The Kansas City Royals gambled their future Sunday night for a chance to win right now.
The Royals acquired former All-Star James Shields and fellow right-hander Wade Davis from Tampa Bay in a six-player deal that sent top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi along with two other minor leaguers to the Rays. The swap immediately bolsters the Royals' starting rotation and should make them a contender in the relatively weak American League Central.
"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. But there has remained a dearth of starting pitching that has hampered the Royals' chances for success for years, and Moore wanted to solve that problem this offseason.
He's already re-signed Jeremy Guthrie to a $25 million, 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, widely voted the minor leagues' top player last season, the Royals also traded away Odorizzi, a talented right-hander who would have competed for a spot in the Kansas City rotation this season. 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 ERA 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.
The jewel of the deal for Tampa Bay is undoubtedly Myers, who turns 22 on Monday.
The power-hitting outfielder batted .314 with 37 homers and 109 RBIs in 134 games at Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha, and eventually could help provide some protection in the batting order for Rays star Evan Longoria. Myers showed what he could do during the All-Star Futures Game hosted by Kansas City in July, when he had a pair of hits and drove in three runs at Kauffman Stadium.
He'll finally get a chance to prove it at the major league level at Tropicana Field.
"I think it's very possible that Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi will help us win games in 2013, and Mike Montgomery as well," Friedman said.
Odorizzi will also have an opportunity to make a splash in the big leagues after going 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA for Northwest Arkansas and Omaha. He made two late-season starts for Kansas City, going 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 7 1-3 innings.
Montgomery was once considered one of the Royals' top prospects, but his stock has slide considerably the past couple of years. He was just 5-13 with a 6.07 ERA last season, when he was demoted from Omaha to Northwest Arkansas.
Leonard hit .251 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs in 62 games for short-season Burlington.
"It's not easy to give up prospects," Moore said. "It's time for us to start winning at the major league level, and we have to use all our resources. Our farm system is certainly one of them."
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.