see as missing ingredients to a championship roster. What they acquired are right-handers who have proven they can handle the challenge of a pennant race, helping the Rays successfully battle in the challenging AL East. What they gave up ... well, as glittery as their resumes may be, Myers and Odorizzi have yet to prove themselves at the big league level and potential is fleeting (see Mike Montgomery). The Royals have a lineup capable of contending. There isn't a player in their starting nine who has celebrated his 30th birthday yet. With the emergence of Greg Holland (16-for-18 in save situations the final two months of last season), they have a bullpen that is good enough to win a division. The rotation, however, has been a mess. In the last three seasons, it has a composite 4.91 ERA, ranking 28th in baseball, ahead of only Minnesota and Colorado. The rotation ERA has exceed 5.00 twice in three years -- 5.01 in 2012 and 5.25 in 2010. The Royals are now confident that's about to change thanks to the addition of Shields, hope for Davis' return to a quality starter, plus the earlier acquisition of Jeremy Guthrie from Colorado in late July, and Ervin Santana from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim earlier in the offseason. Suddenly, Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar, who had been asked to fill top of the rotation roles, are battling for the fifth rotation spot, possibly the fourth if the Royals were to decide Davis is better served out of the bullpen. Chen is one of the more understated left-handers in the game. For all the teeth-gnashing about him among Kansas City fans, he is 35-29 with a 4.40 ERA the last three seasons. The Royals are 39-43 in games he has started during that stretch compared to 171-233 in their other games. Hochevar has struggled (38-59, 5.39 in the big leagues), but he was the No. 1 pick overall in 2006 (there's that talk about potential again). He is healthy and he will pitch at age 29 in 2013. Of course, there are no guarantees in baseball. The Angels and Miami Marlins underscored that during the 2012 season. There is, however, hope again in Kansas City, where the franchise was once a model of success. There has, however, been a whole generation of baseball fans born since that time. The Royals want to change that, quickly.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.