The Royals very well might have traded baseball's next superstar when they sent Wil Myers to Tampa Bay.
And yet you can't exactly say they made a bad trade.
Such complexity is the essence of life itself and certainly of the blockbuster baseball transaction. Because at surface level, Myers is a stud a long way from free agency, and you could envision a scenario in which Royals fans spend the rest of time ruing the day he became a Ray.
But if the Royals reach the pay dirt of the postseason with James Shields as their steady rotation anchor, all that angst will have been well worth it.
No matter what you thought about the Myers trade -- and plenty of people inside and outside the baseball industry had plenty to say about it last December -- you had to respect that the Royals, for the first time in what felt like forever, were firmly focused on the here and now.
Yes, general manager Dayton Moore and his staff knew Myers could blossom into something special. And if the results thus far in what could be a Rookie of the Year campaign for Myers are any indication, he's well on his way.
But Moore also knew that the road to respectability begins with stellar starting pitching. Given the constraints of a weak free-agent market, he identified Shields, a known trade candidate, as a must-have starting point for their starting staff, and he acted accordingly and aggressively.
Some people accused Moore, who, like Shields, is under contract through 2014, of making the trade simply to save his job. He was insulted by the insinuation, and rightfully so. Moore, after all, had been on the job six full seasons after 2012, and the Royals had averaged 92 losses in that span.
At some point, the pleas for patience wear thin. At some point, the boasts that you've assembled the best farm system in baseball ring hollow.
At some point, it's time to win.
So Moore bit the bullet and traded arguably the top hitting prospect in baseball in Myers, arguably the Royals' best pitching prospect in Jake Odorizzi, as well as Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard -- all of whom are under contractual control for at least six years -- for two years of Shields and up to five years of Wade Davis.
It was daring, to say the least, especially when it came to moving Myers.
Baseball, after all, is in the midst of a pitching renaissance in which young power bats are in scarce supply, and Myers, with 37 homers combined at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2012, was knocking on the door of the big leagues.
It will be years before we can safely say whether all those glowing scouting reports about Myers' big league potential are proven correct, but suffice to say it appears they were on the right track. At the time they promoted Myers from Triple-A on June 17, the Rays had the fourth-highest runs-per-game average in the AL, so they didn't need him to carry the offensive load. Yet that's precisely what he's done, leading the club in OPS and RBI since his arrival. He's been a major factor in an enthralling AL East race, and he's one of those rare young players with the ability to hit for both average and power.
Myers is the kind of deportee who can torture a team and its fan base. And maybe some segment of the Royals' fan base pores over the Rays' daily box scores and feels routinely tortured.
Yet it's hard to let that feeling linger too long when your own team has inserted itself into the thick of the postseason chase, as the Royals have.
The Royals just lost two straight to the Marlins, but they enter a pivotal five-game series in Detroit having won 19 of their last 26 to pull within 4 1/2 games of a Wild Card slot. There is no magic formula to what they've done. They've simply taken better advantage of what has been an elite rotation all season long. And Shields is a primary reason why that rotation has been elite.
Shields not only helped instill a new attitude in the Royals' clubhouse from the day he set foot on their Spring Training complex but also backed it up on the mound. Don't let the subpar 7-8 record fool you. Shields, who will get the starting nod opposite Justin Verlander in the first game of a Friday doubleheader, has given his new club both the innings (an average of 6 2/3 per start) and the impact (an adjusted ERA 23 percent better than the average starter, according to Baseball Reference) the Royals anticipated.
The Royals simply didn't know what to anticipate from Ervin Santana, acquired in an early winter swap with the Angels, so they viewed Shields as a bankable commodity. He's been just that, and Santana (8-6, 3.19 ERA) has put together a commendable comeback campaign. Put them together, and the Royals have a dangerous combo atop their rotation for a potential postseason scenario.
If blessed with a crystal ball, maybe the Royals would have simply signed Francisco Liriano, paired him with Santana, and assembled a potent 1-2 punch without moving Myers. But if you knew both of those guys would pan out the way they have, you're smarter than me and probably smarter than Moore, too. Congrats.
Here in the real world, you've got to give up something to get something, and there is no question the Royals gave up a ton in the Shields deal. I was one of the many who were skeptical about that swap, but I also understand that the Royals were tired of waiting on tomorrows.
Right now, it looks like a trade that has benefited the Royals, even as Myers mashes elsewhere. And if a Shields-led rotation pushes the Royals onto the postseason stage for the first time since 1985 (five years before Myers was even born), waking up a long-slumbering and long-suffering fan base in the process, swapping out a superstar just might have been worth it.