It’s what happens when there are no games. During baseball season, we get who wins and who loses on a nightly basis. There is a game almost every day from March until October. Sometimes from February to November although those February games don’t really count. In the off-season, sometimes we can go days, even weeks without something significant happening. That was the case before and after the Kansas City Royals trading Wil Myers and three other prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis.
The baseball world was really, really, really hit by Hurricane Rays-Royals to the extent that nobody could really go on social media, regular media or walk down the street without hearing about this trade and who won and who lost.
First of all, saying who won or lost a trade the day it happens is pointless, especially when that happens in December. It is the culture, though. The same culture that asks who wins a Draft when most players are at least a few years away from ever donning a Major League uniform. There was the fetishization of prospects. There was the uncertainty of an established player. There was little in between.
In truth, there were tons of issues to talk about after this trade that has nothing to do with it and that is what makes the baseball community so great.
- It’s true – people tend to over value prospects. Even though most end up failing and a lot come out of nowhere, people hold on to prospects like hope. Hope is fantastic. Hope is what makes Opening Day great. A prospect never fails. What fails is a Major Leaguer. Prospects are a freshly cut field, a clean sheet of ice.
- Rays fans overcame their shock to the trade by repeating the mantra “Trust the process“. We won’t know if they won or lose the trade for at least a year. But, whether the trade goes well or goes poorly (for both sides), what remains is the process. As Jonah Keri wrote, the Rays process has pulled some bad moves, but you can always go back and correct what went wrong. Doing the right thing but getting the wrong result is admirable. Doing the wrong thing and getting lucky is not a long-term solution. We don’t know what Dayton Moore and his front office were thinking. We don’t know if they over valued James Shields or under valued Wil Myers and the other prospects. All we know is that why the deal was made is more important than the deal itself more often than not. To bring the Washington Nationals into this: The thought process behind the signing of Dan Haren was very good. It was the perfect player for the perfect price for the perfect role. If it doesn’t work out, that’s not necessarily on Mike Rizzo. Bad things can happen but the thinking behind the trade was sound, and that’s even accounting for Haren’s possible health issues.
- A point that was really touched upon after this trade that I really never thought about was the desperation of general managers fighting for their jobs. Last year, the two sexy underdog picks were the Nationals in the National League and the Royals in the American League. What followed was the two complete opposite results. The Nationals lived up to their promise and saw everything go right for a division championship. The Royals had injuries hit, then had their young hitters struggle and fell so far behind that the fact that they avoided the cellar was impressive on its own. If the Royals didn’t get it done this year, a lot of pressure would be put on Moore. So, wins in 2013 are so much more important than future wins that he will trade multiple prospects for players to help this year. Of course, it’s not to say that Moore is not accountable. If this trade doesn’t work out he will lose his job anyways, but it places the long term health of a franchise in the hands of someone with no tomorrow. That can make the general manager a pretty dangerous person. It actually reminds me of a certain 2002 trade between the Montreal Expos and Cleveland Indians. The Expos, facing contraction, traded Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips (along with Lee Stevens) to Cleveland for a half a season of Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew. Colon was then traded for not nearly the haul that the Indians received. This probably the worst case scenario for the Royals and their fans but it shows what damage a win-now philosophy can have on a franchise.
There is definitely a lot of negativity around this trade and that has nothing to do with the results. But what is happening is that people trust the Rays process of doing things. The Royals haven’t got that benefit of the doubt from the baseball world. Is the Royals process right? We have no idea. We don’t even know the Rays process for sure. But the winner and loser of this trade could come down to luck, and it could come down to something no one is thinking about.
What is certain is that crowning winners and losers of trades in December is at best premature and at worst totally simplistic.