Odd Man Rush: Royals ready to win at major league level

Not all teams have the resources to be a contender each and every year, to rebuild on the fly and still field a club capable of winning ballgames and getting into the playoffs.

A vast majority of franchises need to bide their time, build from within and wait for the right time to strike.

The Kansas City Royals feel that time is now.

The Royals pulled off one of the bigger moves this offseason that doesn't involve the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up some of baseball's top prospects to acquire from the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. In Shields, Kansas City gets a No. 1 for its staff and a veteran who could help the club return to the playoffs for the first time in 28 years.

The minor league system has been viewed as a strength for the Royals, but general manager Dayton Moore opted to move four of his young guys -- highly- regarded outfielder Wil Myers, pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard -- who might have helped in the future for a pair of players who can help now.

Shields, who turns 31 on Dec. 20, won 16 games during an All-Star season in 2011, finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting thanks to a 2.82 earned run average. His numbers were off a bit last season, 15-10 with a 3.52 ERA over 33 starts, but the man known as "Big Game James" is one of only four pitchers in baseball to record at least 220 strikeouts over the past two seasons.

The others? Just some guys named Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander. Not a bad group to share a drink or two with.

Davis is no throw-in either. The 27-year-old won a total of 23 games in 2010-11 before posting an excellent 2.43 ERA in 54 games as a reliever last season.

Though Kansas City struggled to score runs last season, its .265 collective batting average was tied for the fourth best in the American League and Moore has to figure that his young sluggers Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez will all take a step forward and form a solid lineup core with Billy Butler and Alex Gordon.

The Royals also had the fourth-best ERA of any AL club a season ago among relievers, but their starters ranked near the bottom in wins and ERA. So, Moore made upgrading the rotation his top priority and has done so by combining Sunday's trade for Shields and Davis with an earlier move to acquire hurler Ervin Santana from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Oct. 31.

Those three will head the rotation that returns consistent veteran lefty Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie, who went 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts last year for Kansas City after being acquired from the Colorado Rockies in the middle of the season.

"If you're going to win consistently in the major leagues, you have to have a rotation that's going to give you innings and compete and give you a chance to win," Moore told Kansas City's official website. "That's what our goal is, to put together a very good rotation and we feel like we've been able to do that."

With a revamped rotation, the Royals hope to contend in one of the more wide- open divisions. Sure, the reigning Central-champion Detroit Tigers made it to the World Series, but their 88 wins were also the fewest of any playoff team in the American League.

Kansas City hasn't had a winning season since 2003 and its last playoff game came when the franchise won Game 7 of the 1985 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. So, Moore opted to move some young talent for a chance to win now.

The Royals traded two of their top three prospects, with Myers ranking as the third-best prospect in all of baseball by, which also had Odorizzi listed as the 30th.

Those two could help the Rays win some games down the road, but neither are a lock to begin the season on Tampa Bay's major league roster.

The other key word there is "could." While teams need to stock talent through the draft to stay competitive, there is something to be said in acquiring established stars too, such as Shields, who isn't exactly filling out an AARP application yet either.

"It's time for us as an organization to win at the major league level and we have to use all our resources. Our farm system is certainly one of them," Moore told the Royals' website.

Kansas City may have lost control of some young players who may turn into All- Stars, but the future has no guarantees. Instead, Moore turned a resource into a weapon.

And the Central Division better get ready for another contender.