Wizards

Royals' trade with Rays shows win-now mentality

201212092231810630237-p2.jpeg

Royals' trade with Rays shows win-now mentality

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) When James Shields broke into the big leagues with Tampa Bay, the Rays were no better than the Kansas City Royals.

They lost more than 100 games his first season, and fared little better the following year. But by his third season as a starter, the Rays had finally turned the corner, many of their prized prospects forming the nucleus of a team that upstaged AL East stalwarts Boston and the Yankees and advanced all the way to the World Series.

Now, after a blockbuster deal that sent Shields and fellow right-hander Wade Davis to the Royals late Sunday, the former All-Star pitcher believes everything is in place for Kansas City to replicate the Rays' success.

``The Royals are definitely on the right track,'' Shields said Monday. ``They definitely remind me of our '07 season going into our '08 season in the Rays organization, and I think there's a good possibility we can step in that direction. I've been there when we've lost 100 games before. I've also won 96, 97 games before, and I think me and Wade bring a little of that to the table, knowing how to win and what it takes to win.''

The Royals haven't known what that's like in years.

Despite the matriculation of their best prospects to the big league club, the Royals still struggled to a 72-90 record and a third-place finish in the weak AL Central last season. It was their ninth consecutive losing season, and extended to 27 the number of years it's been since the franchise last played in the postseason.

The biggest reason for the lousy finish was a dearth of starting pitching, and that's something that general manager Dayton Moore has been aggressively trying to resolve this offseason.

Along with acquiring Shields and Davis in arguably the biggest move his tenure, Moore also re-signed Jeremy Guthrie to a $25 million, three-year deal and acquired Ervin Santana and his $12 million salary from the Los Angeles Angels. That means Kansas City's top four starters next season weren't on their opening day roster this past year.

``Our goal is to add as much pitching depth as we can as every organization tends to do, especially this time of year,'' said Moore, adding that Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Luis Mendoza could compete for the final job in spring training.

Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino, who are both coming off Tommy John surgery this past summer, could also wrestle the job away when they return sometime during the middle of the season.

``It looks like a good mix of people, I think, with Shield and Santana - I've seen Guthrie pitch for a couple years with the Orioles,'' Davis said. ``I'm not a 10-year veteran or a coach, but I think it's a good mix of people.''

The Royals certainly mortgaged their future to put it together.

Tampa Bay's biggest prize in the six-player swap is undoubtedly outfielder Wil Myers, widely regarded as the top prospect in the minors. The 22-year-old hit .314 with 37 homers and 109 RBIs last season, and he starred during the All-Star Futures Game hosted by Kansas City, putting together a pair of hits and driving in three runs.

Moore said he tried to keep Myers out of the deal, but he also understood that ``you have to give up something to get something,'' so he parted with one of the game's top prospects.

He also sent along right-hander Jake Odorizzi, the Royals' top pitching prospect, left-hander Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard to Tampa Bay. Kansas City also will receive another player or cash.

``When you get a chance to upgrade and get a pitcher the caliber of James Shields and Wade Davis, we felt it was the right thing for us to do for our team today and going forward,'' Moore said.

The Royals have made a significant financial commitment to winning this season.

Along with taking on Santana's hefty contract, the Royals will pay Shields $10.5 million this season while holding a club option of $12 million with a $1 million buyout for next season. 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.

Shields said he relishes the opportunity to return to the role of franchise ace.

It was the same role he had his first few years in Tampa Bay, before David Price and others blossomed, and a role in which he feels comfortable. He's logged at least 200 innings six consecutive seasons, has 14 complete games over the past two years, and his 3.89 ERA for his career makes him the most effective starter in the Royals' new-look rotation.

Kansas City starters combined for a 5.01 ERA last season, fifth-worst in the big leagues.

``Starting pitching, I think that's where it starts,'' Shields said. ``What the Rays did the last couple years, it's been about starting pitching and defense. That's the key to success. Hopefully me and Wade can get the job done.''

Quick Links

A revitalized DeMarcus Cousins poses the most unique challenge of Thomas Bryant’s young career

A revitalized DeMarcus Cousins poses the most unique challenge of Thomas Bryant’s young career

The Golden State Warriors, it's probably safe to say, present a unique challenge defensively. They have two MVPs and five All-NBA selections. If you ask Scott Brooks, they have six future Hall of Famers, including Andre Iguodala off the bench.

With DeMarcus Cousins now in the fold, the Warriors can roll out a five-man lineup of guys who can put the ball on the floor and shoot from the outside. Long range shooting for them, of course, has a different meaning than other teams. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant are deadly from 30 feet, and sometimes beyond. 

As a team, the Warriors shoot 39 percent from the perimeter on 33.5 attempts per game. Stopping them is a gargantuan task, but the Wizards will give it a shot on Thursday night with an 8 p.m. tipoff set for national TV on TNT.

The Warriors' ability to spread the floor and move the ball from shooter to shooter with unrivaled range is difficult to keep up with, not only for the wing defenders chasing them around. It will also present a unique challenge for Wizards center Thomas Bryant, who at 21 years old and in his second season will be new to it all.

Bryant has only played the Warriors once in his career. That was earlier this season, with the Wizards on Oct. 24. He logged nine minutes, but those were late in a 22-point blowout loss. The game occurred about a month before he was promoted to the starting lineup.

It may seem counterintuitive that Bryant, a big man, will be one to watch as the Wizards battle a team tailored for the perimeter. But he will have plenty of responsibility on the backline of Washington's defense. 

