Are GMs Team Players?

All across sports, we hear how players need to worry more about the team than themselves. After all, there is no ‘I’ in team.

We saw this concept in Oklahoma City for the last few years, where James Harden played a 6th man role with reduced minutes and reduced shots to help take his team to the finals. Harden deserved more than 10 shots over 30 minutes per game–and he’s getting 17 shots over 39 minutes in Houston now–but he made a sacrifice for the betterment of the team.

Since baseball is much more of an individual sport than basketball is, it’s harder to see these self sacrifices in America’s pastime. But you can take Michael Young for example. He’s been moved from second base to shortstop to third base to a utility infielder role to Philadelphia all to make the Rangers better. Sure, he’s complained along the way, but he eventually made the changes.

For the most part, major league players are all what we’d consider “team players.” And having a few wildcards in the clubhouse like Carlos Zambrano doesn’t actually hurt anyone–maybe besides a few Gatorade coolers. Really, would Pablo Sandoval actually have played worse in the World Series had Melky Cabrera been playing instead of Gregor Blanco?

When it comes to managers, it’s safe to assume that they all want what’s best for their team. Not everyone may agree with Ron Washington playing aging Michael Young in the field while sensationally slick-gloved Jurickson Profar rides the bench, but Washington isn’t trying to undermine his team. Even when he calls for sacrifice bunts–moves which have been proven to be almost always subversive–he’s still making the moves because he thinks they will benefit his team.

But then there are general managers. The head honchos when it come to player transactions. One would think general managers would be the people most concerned with making their team better. But really, that just isn’t the case.

In the last week, we’ve seen two top prospects dealt: Kansas City dealing Wil Myers plus for James Shields and Arizona dealing Trevor Bauer for prospect Didi Gregorious and change. The Bauer trade was the unfortunate product of selling low and swapping talent for a positional need, but the Myers trade is more concerning. Lets take a closer look.

The Royals had one of the most intriguing teams in the league with highly touted prospects and homegrown players at nearly every position. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas were all top-three draft picks, and the next big star was supposed to Myers, a sweet-swinging right fielder who mashed 37 homers across AA and AAA, while hitting .314 with a .387 OBP. The only thing blocking Myers from starring in the majors was Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy has amassed a grand total of 1.8 WAR over the last five seasons, including -1.2 WAR in 2012, yet he was oddly given both two years and $13.5 million in the middle of last season.

The main thing holding the Royals back from being legitimate playoff contenders, though, was a lack of starting pitching. KC had a couple of innings-eaters in Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen plus a human BP machine in Ervin Santana. After that, it was a cavalcade of AAAA pitchers and disappointing former prospects. The Royals needed starting pitching badly, but they didn’t have the kind of cash to lure back Zack Greinke.

Will Big Game James Shields keep his nickname if there are no big games in which to play in Kansas City?

Will Big Game James Shields keep his nickname if there are no big games in Kansas City?

But instead of pursuing cheaper free agent options, the Royals decided to trade away their star-in-the-making Myers along with prospects Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard for James Shields and Wade Davis. Shields has 2 years and $21 million remaining on his contract, assuming the Royals pick up his team option, which is very affordable for a top-end starter. Davis will be under contract for four more years, but it’s unclear if he can stick as a starter.

But to land the two pitchers, the Royals gave up is six low-cost years of a potential cornerstone outfielder in Myers plus a potential mid-rotation starter in Odorizzi. Montgomery has had massive control issues, but he has top-of-the-rotation stuff. Of course, no prospect is risk-free, but Myers is about has low-risk as prospects come.

He’s shown he can hit for average. He’s athletic. He’s got some of the best raw power in the whole minor leagues. Defensively, he should become an above average fielder thanks to a strong arm and solid speed. Wil Myers will become a star in this league. However the Royals gave him up–along with a couple of young pitchers–for two years of a 30 year old pitcher.

But why? James Shields is a very good pitcher, but he’s no ace. He’s certainly not worth giving up an elite prospect–probably the best hitting prospect in the game–plus a couple of useful pitchers. The answer has two parts: the Royals want to win now and GM Dayton Moore isn’t exactly making moves for the betterment of the team.

The Royals decided that they are ready to go all in. 2016 Royals be damned, this team can compete if they add starting pitching–at least that’s what the KC front office thinks. Dayton Moore liquidated his biggest asset in Myers to make a run for the playoffs the next two years.

The problem, though, is that there are about a dozen teams clearly better than Kansas City (the Yankees, Rays, Tigers, Rangers, Angels, Athletics, Nationals, Braves, Cardinals, Reds, Dodgers, Giants…), including the defending AL Champs in the same division. This team really is more likely to compete in a couple years when Hosmer, Moustakas, and Myers are entering their primes.

Then comes the more likely addendum for the trade: Dayton Moore’s job security is the culprit. Moore has been at the helm of Kansas City since 2006, and last season was the first time a Moore Royals team  finished even 3rd in the division. His contract runs up in 2014, and if the team start winning soon, he could be on the chopping block. So to get the Royals winning sooner, Moore traded a great long-term asset for a short-term asset who can help the team out now.

Moore could be right. Myers could be flop just like top prospects of yesteryear  Delmon Young, Brandon Wood, and Lastings Milledge. Shields could be sensational and lead the Royals to the playoffs. But that’s not what’s more likely.

Dayton Moore took an unnecessary risk by giving up a cheap, young, talented player for a short shot at glory. He made a decision that very well may extend his career as an MLB GM, but it’s not a decision in the best interest of the Royals organization.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen GM’s take unnecessary risks because of the life of their job before, though. All the time, we see GMs dole out 9-figure deals over six to ten years given to 30-year old players.

Walt Jocketty gave Joey Votto $225 million from the age of 31 to 41. Jocketty will reap the benefits of the contract while he’s still running the team, but he won’t be around when Votto is making $25 million and well over the hill at the end of the deal. It’s not his $225 million and the last few years of the albatross contract won’t be his problem either. It’s been discussed over and over how $100 million deals rarely work, but GMs don’t have to worry about that if they won’t be around to see the end of the deal.

It’s tough to prove, but GMs certainly are not always team players. Players can have a bad year and get a new contract from a new team, but GMs don’t get too many jobs if their first one is a flop. Building a strong farm system is great for an organization, but if the team doesn’t win, the general manager might not be around to see how great the young players make his major league team. And therein lies the problem for why general managers are not truly team players.

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