Monday, December 24, 2012

Myers, Moral Hazard, and Moving On.

If you were waiting for my actual analysis of the Myers/Shields trade, I wrote this for Grantland just hours after the deal was consummated. Perhaps it would have been better if I had not written angry. I was not kind to the Royals.

The week after the trade was probably the most difficult week I’ve ever had as a Royals fan. It was a kind of psychic torment that I had never experienced before; I literally had trouble falling asleep at night. (Yeah, yeah, it’s just baseball. I’m aware of how whiny and self-indulgent that sounds.) But here’s the thing: my angst had nothing to do with the trade itself, at least not directly. It actually took me a while to figure out exactly why I felt the way I did.

In my Grantland column, I wrote about moral hazard, about the danger that lurks when a person in a position of influence finds that their own self-interest diverges from the interest of the organization they work for. If you believe that another disappointing season in 2013 was going to get people fired – and all the evidence points that way – then you have to believe that Dayton Moore found himself in a position of moral hazard.

And let me be clear here: it’s not his fault that he’s in a position of moral hazard. Most of us, were we in his position, would also place a higher priority on winning a few more games in 2013 than on potentially winning a lot more games in 2015. It’s been reported that David Glass made it clear to his front office that they either win more games next season or else – so the only rational decision for a GM to make in that situation is to place a higher priority on winning in the short term than in the long term. Almost every GM faces some level on moral hazard on the job – though it’s telling that Andrew Friedman, thanks to his success on the job and an owner who fully buys in to the Rays’ methods, is one of the few who does not.

And to be even more clear: while I think this trade hurts the Royals in the long term more than it helps in the short term, this is not a case of a GM completely sabotaging a franchise in a pointless attempt to save his job. We’ve seen that before. It was barely five years ago that Dave Littlefield, who after six years as general manager of the Pirates had moved the team no closer to respectability than when he took the job in 2001, traded for Matt Morris. Everyone in the industry knew that the Giants were desperate to dump Morris, who had nothing left (he had struck out just 73 batters in 137 innings), and was getting paid about $10 million in both 2007 and 2008. The expectation was that they would have had to – and were willing to – eat at least half his contract.

But minutes before the trading deadline, Littlefield traded for Morris – and picked up his entire contract. At the time, the Pirates were 42-62 and in last place, and of course they had a restricted payroll owing to the fact that they were the Pirates. No team in baseball had less need than the Pirates did for a vastly overpriced, aging, slightly above replacement-level starter. Littlefield even gave the Giants two players, one of them Rajai Davis, for the privilege of trying to pull the fork out of Morris’ arm. Morris had a 6.10 ERA in 11 starts for Pittsburgh in 2007. In 2008, he made five starts, gave up 31 runs in 22 innings, and was released, ending his major league career.

Morris outlasted Littlefield in Pittsburgh; Littlefield was fired less than six weeks after the trade. In a just world he would have been fired on the spot, but presumably it took ownership some time to appreciate the enormity of what he had done.

Dayton Moore made, in my opinion, a bad trade. I think he hurt his team’s chances of winning in the long term for a modest short-term gain. But he did not make a transaction whose sole purpose seemed to be to save his job, the way Littlefield did. There’s no comparison between the two.

But anyway, I was thinking about the implications of moral hazard when I finally realized what was the source of my disquieting feeling: I was in a position of moral hazard as well.

Having gone on record with my feelings about the trade, my self-interest as a baseball analyst is completely, utterly in conflict with my self-interest as a Royals fan. The outcome that will make me happiest as a fan is the same outcome that will make me look like a complete schmuck. A bitter schmuck at that.

And to be clear, most of the Kansas City media is already doing their best to make me look like one. The radio stations in town lined up to smack me around like I’m the hysterical chick in “Airplane”. No one likes the turd in the punchbowl, and in being the local media guy who was most vehemently against the trade, I am the turd in the punchbowl.

Here’s the thing: I hope they’re right. I don’t want to be the turd in the punchbowl. I hope that, years from now, my analysis of this trade will be one of the most embarrassing mistakes I’ve ever made. I have, without exaggeration, never wanted to be wrong about a baseball transaction more than this one.

