Winners and Losers: My 2016 Year End Awards

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November is a great month to be a baseball fan; there is the afterglow of the World Series, Hot Stove season gears up and we all get to take a glance back and venture back into just how great this past baseball season has been. This of course means that the award winners are announced by not only the BBWAA, but by a group I am proud to be a member of, the IBWAA. Being a member allows me to vote on the year-end awards and for the third straight year, have done just that. If you want to check out my past ballots, here they are: 2014 and 2015. It is an honor for me to be allowed the opportunity to vote and I take it very seriously. With that said, here are my picks for this past 2016 season.

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American League MVP: Mike Trout

For the second consecutive year, my vote was for the best player in the game, Mike Trout. This actually has been a very heated debate over the last few months, as even back in August I was saying Trout should be given heavy consideration for this award. The sentimental pick is Jose Altuve and the ‘my team made the playoffs’ pick is Mookie Betts. I instead went with the ‘his numbers are ultimately better’ pick in Trout. All Trout did this year was lead the league in runs, walks, on-base percentage, OPS+, bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, runs created, adjusted batting runs, win probability added for an offensive player and RE24. Oh, he also got better this year, in case anyone didn’t notice. Trout walked more, struck out less, stole three times more bases this year than last, and hit for a higher average, while his other stats were on par with last year. The argument against Trout was…well, it was that his team sucked. But that is really not his fault and in fact you can say the Angels might have been way worse if it was not for Trout. His WPA sat at 6.5, which factors in how he helped his team change the outcome of the game. The next closest batter in the American League was Josh Donaldson…who was at 4.3 WPA, over 2 wins less than Trout. At some point, baseball should view Trout for what he is: the game’s best player no matter whether or not his team is losing. Considering the MVP award is an individual award, not a team one, I give the nod to the player who had the best season and that would be Trout…and it’s not really even close.

My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Mookie Better, 3-Jose Altuve

IBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

BBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

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National League MVP: Kris Bryant

In this space just last year, Kris Bryant was the easy choice for NL Rookie of the Year. Just one year later, he is my choice for NL MVP in just his second season in the big leagues. Bryant led the league in bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, and runs scored while finishing second in WPA/LI and third in five other categories. While finishing second in home runs and third in runs created is very nice, there was two very big numbers that swayed me to Bryant. For one, Bryant was third in RE24, which factors in runs added in a resulting play by either a batter or baserunner. Considering he was also fourth in both adjusted batting runs and adjusted batting wins, this would tell me that Bryant contributed greatly from both his bat and his baserunning. The other big factor for me was Bryant’s defense, or more precisely the factor of his value all over the field. While Bryant posted a dWAR this year of 0.8, what makes it even more impressive is just how many positions he would play and not hurt his defensive stats. Kris would start games at 3B, 1B, LF, RF in 2016, and would also make appearances for an inning at both CF and SS for a game. So here is a guy who would play all over the diamond this year, producing MVP offensive numbers and above average defensive numbers. While Daniel Murphy, Freddie Freeman and Corey Seager were all worthy candidates, only one player was an all-around choice for this award, and his name is Kris Bryant.

My Top 3: 1-Bryant, 2-Corey Seager, 3-Freddie Freeman

IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

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American League Cy Young Award: Chris Sale

This was easily the hardest category to make a decision on and I can honestly say I’m still not 100% comfortable with my pick. To me, there were positives and negatives to almost all of the candidates for this award and after digesting the numbers I felt like Chris Sale was the most deserving pitcher for this award. That being said, no one pitcher stood out of the bunch and that is why you are seeing such discourse when it comes to this award. Let’s start with my choice, Sale. He was tied for first in fWAR, first in complete games, 2nd in strike outs, 3rd in FIP, innings pitched, K/BB ratio, and WHIP and fourth in hits per 9 innings and walks per 9, all while facing the second most batters in the league. This is why this was such a hard pick: Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander also led in a number of categories and were on par with Sale’s performance this year. So what about Rick Porcello? He had a good year, but I had a hard time going with a guy who got the best run support in baseball (6.61) and much of his case was dictated on his win total. Zach Britton? I considered him for the award, but I had a few issues with his case (which we will go into later in this article) and even felt that Andrew Miller had a better season than he did. So I went with Sale, although if you told me that Kluber or Verlander were more deserving, I probably wouldn’t put up much of a fight. This was the year where no clear winner was defined.

My Top 3: 1-Sale, 2- Corey Kluber, 3-Justin Verlander

IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

BBWAA Winner: Rick Porcello

Clayton Kershaw

National League Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw

Remember how I wrote above how I had considered Zach Britton for the AL Cy Young? A lot of the Britton argument was based on ignoring his innings pitched and focus on how tremendous his numbers were in 2016. So if we are considering Britton,  then shouldn’t we have to look at Clayton Kershaw as a worthy candidate in the National League? I believe so and I will take it a step further by saying that Kershaw’s season was so spectacular that even with only 149 innings tossed, he was my pick for NL Cy Young. Follow me on this one, if you will: despite Kershaw’s low innings total, he was still 2nd in bWAR and first in fWAR, stats that are normally driven up as the season progresses. Read that again; in 33 less innings than Noah Syndergaard of the Mets (the fWAR runner-up), Kershaw accumulated more WAR than any other pitcher in the National League. If he had been qualified, Kershaw would have led the NL in ERA, WHIP, hits per 9, walks per 9, strikeouts to bases on balls ratio, ERA+,  and FIP…and if he had stayed on par with what he had done to that point it wouldn’t have even been close! Kershaw did lead the league in shutouts, WPA/LI, REW, and adjusted pitching wins, 3rd in complete games and win probability added and 2nd in adjusted pitching runs and RE24. All in just 149 innings.To put it another way, Kershaw was on course for an absolutely record-breaking season if it were not for being sidelined for a couple of months over the summer. To me, it was worth enough to win him the Cy Young. This wasn’t a knock on Kyle Hendricks, Max Scherzer, Syndergaard or Jon Lester. It was more that Kershaw was absolutely dominating when healthy…and it wasn’t even close. We really saw an absolutely amazing season from a probable future Hall of Famer in Clayton Kershaw.

My Top 3: 1-Kershaw, 2-Noah Syndergaard, 3-Jose Fernandez

IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

MLB: MAY 21 Rays at Tigers

American League Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer

There was a small debate late in the season for this award, as Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez made a late push, but in the end this was Michael Fulmer’s prize to win. Fulmer compiled a great rookie season in Detroit, racking up 159 innings over 26 starts, a 135 ERA+, 3.76 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.119. Fulmer also put together a 33.1 inning scoreless streak early in the season, that was put to bed on June 18 in Kansas City. Fulmer was a great addition to the Detroit rotation but late in the year he did receive some competition from Sanchez, who was able to piece together a 3.0 bWAR season in just 53 games. Fulmer was still able to beat him out with 4.9 bWAR and for the honor of being the best rookie in the American League. All this from a pitcher acquired the year before from the Mets for Yoenis Cespedes, a deal that could be paying off in Detroit for a long time.

My Top 3: 1-Fulmer, 2-Gary Sanchez, 3-Tyler Naquin

IBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

BBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

MLB: OCT 09 NLDS - Game 1 - Mets at Dodgers

National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

This was another slam dunk pick and one that many (like myself) predicted before the season began. Seager blew away the rookie competition this year and even forced himself into the NL MVP race this year. Seager led all National League rookies in fWAR, bWAR, RBI’s, runs, and was second in home runs and wRC+. Overall, he was 5th in bWAR and runs scored, 2nd in oWAR, 1oth in slugging percentage and runs created, 4th in total bases, 7th in doubles,  and 8th in RE24. The Dodgers struggled quite a bit offensively in 2016, but Seager was solid the entire year, never posting an on-base percentage below .311 in any month. Seager’s rookie season was almost record-breaking as well, as he had the 6th best rookie campaign according to fWAR this year, sitting at 7.5, and has the second best rookie season in the modern era (1988-today). So while Trea Turner, Trevor Story and Jon Gray had good to great first seasons, none were quite as good as the Dodgers starting shortstop.

My Top 3: 1-Seager, 2-Jon Gray, 3-Trea Turner

IBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

BBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

MLB: OCT 11 ALDS - Game 3 - Blue Jays at Rangers

American League Manager of the Year: Jeff Banister

Banister was last year’s pick in both the IBWAA and the BBWAA, and I had him a close second to Minnesota’s Paul Molitor. But this year, my pick went to Banister. The Texas Rangers dealt with a number of issues this past year,most notably when it came to injuries. The team lost portions of their rotation throughout the year, whether it was Yu Darvish, Derek Holland or Colby Lewis. Shin-Soo Choo was in and out of the lineup most of the year and Josh Hamilton never even got going. Throw in the ineffectiveness and injuries for Carlos Gomez and the career-ending neck injury to Prince Fielder and you have a team that could have been a mess. Instead, Banister led his team to the best record in the American League and found a number of working parts to fill any holes he had. While Terry Francona and Buck Showalter were both excellent choices, to me Jeff Banister overcame a ton of obstacles and did the best managing job in the American League this year.

My Top 3: 1-Banister, 2-Terry Francona, 3-Buck Showalter

IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

BBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

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National League Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts

Managing in the big leagues isn’t always an easy job. For a first-time manager, it can be twice as daunting. So while Dave Roberts walked into a solid roster when he inherited the Dodgers as manager, he also had his work cut out for him. Not only was he going to have to juggle a roster that was littered with veterans, but he also fell into a rotation that be dealt a number of injuries and the whole Yasiel Puig situation. There was also an offense that lingered in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories in 2016 but did manage to accumulate the 3rd highest fWAR in the NL. Oh, he also had to deal with losing the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, for about two months of the season. Throw in those struggles of a first year manager that we mentioned earlier and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Los Angeles didn’t even capture a playoff spot. Instead, Roberts steered his team to a division title and took them all the way to Game 6 of the NLCS before being ousted. To me, that wins you NL Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Roberts, 2-Dusty Baker, 3-Joe Maddon

IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

BBWAA Winner: Dave Roberts

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American League Reliever of the Year: Andrew Miller

Someone right now just said “He misspelled Zach Britton”. No, I didn’t. I know this will shock some, but despite Britton’s fantastic 2016, I viewed Andrew Miller’s season in a much brighter light. Let’s go ahead and break down some numbers to get a better view of where I am coming from. First, I won’t squabble over innings pitched. Miller only threw 7 more innings than Britton this year, which means very little. Miller led Britton in K/9 (14.89 to 9.94), BB/9 (1.09 to 2.42), LOB% (95.7 to 89.7), HR/FB ratio (20 to 7.1), FIP (1.68 to 1.94), xFIP (1.18 to 2.09) and possibly most importantly, fWAR (2.9 to 2.5). Yes, Britton had a better HR/9 ratio (0.13 to 0.97) and a much lower ERA (0.54 to 1.45) but to me that wasn’t enough to say Britton was better. Yes, despite Britton’s insane WPA (6.14 to Miller’s 4.79), it still felt to me that Miller was the better reliever this year. One final number tipped me to Miller’s side over Britton. In Britton’s 69 appearances, he pitched only 6 games of more than 1 inning and 11 games where he pitched less than 1 inning. In Miller’s 70 games, he threw 11 games of more than 1 inning and 8 games of less than 1 inning. It’s not a giant gap, but it does show Miller was used in longer stretches in the game than Britton, and it might have been even more if he had been pitching in Cleveland all year. For all the talk about Britton this year, there should have been a lot more talk about Andrew Miller’s 2016. For me, the choice is easy. Miller was the best reliever in the American League this past year.

My top 3: 1-Miller, 2-Zach Britton, 3-Dellin Betances

IBWAA Winner: Zach Britton

AP METS CUBS BASEBALL S BBN USA IL

National League Reliever of the Year: Jeurys Familia

This was another tough battle and while I thought Kenley Jansen had a great year, I felt like Familia’s was just slightly better. Jansen did beat Familia in a number of categories: K/9, BB/9, ERA, FIP, ERA+ and fWAR. All solid categories and I don’t discount any of them. Familia did pitch in about 7 more games, while throwing about 9 more innings. Familia also had a better HR/9 rate and it wasn’t even very close (0.12 to 0.52). Where I liked Familia a bit more was WPA, Win Probability Added. Familia had a WPA of 1.82 to Jansen’s 1.77 while his WPA+ was much higher than Jansen’s, 11.54 to 7.32. These numbers tell me that Familia seemed to pitch in more high leverage situations, which is a bit more valuable. The Clutch stat also leans a bit toward Familia, 0.27 to 0.95. So in the end I voted for Familia, although a vote for Jansen isn’t a bad one either. If I was being 100% honest, looking at everything right now, I might have changed my vote for Jansen if I could do it again. Either way, both had great seasons with Familia getting the very slight edge in this battle.

My Top 3: 1-Jeurys Familia, 2-Kenley Jansen, 3-Tyler Thornburg

IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen

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So there you go, my votes for this 2016 season. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but that is part of the fun of these picks. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2017 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

 

 

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Wherever Shields May Roam

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Now that Nori Aoki has planted himself in San Francisco for this upcoming season, that leaves only one major Kansas City free agent left on the market in James Shields. It’s a bit surprising that Shields hasn’t chosen where he will play in 2015, as it seemed he would sign once Jon Lester decided on his destination. Lester chose the Cubs over a month ago and Shields is still being courted by several teams. The question now is which teams are in on the Shields sweepstakes?

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Arizona mentioned earlier last week they would like Shields to mentor their young pitchers if he ended up in the desert. Late in the week we also found out that the Tigers have had discussions with his agent, which makes sense since Max Scherzer won’t likely be returning to Motown. San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, Texas and Miami have all shown interest at one point or another for Big Game James but have all but said they no longer are interested, at least for the price he wants. A close source told ESPN’s Jonah Keri this past week that the Marlins have “zero chance” of signing Shields, which last I checked was as low as you can go. There was also word that a team had offered him $110 million (I’m assuming over 5 years) but that he didn’t want to sign with that team.

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So where will he land? Honestly, I have no clue. If you asked me this question before the season I would have told you big market teams like Boston, New York or Chicago would seem to be the frontrunners but the fact that we are sitting here in late January and there seems to be no clear winner, well, that tells me that this could go on a bit longer. As more and more time goes on, I’m glad the Royals aren’t wrapped up in these negotiations. Shields is 33 and wants a 5 year deal. I might not have enough fingers but by my math that would make him 38(almost 39) by the end of this deal. Add in his bumpy postseason performance and the amount of innings his arm has logged over his career and it makes one wonder if his regression is just around the corner.

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As much as I was initially against the trade with Tampa Bay that brought him to Kansas City, I can sit here now and say I was wrong. The trade did what it was supposed to do, which was get the Royals to the postseason. Shields was a big part of that and his work with fellow moundsmen Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura speaks volumes about how his value exceeded any numbers he accumulated on a scorecard. But at this point in his career I would say good luck to any team that signs him. Maybe Detroit wouldn’t be that bad of a destination for Shields. But with the way this winter has gone he will end up in Atlanta with no logical explanation.

Come to Beautiful Kansas City. We Have Fountains.

Waterfalls and fountains at the Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri copy

It’s hard to remember, but years ago, the Kansas City Royals were a constant in the playoffs. Most of what they built on the field was through the farm system, but there were some shrewd moves made by the front office at the time as well as some key free agent signings.  The bottom line was players wanted to come to Kansas City. Now, unless you are wanting to resurrect your career, or if you are a chubby infielder with “soft hands”, it’s hard to get players to WANT to come play for the Royals. It’s been asked and debated; do the Royals have to overpay to bring talent to Kansas City?

melkyOnce Dayton Moore took over as General Manager of the Royals, the team moved to sign better players and would pay them extra to come to Kansas City. The problem was that Dayton was signing level B and sometimes C or D free agents and practically giving them the keys to the city. Gil Meche was the first of these signings and if it wasn’t for former Manager Trey Hillman misusing him, the team would have gotten their money’s worth of that deal. Since then we have been abused with the ultimate clubhouse cancer Jose Guillen and Jason “Rewind Yourself” Kendall. It is almost like Moore felt like players of that level was the best they could do. I guess that is part of the problem here. When you believe that, everyone else will believe that as well.

Kansas City Royals Photo DayNow, to be fair, some of Dayton’s signings have worked. Bruce Chen was picked up off the trash heap and up until 2012, seemed to be playing above himself. Chen was signed at a low cost, but high value with both his play on the field and his jokes in the clubhouse. Unfortunately, he was then given a two year contract that has seemed to be one of many albatrosses around the Royals financial neck. Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur were two former Atlanta Braves that seemed to be on the downside of their once promising careers. A move to Kansas City in 2011 seemed to be a godsend as both players played above their past performances and helped solidified both the lineup and the outfield. Francoeur would sign an extension that seemed questionable at the time and horrific in the present, while Melky would be traded to San Francisco, have the best first half of his career, win the All Star Game MVP, then get busted for PED use. These two signings worked wonders for 2011, but looked awful by May of this past year. The Royals are a team that should constantly be looking to rebuild players who just need a new environment, but need to be selective about these signings as well.

jacksonSo this leads us to this offseason, where everyone and their mother is aware that the Royals want(and desperately need) pitching. We’ve heard over and over that the Royals will have to overpay or give a player extra years to get them to come pitch in Kansas City, but is that true? I know some scoff at this, but I believe it is. The Royals have a really good nucleus of young talent, with Perez, Escobar, Moustakas and Hosmer added to lineup mainstays like Gordon and Butler. The thinking is that if the Royals could just get some pitching, this team could make a run at the playoffs. There have been a number of pitching talents on the free agent market this winter, and some have signed for very cheap money. Brandon McCarthy just signed a two year deal with Arizona for $15.5 million. The Royals easily could have afforded just under $8 million a year, especially considering that they will be paying Ervin Santana $12 million for in 2013. Edwin Jackson is still on the market as is Shawn Marcum. Both could garner a one or two year deal for right around that same amount of money. Instead, the Royals seem content shopping top prospect Wil Myers in a deal for a top starter. That is all fine and good if they are able to pull in a David Price or any other top of the rotation starter. But the names being floated around aren’t of that ilk. All we hear are the Shields’, Dickey’s and Lester’s of the world. All are fine pitchers and better than anything the Royals have now, but are they worth losing the next six years of Myers? Um, no.

Jeremy+Guthrie+Kansas+City+Royals+v+Boston+Boqgv2aeQVLlSo why aren’t these pitchers coming to Kansas City? Well, I do believe part of it is Dayton Moore hasn’t really pushed for them. Ryan Dempster’s name has been tossed around, and the team offered him more than the Red Sox have. But he also wanted a third year on the deal, while Kansas City has only been willing to go two. I agree with them only wanting to give him two, as he is in his mid 30’s and had a hard time adjusting to the American League this year. But I have to believe part of why he won’t come to Kansas City is because this team just doesn’t win. Seventeen of the last eighteen seasons have been losing seasons in KC, and with the management in charge now, it would appear we are gearing up for season eighteen of nineteen. Most players want to win, but can be swayed away from winning if it means more money. If you aren’t getting the top dollar, you don’t want to sign with a perennial loser unless you think they have turned a corner. The Royals took a side road in 2012 and their road map didn’t seem to ever steer them onto the right highway. Players notice that and the losing atmosphere does not endear players to want to sign with the Royals.

MAG0522JUBILATION.IMGSo yes, the Royals do have to overpay to get major name free agents to play in Kansas City. Or at least they will until they put together another winning season. Having management value the wrong players will hurt as well, but until those members are gone( [cough] Dayton) we are stuck with a team that can’t even compete with the Baltimore’s and Brewer’s of the world. One day this awful cycle will be undone and the Royals will be a winning franchise again. Let’s hope this happens sooner than later.

