I read an interesting Baseball Prospectus piece last week regarding the possibility of the Royals trading Wil Myers. The most intriguing part was the list of prospects who were traded within three years of receiving a top 10 ranking from Baseball America. Since the winter meetings rumor mill has heated up and Myers is the Royalsâ€™ best trade chip, it seems timely to use that article to figure out what the Royals might be able to get in return.
I should point out that I would not trade Myers unless the return was incredible. I mean David Price or Felix Hernandez incredible. Even then, it would be a tough trade to pull the trigger on. If Myers is as good as we all think he is, it would be tough to give up three cost-controlled years and three arbitration years of premium offense for any pitcher. I feel reasonably confident the Royals feel the same way. Iâ€™ve said before that Iâ€™m open to trading prospects for quality starting pitching, but Myers is the one prospect I would not want to deal. In addition to the salary reasons, Myers is the one Royals prospect left who I would expect to make an immediate impact in the majors (Jake Odorizzi is the second-closest, but even if makes the Opening Day rotation, itâ€™s probably going to be as a fifth starter). Trading a package of prospects from the next wave of talent wouldnâ€™t be felt for years at the major-league level, and who knows what could happen in the meantime?
That said, if it happenedâ€¦Baseball Prospectus listed 23 trades going back to 1990 where a top-10 prospect was traded within three years of getting that ranking. I wonâ€™t discuss all 23, but some of them are instructive.
The most recent trade on the list happened almost a year ago, when Jesus Montero went from the Yankees to the Mariners for pitcher Michael Pineda. This trade shows the perils of trading a prospect for pitching; while Montero did not have a particularly good year, at least he played. Pineda tore his rotator cuff before ever throwing a regular-season pitch for the Yankees, and wonâ€™t be back on the mound until well into next year. But, going off this trade, assuming the Royals werenâ€™t totally snakebit for once, they could expect to get a talented young pitcher, but one with only one major league season under his belt. I personally would like a longer track record if I were making that deal.
The next deal is more intriguing: Colby Rasmus and three players to Toronto for Edwin Jackson and three players in 2011. This ended up being a great trade for the Cardinals, as it sparked them to a World Series title. But while I would love to see Edwin Jackson in a Royals uniform, there is no way I would give up Wil Myers for him.
Moving on, there were two such trades in 2007: Tampa Bay sending Delmon Young and two others to Minnesota for Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza and a minor leaguer, and Detroit sending two top-10s (Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller) and four other players to Florida for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. If the Royals could get the pitching equivalent of Cabrera, that would be a trade worth making. And while Garza and Bartlett played big roles in making the Rays winners, once again that doesnâ€™t seem like a good enough return for Myers.
Another interesting example: in 2005, Hanley Ramirez was dealt (with Anibal Sanchez!) and two others to Florida, with Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota. This might be the best-case scenario on this list. However, when this trade was made, Beckett wasnâ€™t really the ace he would become in the next few years. He had been solid, but he really blossomed in Boston. Also, this trade was driven in large part by Beckettâ€™s impending free agency. If the Royals traded for a pitcher in a similar situation, they would be hard-pressed to retain him.
And so it goes, on down the list. Besides the above trades, the only one on the list where a position player was traded for a top-flight pitcher was in 2000, when Arizona sent Travis Lee and three others to Philadelphia for Curt Schilling. But I would argue that Myers has a higher ceiling than Lee did (by then, Lee had been in the majors for 2+ seasons and was already viewed as a disappointment, as I recall).
Maybe if the Royals were one good pitcher away from World Series contention, trading Myers for James Shields or some other pitcher with one or two years left on his contract would make sense. As you can see, that sort of trade has paid off in the past for teams in that position. But this team is really just trying to compete in a weak division (with the caveat that yes, if you get in the playoffs, anything can happen). To me, that says trading Myers is a mistake.
The bottom line from this exercise is: if the Royals want a true ace, they will have to develop one. Teams that have a pitcher like that already are going to be extremely hesitant to trade them for a position player, unless they are absolutely desperate for a bat. So while it is at least possible for the Royals to pry David Price away from Tampa Bay, or something similar, it is highly unlikely. And yes, I wish I had had this information available before I wrote this. In the meantime, if the Royals truly want to compete, they are likely going to have to spend on pitching and hope for the best.