A quiet Sunday evening in December was abruptly changed when the Rays finally did it. The anticipation of a big trade involving one of the Rays starting pitchers had finally become a reality when on a late Sunday evening on December 9th the Rays announced that they had traded James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals. In exchange the Rays received Baseball America's top prospect Wil Myers, pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, and 20 year old 3b prospect Patrick Leonard.
Even before the trade was announced some had speculated on whether or not Myers (if acquired) would start the 2013 season with the Rays or if he would he begin the year with the AAA Durham Bulls. One idea tossed around was that since the Rays needed all 162 games to win the 2011 Wild Card and were only eliminated in 2012 after 160 games that the front office, knowing the value of each and every game, would certainly start him with the big league club. Others used the old phrase that "service time championship" was of paramount importance to the organization while others were a bit more creative setting an over/under of his arrival of June 9th at 4:20 in the afternoon.
The Durham Bulls took this unknown a bit further and devised a very creative 3-game ticket package called Wil He or Won't He? The ticket package includes a ticket to the Bulls Opening Day (April 8th), game, their July 4th game , and their fan appreciation game on August 24th. If Wil Myers is not in the lineup on April 8th ticket buyers will be given a voucher to redeem at the game of their choice.
The question that Rays fans have been debating still has yet to be answered - Is Wil Myers going to be on the opening day roster? One general line of thought has been that unless he signs a long term extension like Evan Longoria or Matt Moore that the Rays will start him off in AAA. Then the next question is whether or not he stays for a short time to give the Rays the extra 1/2 year plus of service time or do they keep him in the minors long enough to mature past Super 2 status? The structure of a contract extension and the merits or drawbacks of sending him to the minors can and will be discussed in more detail between now and opening day.
For now we can only look at what is being said openly by the two men, Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon, who are ultimately going to make the decision to send Myers to the minors or bring him up to the bigs immediately. The two will have to come to an agreement on what is best for the organization long term and what is best for the team in the near term.
While Andrew Friedman has been much more quiet on the subject, possibly preferring his track record speak for him, Joe Maddon did speak to to Roger Moooney of the Tampa Tribune (HERE) and shared some interesting thoughts.
By now most Rays fans are familiar with the 5 stages of development for tracking progress of players from the minors through the majors but its worth repeating.: 1) Happy to be here, 2) Trying to survive 3) I belong here 4) I want to make money, and 5) I want to win. Interesting enough Maddon says that "the stage 1 and stage 2 guys, you lose with those guys."
From the sound of it Maddon would rather have Myers start the year in AAA so that he can bring him along slowly through the first two stages of development.
"From what I've heard so far I do discern calm, I do discern self-confidence, and I do discern a team player, which is all good stuff. All that other stuff, the stats, that should take care of itself. But we have high expectations of winning, and we're looking for that stage three player turning into a stage five player as soon possible, going from I belong to I want to win."
Maddon is quoted as saying that in "My experience has been it's always been good when a guy comes up in season, I've always felt that it should be easier for a young player to make the team season in progress as opposed to out of spring training, When they make the team out of spring training expectations get raised even higher, and I think if you're really looking for a young man to apply pressure to himself it's then, when he makes it out of camp and Opening Day comes and all the stuff is being written and it's tough. It's not an easy place to be, because you go from spring training when people are getting ready to the season, when they turn it up a notch."
Roger Mooney notes that the last 5 position players that have won the Rookie of the Year award started the season in the minors or played parts of previous seasons in the minors. The last AL ROY to debut on opening day was Erik Hinske in 2002.
It sounds as if Joe Maddon would prefer to start Myers off in the minors, let him get his engine going, and then bring him up to blend into the mix. This could all be subterfuge on Maddon's part - his way of sending a message that if Myers wants to be on the opening day roster then sit down with Friedman and get an extension worked out, but I don't believe Maddon is that cagey. I believe it's a safe assumption that without a contract extension in place Wil Myers will be ticketed for Durham come opening day.
** One article that I came across but did not use in the writing of this article was Lars Anderson's Sports Illustrated piece titled The Ray's Newest Prize and it is certainly worth the read