I have disparaged moves the Royals have made before, and in most cases I’d rather be proven right than to see the Royals win a few more games because I was wrong, not because I didn’t want them to win, but because a few more wins didn’t mean a whole heck of a lot in the grand scheme of things. If I had been wrong about Mike Jacobs and he had hit 32 home runs in 2009, like he had for the Marlins in 2008, what would it have mattered? The Royals might have won 68 games instead of 65?

I wasn’t wrong about Jacobs, of course. You could argue that I was sorta wrong about Yuniesky Betancourt in 2010, although I would argue right back, given that his defense was so atrocious that Baseball-Reference rates him as a full 1.3 wins below replacement level that year. (I definitely wasn’t wrong about Yuni in 2009, and I definitely wasn’t wrong about Yuni in 2012.)

But even if he had done his best Troy Tulowitzki impression in 2010, the Royals would have won, what, 73 games? Whoop-de-do. Given the stakes, there was no upside in being wrong. I could only hope that I was right, that the outcome proved that the process (as opposed to The Process) the Royals had used to make their decision was wrong, and that they would learn from it for the future.

But this time, if I’m wrong, then – by definition – it means playoffs. Because – barring something wacky happening with Wade Davis down the line – the only way this trade works out for the Royals is if they make the playoffs in one of the next two years. That’s what Dayton Moore is betting on here, and I respect the gamble he’s made even if I think he made a terrible one.

I only resolved the crisis in my mind when I decided that, once again, I’m a fan first and an analyst second. I don’t know how much longer I can continue to write about baseball, frankly, not with a growing family and medical practice and everything that goes with them. But I can be a fan for life.

And if I’m wrong, well, I’m used to making mistakes as an analyst; it’s the nature of the job. (Just limiting myself to times I condemned a Missouri team for a trade, it hasn’t even been 18 months since I thought the Cardinals were lunatics to trade Colby Rasmus for, basically, two months of Edwin Jackson and a couple of middle relievers. Oops.) But I’m not used to the Royals playing games on national TV in October. I literally have no memory of them ever doing so.

And if I'm wrong, that doesn't completely invalidate the process of what I do, any more than Mitt Romney winning the election would have completely invalidated Nate Silver's work. We deal in probabilities, not certainties, and Silver gave Romney about a 9% chance of winning on the eve of the election. The Royals have far more than a 9% chance of winning this trade. I just think it's far less than 50%, and I think they are vastly more likely to lose big than they are to win big.

So I’ve cast my decision. If I’m wrong, I fully expect and welcome those of you who disagree with me now to rub it in my face. (After all, I’m sure I’ll do the same in reverse if I’m right.) Just know that if I’m wrong, no one will be happier to bear those criticisms and eat some crow as I will be.

I’ll even write these words right now, in the hopes that I can cut-and-paste them in ten months and say them with conviction:

“Dear Dayton Moore: I was wrong. You were right. You made the biggest gamble of your career last December, and I savaged you at the time, and it turns out your decision was brilliant. I was a fool. Please forgive me.

- Rany Jazayerli.

P.S. In case anyone ever asks, your ass tastes minty.”

Mind you, it will be hard to argue convincingly that the Royals won this trade ten months from now, because the talent they gave up will take years to identify itself one way or the other. (On the other hand, if James Shields tears something in his elbow in spring training, we could pronounce a verdict in the other direction much sooner.) But Craig Calcaterra made a lot of sense when he wrote that, essentially, whether this trades works out for the Royals depends almost entirely on whether it takes them to the Promised Land. Even if Myers turns into a superstar, if the Royals can lay claim to one playoff spot that they wouldn’t have otherwise earned, it will be justifiable. They wouldn’t necessarily win the trade, but they could not be said to have lost it.

So I won’t bother trying. If the Royals make the playoffs in 2013, no one is going to want to hear me make the case against the trade anyway.


Me: Yeah, well, the Royals still shouldn’t have traded for him.

You: What the hell are you talking about? He threw 216 innings, won 17 games, was the unquestioned leader of the staff, and we won the division!

Me: Yeah, but Wil Myers hit .272/.346/.462 for the Rays, and Jeff Francoeur was so bad that the Royals had to swing a trade in June for David Dejesus to play right field. If the Royals kept Myers they would have won nearly as many games as they did with Shields.

You: That’s crazy talk! And what about Wade Davis, huh? He transitioned back to the rotation, gave the Royals 185 quality innings with an ERA of 4.40. Do they make the playoffs without him? They only won the division by three games!

Me: Well, Jake Odorizzi came up for the Rays in August and had a 4.40 ERA in twelve starts, so I’m not sure Davis was that much of an upgrade.

You: Sure he was! He gave the Royals quality innings when they needed them the first half of the season, while guys like Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino were still on the DL. Are you honestly saying you think the Royals would have won the division without Shields and Davis?

Me: No, I’m saying that if instead of trading for Shields and Davis, they had signed Shaun Marcum, who made 26 starts with an ERA just 15 points higher than Shields, or if they had signed Edwin Jackson, who threw 208 innings with an ERA just 25 points higher than Shields, and they had Myers in right field instead of Francoeur, they would probably have won as many games as


So, yeah. The 2013 season will be a referendum on this trade; if the Royals go the playoffs, and Shields and/or Davis are a big part of that accomplishment, then everyone will be too busy reveling in what happened to reflect on the long-term implications of the deal. Myself included.

But come 2015, it’s going to hurt. I had this dream, a dream I’m sure many of you shared, that in two years the Royals would go into the season with this projected lineup:

Alex Gordon, in the last guaranteed year of his contract, still just 31, aging as well as you would expect from the fitness freak.
Billy Butler, also in his contract year, 29 years old.
Eric Hosmer, who would play the entire season at 25.
Mike Moustakas, who would be 26 years old, turn 27 late in the season.
Salvador Perez, who would turn 25 in May.
Alcides Escobar, who would be 28.
And yes, Wil Myers, the youngest of the bunch, at 24 years old.

Ignore Escobar, who’s on that list because of his glove. The other six hitters on that list would all be capable of garnering MVP votes, and they would all be right in their prime – except for Gordon, the others would all be between 24 and 29 years old.

Mind you, we wouldn’t even need to wait until 2015 to see that lineup – we would have probably seen it this coming May. But in 2013, you could argue that the lineup was just too inexperienced to take flight – Myers, Perez, Moustakas, and Hosmer will  all be 24 or younger. By 2015, they would be approaching the peak of their powers, and Gordon and Butler would still be close to theirs.

In center field, the Royals might have Lorenzo Cain (29 years old), or they might even have Bubba Starling (22 years old) ready by mid-season. Come up with a second baseman that doesn’t totally suck, and that might be the best offense in team history. Oh, and they’d still have everyone in their current bullpen. All they would need is a rotation that’s even mediocre, and they’d be giving off a distinct mid-1990s Cleveland Indians vibe.

Instead, in 2015 they won’t have Myers, and they won’t have Shields either. Maybe this trade moves up the Royals’ timetable a little. But taking Myers out of the equation puts a serious hurt on my dream of an AL Central dynasty. I got greedy; sue me. (It doesn’t help that Sports Illustrated decided to troll Royals fans by publishing this in their current issue.)

It’s time for me to put this trade behind me, and focus on where the Royals stand today. I’m fond of using Shakespeare’s line about how “What’s past is prologue”; as a Royals fan, if you always focused on what’s past, you’d drive yourself crazy. Instead of dwelling on how we got here, better to focus on where we are, and where we’re headed. The fact that Wil Myers was once a Royal no longer matters. What matters is whether a rotation headlined by James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, and Wade Davis – and a lineup that now features Jeff Francoeur, for good or ill – is good enough to reach the playoffs.

So I’m going to – calmly, I hope – distill my criticisms of the trade one last time, and then I’m done. If things go sour later, believe me, you will hear from me – but I’ll at least wait for that to happen before reopening the wound. And I hope the only times I discuss my criticism of the trade in the future are when I laugh at myself for being so stupid as to lose my head over the very move that ended a quarter-century of suffering.

My objections to the trade boil down to the fact that he people who support the trade from the Royals’ perspective are, I believe, making four mistakes:

1) They highlight the risks inherent in Wil Myers because he’s a prospect, but ignore the risks inherent in James Shields because he’s a pitcher.

I thought David Cameron did an excellent job of expanding on this point. It is, in fact, true that Wil Myers is not a sure thing. He could be a disappointment, or a flat-out bust. He could be Delmon Young. He could be Brandon Wood. While my quick-and-dirty look at previous Baseball America Minor League Players of the Year pointed out that 12 of the last 14 hitters so named went on to become excellent major-leaguers*, given the small sample size that may overstate his success rate a little.

*: On 810 WHB, I shorthanded that to say “12 of the 14 hitters went on to become stars”, which led to extensive analysis from my friends on The Program on whether guys like Alex Gordon and Matt Wieters are “stars”. I’d argue that this is a discussion over semantics that is missing the bigger point, but to be clear: yes, they are stars in my book.

Gordon ranked in the top 10 in the AL in bWAR each of the last two years – yes, even in 2012, thanks to his Gold Glove defense, his league-leading 51 doubles, and his .368 OBP. It took him a while, but he’s become a fantastic ballplayer. Wieters is a little more debatable, because he hasn’t met the (admittedly insane) offensive expectations that were placed on him. He’s a slightly above-average hitter – who has also won back-to-back Gold Gloves behind the plate. He’s also very durable; he’s been first or second in the AL in starts behind the plate for three years running. He was named an All-Star each of the last two years. Baseball-Reference says he’s averaged 4 WAR over the last two years, which is right about where I draw the line for “star”.

But again: we’re missing the point. Whether Wieters is just beyond that line, or just in front of it, I hope we can all agree that he’s a hell of a ballplayer that most every team would be thrilled to call their own.

Two years ago, Scott McKinney tried to restrain our irrational exuberance over the Royals’ farm system by looking at the success rates of top prospects, and found that the success rate of Top 100 Prospects as a whole was quite low (about 31% overall). But even he found that the success rate of a specific subset of prospects – Top 20 hitting prospects – was 61%, about double that. Given that prospect analysis has improved over time (in my opinion), and that Myers is clearly a Top 10 prospect if not Top 5, and it’s safe to say his success rate is probably a little higher than that.

But yes, he absolutely could fail to live up to expectations in the future. But you know what? So could James Shields. So could every player in the major leagues. There is no such thing as a sure thing. This notion that “sure Myers is a great prospect, but he hasn’t proven a thing in the majors – Shields has” is inexplicable to me. You don’t trade for a guy’s past – you trade for his future. And one of the best things that analytics has brought to baseball – and that analytic-driven teams excel at – is the understanding that every player has risk, and the key is quantifying it and valuing players accordingly.

For every Delmon Young, there’s a Dan Haren, who a year ago was the same age Shields was this season (30), and a better pitcher – from 2007 through 2011 he averaged 228 innings and a 3.33 ERA. In 2012 he suffered back and hip ailments, his performance suffered, and the Angels didn’t even pick up his $12 million option for next year (granted, I thought they were fools to do so, and the Nationals actually paid him more than $12 million on a one-year deal).

For every Brandon Wood, there’s a Jon Garland, who was 30 years old in 2010, and threw 200 innings with a 3.47 ERA for the Padres; it was his ninth straight year with 32 starts. He made all of nine starts in 2011 before undergoing surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff – he hasn’t pitched since.

Jon Garland was no James Shields, you say. Fine – how about Chris Carpenter? At age 30, in 2005, Carpenter won the NL Cy Young Award. In 2006 he repeated with another excellent season, finishing third in the Cy Young race. After that season he signed a five-year, $63.5 million extension with the Cardinals, even though he wasn’t a free agent for another year. He made one start in 2007 before his elbow came up lame, he required Tommy John surgery, his rehab was slowed by some shoulder issues, and he pitched just 15 innings in 2008 – two completely lost seasons, basically. He was brilliant again from 2009 on – but if Shields blows out his elbow in April, it doesn’t matter what he does in 2015, because he’ll be gone by then.

The Royals traded for Shields because over the past two seasons he has averaged 238 innings with a 3.15 ERA. If you could guarantee me right now that Shields will average 238 innings with a 3.15 ERA over the next two years, I would withdraw my objections to the trade. If you could guarantee me 210 innings with a 3.40 ERA, I would withdraw my objections. But you can’t. Shields is a 31-year-old starting pitcher, and 31-year-old starting pitchers, as a group, are no less risky than 22-year-old outfielders. Even ones who haven’t yet played in the major leagues yet.

Hedging that risk a little is the chance that Wade Davis might be an improved pitcher in his second crack at being a starting pitcher. But in return, the Royals also accepted the risk that any of three other prospects might come back to haunt them. The risk that Myers fails is probably not much higher than the risk that Odorizzi, Montgomery, or Leonard succeeds in becoming an impact player in the major leagues.

2) They overstate how much the trade improves the Royals in 2013.

This trade was all about moving up the Royals’ window of contention, yes? This trade was about winning in 2013, right? And in terms of upgrading the Royals’ rotation, it certainly does that. But the Royals give back a good deal of that improvement by locking themselves in to Jeff Francoeur in right field.

I don’t expect Francoeur to hit .235/.287/.378 again, and if he does, I don’t expect him to come to the plate 603 times again. Bob Dutton – who has nobly suffered shots at the messenger for repeatedly stating things like “the Royals absolutely plan to bring Luke Hochevar back”, has nonetheless clearly stated that Francoeur is on a quick hook in 2013. I believe that, and I believe that the Royals are perfectly aware of just how bad he was this season (at least offensively – they may still believe his arm outweighs his poor range in the field).

Royals right fielders as a whole hit .241/.290/.377 in 2012, counting the occasional non-Francoeur start. That will probably be better in 2013, either owing to improvement from Francoeur, or because they’ll search out a replacement in May if he doesn’t. But it might not be a lot better. The difference in what we can expect from right field today, and what we could expect from right field three weeks ago, is probably worth 1-2 wins in the standings.

The Royals are still a better team for 2013 than they were before the trade. But they’re not improved enough to justify trading a potential star player. Especially given my next point:

3) They overlook the fact that the Royals could have improved their rotation without making this trade.

One of the lesser storylines from this trade is that after whipsawing back and forth all off-season, we can once again re-direct our ire away from David Glass. The payroll isn’t at $85 million, as I think it should be, but it’s somewhere around $79 million, close enough that I’m not going to harp too much on the owner at the moment. It’s the highest payroll in the team’s history.

So forgive me for reiterating the obvious yet again: given that Dayton Moore could raise the payroll to this range, he could have signed a free agent starting pitcher without giving up a single player (or even draft pick) in return. Anibal Sanchez, who was supposed to be out of range for the Royals, got $16 million a year from the Tigers. The Royals are paying $14.9 million for Shields and Luke Hochevar combined. Factor in that the Royals might go fishing for a cheap outfield option as Francoeur insurance – that they wouldn’t need if they kept Myers – and it’s basically a wash.

After getting outbid by the Tigers on Sanchez, the Cubs gave Edwin Jackson, long a target of mine, 4 years, and $52 million. Even if the Royals wanted to keep Hochevar, Jackson is making less in 2013 than Shields and Davis combined will make. Yeah, the Royals acquired two starting pitchers instead of one – but right now, they don’t have room for both Bruce Chen and Hochevar, meaning that Chen might wind up getting paid $4.5 million to pitch long relief. And if they don’t make this trade, they still have Odorizzi.

One of the most common defenses I’ve seen about the Royals is that they had to trade for good starting pitching, because no free agent worth his salt would ever come to Kansas City unless they vastly overpaid. To which I reply: THE CHICAGO CUBS LOST ONE HUNDRED AND ONE GAMES LAST YEAR. They thought they had Anibal Sanchez signed, until he let the Tigers get last crack at him – but in the end, he didn’t sign with the Tigers because they’re a winner, but because they offered him the most money. The Cubs offered him 5/$75 million; the Tigers matched. The Cubs then offered him 5/$77.5; Detroit raised to 5/$80, and the Cubs folded.

They then turned around and made Edwin Jackson a better offer than the other 29 teams, and guess what? He signed with the team that gave him the most money. Imagine that.

It’s certainly true that, all things equal, free agents would prefer to sign with a team who they feel has made a commitment to being a winner. But you know the best way a team can show that commitment to a free agent? By offering him more money to sign than anyone else.

If the Royals would have had a tough time convincing a free agent that they were serious about winning next year, that time would have been in November, before they had made any off-season moves. You might remember that I was, on the whole, positive about the Ervin Santana trade and the Jeremy Guthrie signing, even though both pitchers were probably overpaid a little on a pure market basis. One of the main reasons for my positivity was that, in acquiring those pitchers early in the off-season, it ought to have made it easier to convince a truly premier free agent pitcher to sign, knowing that the Royals had already made over their starting rotation, and that his signing would have completed, not begun, that process.

It’s not exactly a secret in the industry that the Royals have a young, exciting offense and a bullpen filled with flamethrowers. It wouldn’t have been hard to convince a Sanchez or a Jackson that signing with Kansas City would complete an above-average rotation, and an above-average roster, in a very winnable division. The downside to signing someone like Jackson is that, the longer the contract, the more risk there is that he gets hurt or loses effectiveness, and you’re paying $13 million for a useless pitcher. But even in the worst-case scenario, the fact that you’re overpaying a starting pitcher is mitigated by the fact that your above-average right fielder – the one you didn’t trade to acquire a starting pitcher – is vastly underpaid.

But let’s say that the Royals already knew that Sanchez and Jackson had, for whatever reason, crossed Kansas City off their list. So what? There are plenty of fish in the sea. Brandon McCarthy just signed with the Diamondbacks for 2 years and $15.5 million. His ERA the last two years (3.29) is almost as good as Shields’ is. Sure, he’s not durable at all, but he’s 60% of the price and he doesn’t cost you Wil Myers! (Besides, you really just need him to hold up until July, when Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino return.)

Don’t like McCarthy? Shaun Marcum is still out there. Ryan Dempster settled for 2 years and $26.5 million from the Red Sox, just a hair more than the Royals reportedly offered him. Dan Haren was out there. Francisco Liriano was out there. Kyle Lohse is still out there, not that I think he’s worth the money. Carlos Villanueva would have been a decent fit, and he signed with the Cubs, who are putting on a clinic on how to makeover your rotation through free agency without overpaying.

Are the Royals a better team in 2013 with James Shields and Wade Davis? Yes. Are they a better team with Shields and Davis but without Myers and Odorizzi? Yes, but not as much. But are they a better team with Shields and Davis but without Myers, Odorizzi, and the starting pitcher they could have signed with the money they’ve added to the payroll? Honestly, I’m not sure.

And that’s the tragedy in all this. If the Royals had not been so fixated on the idea of adding an “ace”, they might have realized that adding a #2/3 starter and replacing their broken right fielder would have improved their team in 2013 as much as acquiring the fabled Division Series Game One Starter. Jonah Keri wrote about this angle – the Royals trade was, ultimately, a failure to think outside the box, because the Royals could only see their options in terms of “acquire an ace” or “lose again in 2013”.

Which leads to my last point:

4) They assume that this trade makes the Royals a contender in 2013.

If the Royals make the playoffs in 2013 – assuming they do so because of, not despite, Shields and Davis – then the ultimate price may be worth it. So the value of making this trade comes down to how much it increases the Royals’ chances of winning the division. (They could earn a Wild Card spot, but the addition of the woeful Astros to the AL West gives that division a leg up on at least one, if not both, of those berths.)

In my opinion, this trade doesn’t improve the Royals’ chances enough to justify the deal. If the goal was simply to have a winning record, then this trade increases those odds significantly. But I’m sorry, I know how starved we are as Royals fans for a team that’s even respectable, but you don’t trade Wil Myers so that you can win 82 games in 2013.

Most simulations have the Royals as around an 85-win team now; this one has the Royals at 84-78. I’m predicting the Royals at 86-76 at the moment, because I’m still an optimist. And I don’t want to downplay the significance of that. The Royals haven’t outscored their opponents since 1994. They haven’t won 85 games since 1989.

But you don’t trade one of the game’s best prospects to get to 85 wins. That simulation above had the Tigers at 91-71, and that’s before Anibal Sanchez signed. There’s a lot of variance in projections, of course, and even if the Royals’ true talent level is pegged, sometimes you just get lucky. If the Royals play as much above their talent level in 2013 as the Orioles did in 2012, they’ll win the division – but if they get that lucky, they would have won the division with or without the Shields trade.

The Royals have a shot of winning the division in 2013, because their offense is so young and talented that it could improve dramatically in one off-season. Eric Hosmer, who was terrible in 2012, could be an All-Star caliber first baseman in 2013. Mike Moustakas could learn to stop popping up that inside high fastball and his offense could take as dramatic a step forward next year as his glove did this year. Salvador Perez could stay healthy and play 140 games. If all three of those things happen, the Royals will be 10 games better instantly, and now they're a contender.

But if you agree with me that the Royals' wealth of young hitters gives them a chance to improve dramatically, then you have to agree that letting Wil Myers play right field might also have improved them dramatically. You can't claim Hosmer and Moustakas and Perez are the biggest reasons why the Royals could go from 72 wins to the playoffs, without acknowledging that Myers was another big reason as well. Either you believe in young hitters or you don't. If the Royals were smart to trade Myers because he's not likely to pan out, then they were wrong for trading him because the young hitters they kept probably won't pan out either and they'll miss the playoffs anyway.

I’d say the Royals have about a 25% chance of winning the AL Central right now. Before the trade, I’d have pegged their chances at around 15%. (But mind you, that’s without signing any free agent pitchers with the Shields money.) You don’t trade Wil Myers for an extra 10% chance of winning the division.

Contrast that to the Blue Jays trading for R.A. Dickey. I will admit – the Blue Jays gave up a ton of talent for Dickey, more than I thought it would take, and reinforces the opinion that elite starting pitching is very, very expensive. But let’s look at the differences in the two trades:

1) Travis D’Arnaud is an excellent prospect, but he’s not quite as excellent as Wil Myers. He’s nearly two years older than Myers, and he missed half of last season with knee problems, and his numbers in 2012 were inflated by playing in a terrific hitters’ environment in Las Vegas.

2) Noah Syndergaard looks like a better prospect than Jake Odorizzi, and certainly has a higher upside. But this is where the historical performance of prospects – pitching prospects – is useful. The reality is that the vast majority of pitchers who look like potential front-of-the-rotation guys when they’re in A-ball fall by the wayside. Trading an A-ball stud while he’s at the peak of his value is almost always the smart play. When the Top Prospects lists come out, I expect Syndergaard and Odorizzi to be very close in the rankings.

3) Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard, combined, are worth more than Wuilmer Becerra, and not just because I know how to pronounce their names.

4) The Blue Jays turned John Buck into Josh Thole, a not-insignificant upgrade behind the plate, both in terms of cost and performance.

5) Dickey, as I wrote about here, and again at Grantland last week, is a legitimate #1 starter who suffers from the bias against knuckleball pitchers. He was a better pitcher than Shields this past season. He’s been a better pitcher than Shields over the past two seasons. He’s been better over the past three seasons. Before that Shields was better, but Dickey hadn’t mastered the knuckleball yet. And despite his age, I think Dickey’s going to be the better pitcher for the next several years to come.

6) One of the reasons the Blue Jays were willing to give up so much for Dickey was that he was willing to sign an extension – an extension, it turned out, that included a club option. So while the Royals have Shields for just two years, the Jays have Dickey for four.

7) Dickey makes less money ($5 million) in 2013 than Shields ($10.25 million). He’ll make less ($12 million) in 2014 than Shields ($13 million). And he’s signed for 2015 for $12 million with another $12 million option in 2016. The Blue Jays have the reigning NL Cy Young winner for four years without ever having to pay him more than $12 million.

The Royals’ one advantage in the deal is that they also got Wade Davis. If Davis becomes an above-average starter, that’s a big advantage. If he has to return to the bullpen and be Aaron Crow, not so much.

But the biggest reason why the Jays’ trade makes sense and the Royals’ trade doesn’t has nothing to do with trading for Dickey. It’s everything the Blue Jays had already done this off-season. Their acquisition of Dickey was set up by signing Melky Cabrera, and Maicer Izturis, and above all, by acquiring Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins.

The Blue Jays and Royals had virtually identical records in 2012; Toronto won one more game than Kansas City, and had a run differential two runs better. But before acquiring Dickey, they had already improved their roster by at least 10 wins – easily the most of any team in baseball. Adding Dickey tips them into being a legitimate 90-win team; adding Shields and Davis did nothing of the sort for the Royals.

It’s still December, and a lot can change, and the pundits can be wrong. But most pundits agree that the Blue Jays are the favorites to win the AL East in 2013.

Those same pundits agree that the Tigers are the team to beat in the AL Central. In order for the Royals to prove the pundits wrong on the Myers trade, they need to prove them wrong on the AL Central standings next year.

They certainly could do that. But I don’t think they will; I’m one of those pundits, after all. And I’m hardly the only one. I’ve heard the divide between people who think the Royals did well in the trade and the people who think the Royals got snookered being described as a divide between mainstream media and “bloggers”, whatever a “blogger” is at this point. (The word should be retired at this point. It is useless at best, and misleading at worst.)

But that’s not the case. The divide is simply between industry insiders and outside, objective, dare I say sabermetric analysts. Keith Law was so critical of the Royals that Bob Nightengale at USA TODAY contacted Dayton Moore and got a testy reply. Joe Sheehan, in his Newsletter, compared Moore to the newbie in your fantasy league that gets his roster picked apart by the experienced players. Rob Neyer debated whether this trade ranks among the worst in Royals history. Jonah Keri criticized the deal, but nicely, because he’s Canadian. Joe Posnanski criticized the deal, but nicely, because he’s Joe Posnanski.

The most positive remarks I saw from analysts were those who praised the Royals for recognizing the time had come to switch from simply amassing future talent to trying to win in the here and now. But even those analysts were much less optimistic about the details of the trade itself. John Sickels made a cool Civil War reference which I liked, and he’s right – you can’t be George McClellan all the time. At some point, you have to stop preparing for battle and actually engage the enemy. But even when the time for battle has come, discretion is still the better part of valor. I mean, Pickett’s Charge was bold and decisive. It was also reckless and foolish, and man, it sure was decisive.

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Ben Lindbergh made a really interesting comparison of this trade to another one – to the time that the Rays traded away the star young outfielder, Delmon Young, in order to improve their pitching by adding a starter (Matt Garza) and upgrading their defense (Jason Bartlett). He quoted a writer who said, the day after the trade was made, that:

“With this deal, the Rays have shifted from collecting talent to forming it into a baseball team, and this trade shows how seriously they take the process. Trading a player with the perceived value of Young is never easy, but with it they’ve leveraged a gap between that perceived value and what he actually is to make their team better.”

That’s exactly how the Delmon Young trade worked out, and it set the Rays on a path towards an AL pennant and three playoff appearances in five years. The problem is this: the person who wrote those words, Joe Sheehan, is the same person who keeps texting me at random times just to remind me how stupid this trade was for Kansas City. (Seriously, stop it, Joe. I get it.)

And that’s it. I’ve said my piece. What’s past is prologue. This trade is done, it’s over, it’s a fait accompli. (Or as distinguished reader Gershon Marx put it, a fail accompli.) I will speak no more ill of this trade until the season begins and we have a chance to see how it works out. In my next column, in fact, I’ll talk about the things I do like about this trade, because that’s just who I am.

And I really, truly, honestly hope that, come next October, I’m eating crow and singing Dayton Moore’s praises and asking myself how I could have possibly been so critical and mean about a trade that has worked out so well. Honestly.

I’d love to be proven wrong. I just don’t think I will. But maybe this is the time the Royals surprise me. In a good way, I mean.