As the White Sox sit in their foxhole, the Royals make their move


The White Sox are leveraging themselves for something.

That’s the exciting interpretation of the Jeff Keppinger signing; the White Sox are not simply giving one of the best utility infielders in the game a merit-based promotion to full-time 3rd basemen, they’re removing 3rd base as an area of desperate need going forward in negotiation.

The Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo trade rumors support such a notion, as the Sox dealing from their short supply of young, cheap positional starters suggests a major shakeup.

A shakeup of what kind is not known yet, as Rick Hahn & Co. have yet to reveal whether they are going for it in 2013, or simply treading water, holding off on razing the farm system, and hoping things break right for a competitive year again.

But while the White Sox were nestled in their foxhole, going through their 15th and 16th equipment check, the Royals unexpectedly staggered out of theirs, with their guns blazing and a lit cigarette on their lips. On Sunday night, they traded OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery, and 3B Patrick Leonard to Tampa for RHP James Shields and RHP Wade Davis.

In other words, they traded someone who was possibly the best prospect in baseball, and their top two pitching prospects for James Shields and Wade Davis. Or in another completely different set of words, they scrapped notions of waiting for a 2015 team loaded with all of the graduates of “The Best Farm System Ever” for a drive to compete in the next two years–as that is how long they have Shields under contract.

The 2015 dream is airy, and full of great potential, but also as frustratingly in the distance as every other promise of competitiveness the Royals franchise and their fanbase has been resigned to. It’s not a surprise that the Royals decided to cash out and see what they can accomplish for once, but a move as declarative as this puts a lot of scrutiny and pressure on the hand they’re playing. And man, there have been some better hands.

Obviously, the Royals need for starting pitching is severe. Tommy John surgeries for Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino brought them down to the point of relying on Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, and Luke Hochevar, along with throwing money at Jeremy Guthrie and trading for Earvin Santana. James Shields–a hyper-durable and reliable #2 starter who will excel in Kaufmann’s roomy confines, and Wade Davis–a mediocre starter who was shuffled off to the bullpen with Tampa’s loaded pitching staff–with both slide in nicely into the Kansas City rotation.

However, this is far from the only wound in need of gauze. Out of AL Central teams, only Cleveland scored fewer runs than the 2012 Royals. For a context-added stat, that takes into account their spacious ballpark, the Royals finished dead-last in the division in wRC+. Mike Moustakas underperformed, Eric Hosmer had an awful sophomore slump, and Jeff Francouer was one of the worst players in baseball. The Royals were right to stay the course with Moustakas and Hosmer, but this is more than staying the course, this is doubling down on them recovering and powering the middle of the order. And they traded Francouer’s replacement for good measure.

James Shields is a very good pitcher, someone a franchise can be proud–or simply no longer ashamed–to trot out on Opening Day, and is close to a lock to provide a 200+ quality innings. His presence, and Wade Davis being mediocre where Hochevar was once terrible, will lift the Royals starting pitching up from being the worst in baseball, but will not be enough to turn it into an asset. Not with the middle of the rotation reliant on Tommy John recoveries, Chen, and Santana coming back from a year as one of the worst starters in baseball.

There is still depth in the Royals system, it’s not as if it’s now or never for them being a competitive team, although it might feel that way for some.

But they made a decision that Kenny Williams might have made during one of his more frustrating moments–they spurned a shot at a stronger team in the future for a puncher’s chance in the here and now.

It’s hard to relate this to the Sox, because it’s been a while since they have even had a future worth ruining. Directly, the menace of a Kansas City monster on the horizon has been blunted, and the immediate version is not scary enough to change any plans. More existentially, if the pressure on the Royals executives in small-market, perpetually-losing Kansas City is too hot for The Process of rearing prospects to live out its length, then it’s a lot easier to understand why the White Sox have lived the last decade the way they have.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan