It's fitting that Wil Myers and James Shields, the two principals involved in the Royals-Rays preseason trade that launched a thousand articles and blog posts about which team had just committed an unforgivable blunder/stolen a great player, are refusing to give us an easy answer to that debate. With two weeks left in the season, and their respective teams playing in the midst of a feverish wild card race, both Myers and Shields are playing balls-out, tremendous baseball. Last night was just the latest example. On a night when both the Royals and the Rays were desperate for a win, Myers and Shields carried their teams to victory.
Myers was up first. Facing former Ray Matt Garza and the backsliding Texas Rangers, he spent the night hitting the ever-loving shit out of the ball. He staked the Rays to an early lead with an opposite field homer in the second inning, and then blew the game open with a two-run double that hit the center field wall on the fly—and, Jesus Christ, I have no idea how that ball didn't leave the stadium—in the fifth inning.
This is all Myers has been doing lately. In September, he's hitting .352/.407/.704 with four home runs, 10 RBI, and 10 runs scored. Behind Myers's bat, the Rays have won four out of their last five games and are now tied for the AL wild card league with the Rangers. Seriously though, watch how goddamn hard he hit that double last night:
An hour after the Rays game started, James Shields took the mound against the Cleveland Indians, one of the teams standing in the Royals' way in the rock fight that has become the AL wild card race. Shields went six innings, allowing just one run on six hits while striking out 10. He spent the night dazzling Indians hitters with fluttering change ups and roaring like a badass:
Say what you want about the validity of the nickname "Big Game" James, but it's hard to watch Shields coming off the mound there and not think that this is exactly what the Royals were looking for when they traded for him. Yeah, the 213 innings pitched and the 184 strikeouts are nice, but there has to be something to be said for the spiritual reinforcement that a team may feel from watching its ace pitch his ass off and then come stomping into the dugout like a triumphant gladiator.
Recall just why the Wil Myers-James Shields trade was so controversial: both teams were trying to get better. In most cases, these kind of marquee, ace-for-prospects trades involve one team clearly embarking on a rebuilding course and another trying to load up for a playoff run. But this trade was something else, a fair exchange that came with an unspoken and built-in challenge: Let's see who made the right choice.
The shitty thing about that challenge is that it must, at some point, be resolved. One of these players will eventually prove to be more valuable than the other, and it will likely have little to do with whether or not either team makes the playoffs this year. Of course, "valuable" can mean many different things. The deck is loaded against Shields, as Myers—a 22-year-old stud on his rookie contract who is under team control for the next few years—is obviously a more valuable player from almost any logical viewpoint. But what if Shields wins a couple of Cy Young awards and brings the Royals a World Series title—does that make the trade worth it for the Royals? But then what if Jake Odorizzi, another prospect the Royals gave up in the trade, turns out to be a stud? Then do the Rays end up winning the trade, after all? This is a philosophical debate that really comes down to—
Ah, goddammit. See, that's the rabbit hole that we will eventually find ourselves at the bottom of no matter what happens. But why go diving in there now? Why not stay outside a bit longer, in the sunshine and the grass, and relish the opportunity to enjoy watching two great baseball players do amazing things while the stakes are the highest?