The Price to Pay for Pitching

If you have followed the Royals-verse (I know that technically isn’t a thing, but just act like it is) these past few days, you have probably heard the Royals are dangling star prospect and (hopefully) soon to be Francoeur replacement Wil Myers in a trade for a top of the line starting pitcher. This has caused many reactions, good and bad, and some shock as well. Why, I don’t know. At this point, almost everyone should be available in a deal, as the Royals hope to reach .500 for the first time since 2003. But is dealing a possible future star the real answer?

Wil Myers is probably going to be a special player in the big leagues. At the age of 21 he put up monster numbers in the minors this year, and every indication is that Myers is a future 30 homerun hitter in the bigs. His only struggles were the 2011 season at AA, but those worries got swept aside when he came back in 2012 and dominated both AA and AAA. As excited as we have been about Hosmer, Moustakas and Perez, Myers might end up being better than all of them. But there is one solid truth in baseball; to acquire talent, you have to trade talent.

Lester would miss pitching against the Royals.

Let’s look at some of the trade rumors thrown about lately. First is Red Sox lefty Jon Lester. Lester can be one of the top starters in baseball, when healthy. That right there should be red flag number one for Royals GM Dayton Moore when considering this trade. Lester has been broken down off and on the past few years, although he has still accumulated 200 innings pitched four of the last five seasons. Back issues have been a problem, and to be honest, those injuries are the ones that scare me the most. Back issues tend to linger, and if Lester can’t shake that then a trade would look like an epic disaster. As much as Lester has an upside, the downside would make a trade for Myers a no go for Kansas City.

  Next is James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays. As much as I like Shields, and he is a reliable pitcher, he isn’t a top starter. He is a nice upper to middle of the rotation guy, which is definitely better than what the Royals have now. But if the Royals are serious about trading Myers, you use him to get a top guy, not a close-to-a-top-guy. To me, a Myers for Shields trade is laughable. Maybe a Billy Butler for Shields, or something closer to that, but Myers might never have a higher value than he does right now. To get a #2 starter, seems like a waste of his actual value.

     So instead of those deals, I have a better idea. I think a package deal might be a better course to take. The Royals have a lot of good talent in their farm system(is it still considered the best in baseball?), and maybe adding a major leaguer might entice the pot a bit. It also might be a chance to get rid of some excess baggage, like Jeff Francoeur or Luke Hochevar. A couple of prospects like Jorge Bonifacio or Chestor Cuthbert packaged in with maybe a bullpen arm or something else might net them a solid #2 or #3 starter. to me, that is the trade you want to make rather than trade a future star for two years of service from a Lester or Shields.

Dayton Moore has mentioned in the past that he needs to be creative, and now would be the time to do it. Maybe start the conversation bringing up Myers and steer them toward a guy like Bonifacio, who has a good upside as well. I would avoid trading an arm in the minors, so guys like Jason Adam, Kyle Zimmer or Yordano Ventura should be off limits. A big part of why the Royals are in this mess in the first place is because they haven’t produced hardly any solid starters in the organization in years, so trading what few arms they have down there now makes a big problem a bigger problem in two or three years.

At the end of the day,Dayton Moore needs to take the bigger picture here into consideration. The Royals aren’t contending in 2013. I’m not even sure if 2014 is possible with the management that is in place right now. So why trade a talented guy like Myers, who you will have control of for six years, for a solid starter that you have control of for two years tops? The answer is you don’t. If this trade happens, we Royals fans might refer to it in the same breath as the classic David Cone for Ed Hearn trade or the enchanting Carlos Beltran deal that brought us John Buck and Mark Teahen. Yes, the Royals need a top of the rotation guy for their rotation. But if you can’t get that guy, a solid 2 or 3 starter should be the way to go. Trading Myers for that guy is definitely not the answer we Royals fans want.

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