The Kansas City Royals have slowly and methodically allowed their top prospects to climb through their farm system in recent years, piecing together a team they believe can compete in the wide-open American League Central.
All that's been missing has been the pitching. They dipped into the farm system to solve that problem, too.
The Royals sent top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi along with two other minor leaguers to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday night for former all-star James Shields and fellow right-hander Wade Davis, making an aggressive move to bolster a rotation that was one of the worst in the major leagues last season.
"We have to start winning games at the major league level, and the way you develop a winning culture is by winning major-league games," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It's time for us to start winning at the major-league level."
Kansas City, which hasn't had a winning season since 2003, has long had one of the best farm systems in baseball, and slowly the cream has risen to the big league level — first baseman Eric Hosmer, shortstop Alcides Escobar, third baseman Mike Moustakas and catcher Salvador Perez form a fine nucleus. But there's been a dearth of starting pitching for years, and that's what Moore and the rest of the front office have been trying to fix this off-season.
He's already re-signed Jeremy Guthrie to a $25 million US, three-year deal and took on former all-star Ervin Santana and $12 million of his contract from the Angels. But the trade for Shields and Davis is Moore's most aggressive move yet, giving Kansas City the ace it has been lacking since trading away Zack Greinke, along with another piece that could fit in the rotation or the bullpen.
"When you can acquire a pitcher like James Shields and Wade Davis, we have to do it because that's what we've committed to our team — we've committed to our organization," Moore said. "It's important that we start winning games."
Along with giving up Myers, an outfielder widely voted the minor leagues' top player last season, the Royals also traded away Odorizzi, a talented right-hander who should soon compete for a spot in the Rays' rotation. Left-hander Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard also are headed to the Rays, while the Royals will receive a player to be named or cash.
"We're constantly working to balance the present and the future and always trying to thread the needle," Rays executive vice-president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "As an organization, we rely more on the contributions of our young players basically than anyone else in baseball and, with this trade, we're hoping to replenish our system and add a lot of players we feel can help us sustain this run of success that we've had for the last five years."
Shields, who turns 31 this month, has been a stalwart in the Tampa Bay rotation the past seven seasons. He was an all-star two years ago, when he went 16-12 with a 2.82 earned-run average and finished third in the American League Cy Young Award voting, and was 15-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 33 starts last season, when he pitched 227 2/3 innings — his sixth consecutive year of at least 200 innings pitched.
The only other pitchers to log at least 200 innings in six straight seasons are the Jays' Mark Buehrle, San Francisco's Matt Cain, Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia and the Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
"If you're going to win consistently in the major leagues, you're going to need a rotation that gives you innings, competes, helps you win," Moore said. "That's what our goal is, to put together a very good rotation. We feel we've done that."
Shields is due to receive $10.5 million this season. He has a club option for $12 million in 2014 with a $1 million buyout.
The Royals suddenly have a glut of starting pitchers with Shields, Santana and Guthrie joined by Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza, who are expected back from last year. Luke Hochevar is eligible for arbitration, while Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino will return at some point during the middle of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Davis also could be thrown into the mix. The right-hander started 64 games for Tampa Bay from 2009-11, but he was shuttled to the bullpen last season when the Rays had an abundance of starters. He flourished as a reliever, going 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA, creating some flexibility for him in Kansas City.
Davis is due to make $2.8 million this season and $4.8 million in 2014, with the Royals holding options on the next three years.
Indians to sign Reynolds, pending physical
A person familiar with the negotiations said Sunday night the Cleveland Indians have agreed to a one-year contract with free-agent slugger Mark Reynolds. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal is pending a physical.
Reynolds would likely take over at first base for Cleveland, but he also could be used as the designated hitter.
Reynolds, who hit 23 homers last season for Baltimore, would definitely bring immediate pop to the Indians. Last season, Carlos Santana led the club with 18 homers. The Indians have needed a righty batter to balance out their heavily lefty lineup.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti spoke with Reynolds' agent at the winter meetings last week in Nashville, Tenn. The club also showed interest in Kevin Youkilis, who is weighing an offer from the New York Yankees. The Indians reportedly wooed Youkilis with a two-year package, and new manager Terry Francona personally reached out to one of his former players, hoping to bring him to Cleveland.
The Indians also have pursued free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher, who has drawn interest from several teams.
Cleveland made a four-year offer to Shane Victorino last week, but he signed a three-year deal with Boston.
Youkilis may still be in play for the Indians, but they at least have a backup plan in place with Reynolds, who made 105 starts at first last season. He began the season at third, but was moved across the infield after 15 shaky starts.
The 28-year-old Reynolds batted .221 with 69 RBIs in 135 games for the Orioles. Although he strikes out too much — he fanned 159 times in 457 at-bats last season — he has 181 career homers in six seasons in the majors. Reynolds played four seasons with Arizona before he was traded to Baltimore in 2010.