"He has to be a quarterback," Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. "He has to talk. Their bigs, they hand the ball off a lot and we'll be switching tomorrow. He has to make sure he's able to guard Steph, Klay, K.D. at times. He's going to be switched out to guys. Making it difficult for them with his length and playing with energy, that's what we need."

Bryant, indeed, could very easily find himself on an island at the three-point line, tasked momentarily to stay in front of Curry, for instance. The Warriors will do their best to find mismatches, and they are good at getting them.

Bryant has quick feet and long arms that suggest he can guard in space, but doesn't do a ton of perimeter duty for the Wizards. He is 85th among centers in contested threes per 36 minutes. Usually, he stays home around the rim.

However, he'll almost certainly have to venture out against Golden State, even if he is trailing Cousins. Last season, when he was healthy, Cousins averaged 6.1 three-point attempts per game. This season, through two games back from Achilles surgery, he has taken 40 percent of his shots beyond 16 feet.

"They put so much pressure on you defensively that all five guys need to be on-point," Brooks said. "A lot of times in transition, Thomas is going to be guarding smaller guys because they're coming at you all over the floor. You have to be able to manage that and guard that."

Bryant will get his chance against the Warriors, but the leash could end up being short. Brooks has the option to go small with Jeff Green at center. He could favor a lineup with Green in the middle alongside Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter Jr. at forward and Beal and Tomas Satoransky at guard. That would maximize their ability to switch.

Bryant, though, will start. Whether he stays on the floor could depend on how he fares defending outside shots, which he hasn't done a whole of this season.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

John Legend, Lil Jon and other factors weighing on Redskins' decision with free agent Preston Smith

John Legend, Lil Jon and other factors weighing on Redskins' decision with free agent Preston Smith

Edgy describes Ryan Anderson’s demeanor, playing style and music choices.

The Washington Redskins’ outside linebacker and Preston Smith's primary backup desires “hard (expletive)” rap before games while working up a physical and mental lather. Tracks from Mystikal, Lil Jon and “any Young Jeezy” crank through Anderson’s headphones. R&B crooners need not apply.

During this season, one of Anderson’s position coaches offered a musical example of why the second-year defender must modify his habits for a more harmonious future.

“[The coach] told me at one practice this year to stop trying to do so much (on the field),” Anderson told NBC Sports Washington. “Just be John Legend instead of Mystikal or Lil Jon. When you think about that, it makes sense. Be smooth, calm down, be John Legend.”

If the organization believes an Anderson transformation from supporting cast to starter is possible, call it a rap on Smith’s career with the Redskins.

Smith ranks among Washington’s most prominent free agents. The organization showed little initiative in signing the edge rusher to an extension before or during the 2018 campaign.

“I'd love to have [Preston] back for sure, but obviously free agency is what it is,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said late in the regular season. “He's earned the right to go out and shop himself around, but I'm hopeful that we can get him back."

Slot receiver Jamison Crowder, running back Adrian Peterson and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix also hit open waters once their contracts expire at the end of the current business year.

From the Redskins' perspective, whether any return depends on salary cap scenarios and perception of replacement options.

Washington has $15.5 million in salary cap space available for 2019 according to Spotrac.com, and a lengthy list of roster needs. Letting Crowder and Clinton-Dix escape creates more holes. The Redskins have a backup option at running back with Derrius Guice returning from injury.

The outside linebacker scenario falls somewhere in between, though no direct battle exists between Smith, a second-round in selection in 2015, and Anderson.

Smith, a three-year starter, played in 81 percent of all defensive snaps last season. He has not missed a game in four seasons.

His backup took the field on 16 percent of snaps last season. Injuries sidelined Anderson for five of 32 career games.

Smith’s four sacks in 2019 set a career-low, yet doubles Anderson’s overall total.   

Despite the limited sack total, Pro Football Focus rated Smith eighth among all NFL outside linebackers last season.

“I still think his future is very bright in the National Football League,” Gruden said.  “He is young, he is strong, he is long, he is smart. Obviously, from a production standpoint, he only had four sacks this year and that's low for a guy like that. But, I think he will get more and more the more he plays."

Anderson’s primary advantage is financial.

NFL.com considers the 26-year-old Smith the 17th best free agent this off-season, meaning a sizable pay raise in his future after concluding a four-year, $5.8 rookie contract.

Anderson, whose rookie contract extends through 2020, is on the books for a $1.7 million cap hit next season.

The Redskins do not need exemplary production from the burly 2017 second-round selection. Receiving a steady and forceful effort as a run stuffer and pocket-collapser works.

“Ryan Anderson has been in and out with the injuries, but he's done solid (work) with his assignments,” Gruden said.

An unwillingly participant in media sessions during his rookie season, Anderson turned engaging with reporters in Year 2. Chatting while seated in front of his locker at Redskins Park, he labeled his sophomore season “up and down,” but also recognized growth with his mental game.

“This year [the game] finally started to slow down for me. (Unlike) last year, everything wasn't a blur,” Anderson told NBC Sports Washington.

Washington often uses its outside linebackers to create a perimeter edge, forcing opposing ball carriers inside where teammates await. That is a good use of the powerful 253-pound Anderson.

Whether the Redskins use him as the 2019 starter is beyond his control.

“I’m just trying to get myself together so I’m in the best shape, so there’s no question about the position when I’m playing," the University of Alabama product said. “I don’t want to go out there and get the snaps I’ve been asking for and then I’m not producing.”

Anderson also plans on letting the assistant coach’s Legend-ary advice sink in.

“I’m a guy that doesn't even really listen to that kind of music,' Anderson said of Legend's soulful fare, "but at that the end of the day it makes sense.”

As does going with the flow until the Redskins sort out their off-season strategy at outside linebacker. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS: