The risks are high, but the rewards are sweet. If the Rays have a chance to add an impact bat, they probably should do it, even if it costs them an excellent starting pitcher.
Over the last few days, rumors have been circulating that the Kansas City Royals are doing whatever they can to attract an ace via trade. The team has been linked to several top-flight starters, including Jon Lester, R.A. Dickey, and Tampa Bay Ray James Shields. Part of these rumors include the fact that the Royals may be willing to deal wunderkind outfielder Wil Myers. Should the Rays consider dealing Shields, a rotation cornerstone, for a player who hasn't yet hit major-league pitching? It depends on that player, doesn't it?
Wil Myers is, at least preliminarily, a Grade A prospect according to John Sickels. Plenty of words have been written about his massive power, as he hammered 37 homers in 2012. Almost as much has been written about his positional travels; as Myers was drafted as a catcher, but the Royals moved him off the dish in order to focus on his hitting. But Myers has put in time at two solid defensive positions (3B and CF) in addition to his more likely home in an outfield corner ... and he hasn't embarassed himself either. He'll be a good defensive outfielder, and he already shows enough ability to draw a walk to supplement the power and copious strikeouts he'll rack up.
Basically, Myers is the type of hitting prospect every team wishes they had. There's a non-zero chance that he's the best hitting prospect in baseball right now, one who projects to hit for power, get on base, and play solid enough defense in the outfield.
At the same time, Myers isn't Bryce Harper, or Mike Trout, or Giancarlo Stanton. He's not a sure thing, and he's probably not going to step in and immediately play at an All-Star level. That just doesn't happen very often. He's not a panacea for every ill that plagues the Rays. What he is, is a hitter with a pretty decent chance of being an above-average contributor in the outfield. He's the rare player with a huge ceiling and All-Star potential who still has seven full years of team control ahead of him.
James Shields, for all intents and purposes, will be a Ray for another two seasons, at the absolute most. It is unlikely that he'll stick around after he hits free agency, simply because the Rays don't spend their money on pitchers like Shields, and even if they did, there's probably not enough to keep him around.
I'm not Dayton Moore (I promise), but it's a little hard to imagine that the Royals' general manager would deal Myers for someone like James Shields (or Jon Lester, for that matter). Even if the Rays throw in some sweeteners, it'd be hard to see a deal like this taking place. But if something like that DID come up, given the surplus of starting pitching in St. Pete, Andrew Friedman and company should jump at the chance.
But what if the Royals want to hold out for something a little bit better to part with Wil Myers?
David Price, for all intents and purposes, will likely be a Ray for another three seasons. Unlike Shields, I can see Friedman and company wanting to keep the 2012 AL Cy Young winner in Tampa on a free agent contract. Like Shields, I imagine the cost of retaining David Price may be prohibitive. Though I see Price as the type of player, like Evan Longoria, who is worth significant money and years on a contract, I'm not sure Price will take a discount to stay with the Rays. If he doesn't, and he continues at a roughly-similar level of performance in 2013-2015, he'll be the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history coming into the 2016 season. And that's not even to mention the nice, fat arbitration raises he's earning with things like sub-3.00 ERAs and 200-strikeout seasons and BBWAA hardware.
In my opinion, you keep Price for the next three years, because he's a true ace, #1 starter type of pitcher -- if you can. If the Royals are willing to take a combination of James Shields and someone like Brandon Guyer (or really anyone not named Moore, Hellickson, Jennings, Longoria, or Zobrist) for Wil Myers, you make that deal first.
But young players like Wil Myers (and Jurickson Profar of the Rangers, though I'm not sure he's on the market) are also rare. And the market for players in MLB is continuing to shift more towards younger, cost-controlled players who can provide real value with bat and glove, and away from veterans who collect paychecks for past performance, rather than current / future production.
It would be a steep price to pay to lose the reigning AL Cy Young winner, or Ray-for-life James Shields to get a player who could end up being a platoon outfielder if he busts. But make no mistake: in three years the Rays might not have Price or Shields on the roster anyways -- and a deal for someone like Myers may never be on the table again.
While I'm not advocating that the team shut things down and rebuild instead of contending for the 2013 AL East title, but I do think that when a player of this caliber becomes available, you consider all reasonably sane options in an attempt to snatch him up. Even if that means losing an All-Star starter.