Reynolds has struck out more than 200 times in three different seasons.
Phillies officially acquire Young
The Phillies acquired the seven-time All-Star infielder from the Texas Rangers for two relief pitchers, filling a void at third base. The deal was announced Sunday, a day after Young agreed to waive his no-trade clause.
"Michael brings a lot to our team, not just on the field, but off it as well," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He has been one of the premiere hitters in the American League for a decade and is someone who has a tremendous presence in the clubhouse. We couldn't be happier that he has accepted the assignment to come to the Phillies."
The Rangers get right-hander Josh Lindblom and minor league righty Lisalverto Bonilla. The Rangers also will pay a significant portion of Young's salary for 2013. Young is due to earn $16 million US. Reports said the Phillies will pay him about $6 million.
"If there was crying in baseball, I guess I would cry," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of losing Young. "This is a very, very tough situation. He's always been my go-to guy in the six years I've been here, and he's not only done a lot in that respect for me, but leadership that he brought to the clubhouse and the leadership that he brought on the field, and the leadership that he had in the community is something that we sorely will miss."
Young batted .277 with eight homers and 67 RBIs in 2012, a down year for him. He hit .288 with runners in scoring position and .333 against left-handed pitchers. He made 40 starts at first base, 25 at third base, 14 at second base and four at shortstop.
From 2003-11, Young hit at least .300 seven times and averaged 17 homers and 90 RBIs. A former AL Gold Glove winner at shortstop, Young hasn't played third base regularly since 2010. Seven Phillies started at third base last year, including often-injured former All-Star Placido Polanco.
Young was originally selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 1997 amateur draft. He was traded to the Rangers on July 19, 2000 for pitcher Esteban Loaiza. Young has a .301 average with 177 home runs and 984 RBIs in 1,823 major league games — all with Texas. He is the club leader in games, at-bats (7,399), runs (1,085), hits (2,230), doubles (415), triples (55) and total bases (3,286). Young has a .248 average with 3, homers, 10 doubles and 19 RBIs in 34 post-season games.
Young began his career at second base with the Rangers. He moved to shortstop to accommodate Alfonso Soriano, who was acquired in the trade that sent Alex Rodriguez to the New York Yankees. Young won his only Gold Glove at shortstop in 2008 and then moved to third base to make room for Elvis Andrus in 2009. He played two seasons at third before moving to designated hitter and a utility role after Adrian Beltre arrived in Texas.
The emergence of rookie infielder Jurickson Profar meant even less opportunity for Young to play to in the field this season.
Dodgers sign Ryu
The Los Angeles Dodgers signed South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin to a $36 million US, six-year deal on Sunday, bolstering their starting rotation for next year.
The team and Ryu (Ree-YOO He-YUN Jin) had until 2 p.m. PST to reach an agreement or else the left-hander would have returned home and the Dodgers would have been refunded the $25.7 million fee they paid for exclusive rights to negotiate with him.
Ryu becomes the first player to go directly from the Korea Baseball Organization to the U.S. big leagues, and he's expected to join a strong rotation that includes 2011 NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. The Dodgers also are trying to sign free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke.
Ryu's agent, Scott Boras, said last month he was confident a deal could be struck with the Dodgers, whose new ownership has shown a willingness to spend money on new players.
"He has the ability to command the fastball from 90-95 mph and his changeup is a very elite weapon for him," Boras said at the time. "And he has a quality slider and curveball."
The 25-year-old pitcher has spent seven seasons with the Hanwha Eagles in the Korean league and was an All-Star each year. He was rookie of the year and MVP of the league at age 19, and is 98-52 with a 2.80 ERA in his career.
He won the league's strikeout title five times. He earned a silver medal pitching on South Korea's team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, appearing twice in a relief role at Dodger Stadium. He pitched on his country's gold medal-winning team in the 2008 Olympics.
Last season, the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder was 9-9 with a 2.66 ERA in 27 games. He limited opponents to a .232 batting average and led the league with a career-high 210 strikeouts.
The Dodgers paid the third-highest posting fee by a big league team for the chance to negotiate a contract with a player from Asia.
The Texas Rangers paid Yu Darvish's former team in Japan $51.7 million last year, and the Boston Red Sox paid Daisuke Matsuzaka's team $51.1 million in 2006.
Ryu will follow in the footsteps of Chan Ho Park and Jae Weong Seo as South Korean pitchers for the Dodgers. The team also had first baseman Hee-Seop Choi.
"I'm excited to see him carry on the tradition of great international pitchers in Dodger blue and have Ryu represent Korean baseball in the United States," Park said.