I promised a big announcement yesterday, and here it is.
I was recently offered an opportunity to do my writing on a larger platform, and I accepted the opportunity to work with someone who is not only extremely knowledgeable about baseball and the Royals, but someone who I consider a friend.
When I started this blog in September of last year it was because I was looking for an outlet to write and what better to write about than the Royals? I doubt he remembers, but I actually talked through email with Rany Jazayerli about blogging and how to make it in the sports world and he gave me a piece of advice that I try to adhere to. He told me that to blog for myself and not for other people.
From now on I’ll be blogging for myself at www.pinetarpress.com. It’s a fantastic site run by Greg Schaum, as many of you probably know. I’m incredibly excited about this opportunity. I’d like to thank all my readers and hope that you’ll follow me to pinetarpress.com. It’ll be the same blog, just on a different site.
Remember, go to www.pinetarpress.com. If you haven’t bookmarked it already, you should have, but do it now.
Sorry for the lack of posts this week. Some crazy stuff has been coming up, but there’ll be a big announcement here tomorrow, so tune in then.
The Royals upcoming series with the Rays is a series that I always look forward to because watching the Rays is really satisfying to me. I guess it has something to do with the fact that it makes me believe that it will be possible for the Royals to win again at some point. You see, for the first 10 years the Rays were in existence, they were absolutely terrible. They gathered top of the first round draft picks and continued to lose 90+ games every season until finally in 2008, they broke through with all their young talent. They won the American League East, which most people said would be impossible without a significant change in the salary structure in baseball, and they ended up in the World Series where they lost to the Phillies. The Rays are a reminder to me of what is possible in baseball.
The big difference between the upcoming 2012 Royals and the 2008 Rays is that the Rays had pitching that the Royals just don’t have. Granted, they lucked into Scott Kazmir, their ace, when the Mets decided to trade him for Victor Zambrano in one of the most ridiculous trades of all time. Still, though, they had more starting pitching than the Royals have today. The thing the Royals have that the Rays didn’t (and don’t) is money to spend, so if there is a starting pitcher on the trading block, the Royals can take on salary that the Rays simply weren’t capable of doing. Even looking at it position by position, there is a lot of odd similarities in what can be expected from players in the 2012 season for the Royals compared to what the Rays got out of their 2008 roster.
Starting with the catching position, the Rays got average offensive and defensive production from Dioner Navarro. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the Royals to get the same production from whoever is part of their catching tandem next season. At first base, the Rays had Carlos Pena who played great defense, hit 30 homers, drove in 100 runs and got on base at a nice clip. I think Hosmer will walk a little less than Pena did, but will make up for that with his batting average. At second base was Akinori Iwamora who played solid defense and was slightly below average as a hitter. I think Johnny Giavotella will be the second baseman for the Royals this year. What he lacks in defense, I believe he’ll make up for in offense. At shortstop, the Rays had Jason Bartlett who was named the team MVP in spite of his .690 OPS. I don’t think there’s any reason that Escobar can’t put up similar numbers while playing even better defense than Bartlett. The position where the Rays will probably outshine the Royals is third base where Evan Longoria had his fine rookie season. Mike Moustakas will probably hit for about equal power, but won’t be Longoria’s equal on defense or anywhere else across the board.
Moving to the outfield, I think Gordon has an opportunity to be better than Carl Crawford was in 2008 when he posted a .273/.319/.400 line and stealing 25 bases. Now he was injured a fair amount during the season, but he was picked up by Eric Hinske who hit 20 homers in a platoon outfield role. The interesting comparison is Lorenzo Cain and B.J. Upton. I’ve said many times that Cain is comparable to Austin Jackson of the Tigers, and I stand by that, but I could see Cain putting up similar numbers to Upton’s 2008 season for the Royals in center field, but not putting in questionable effort. Right field and DH are going to be pretty comparable next season as well. If either Francoeur or Cabrera are out there, I have confidence that they can post about league average numbers which is what Gabe Gross did. The big difference offensively is that the Rays bench was taken advantage of and was very good with guys like Ben Zobrist, the aforementioned Eric Hinske and Willy Aybar. The Royals bench just isn’t that strong yet.
I think the bullpens were comparable and the starting pitching favors the 2008 Rays. I have a feeling that a lot of the pundits will be predicting that the Royals will be a lot like the 2008 Rays. They have a ton of young talent and a lot of young talent on the way, so people tend to make the comparison whether or not they actually believe it’s true. I don’t know why, but I continue to be fascinated by the turnaround of the Rays. The big difference in what they did from 2007 to 2008 was improved their defense, and it almost instantly improved their pitching staff. The scary thing is that the Royals already have improved their defense, though it still has a ways to go to become what the numbers would indicate as good.
It’s an interesting comparison to make for the Royals because I think 2008 for the Rays was supposed to be a lot like 2012 will be for the Royals. Coming into the season, they’re expected to show improvement, but not necessarily contend. For the Rays in the East, they especially weren’t expecting to contend in 2008. 2009 was really the Rays target contention year while 2013 is really the Royals season. It’s funny when rebuilding plans work because they always seem to come to fruition a year ahead of schedule and then the following year is what you expected the previous year to be. That held true with the Rays who went 84-78 in 2009, which is probably more in line with what they expected the previous season. Anyway, the point is that you should pay attention to the Rays this weekend and hope that the Royals are that successful.
I think we all can now see that the problem with the Royals was Wilson Betemit. Of course I kid. The Royals yesterday traded Wilson Betemit to the division rival Detroit Tigers for pitcher Antonio Cruz and catcher Julio Rodriguez. I know nothing about these two players other than their numbers and that they are not considered in the upper tier of Tigers prospects, so I can’t provide a ton of analysis other than what you can find for yourself, but I’ll see if I can’t shine a little light on these two guys. Antonio Cruz is a left-handed pitcher who many see as a future reliever if he ever makes it to the big leagues. He throws a good fastball and good changeup and an inconsistent curve. He’ll be the youngest player on Kane County, but his numbers aren’t terribly impressive. Julio Rodriguez is a catcher who many see as an organizational guy who plays great defense. I think a lot of those guys can end up with careers as backup catchers due to the dearth of catching talent in the big leagues. A cursory look at his offensive numbers makes me hope that he’s like Ivan Rodriguez defensively.
In spite of the underwhelming players returned for Betemit, I think it was a good haul. For one, teams don’t give up big time prospects like they used to anymore, and if they do it’s for players better than Wilson Betemit. Don’t get me wrong. I’m probably one of Betemit’s biggest fans in Kansas City. When the Royals signed him to a minor league deal before last season, I loved it. See when I was little, the Royals didn’t have a ton of games on television, so I watched a lot of the Cubs and the Braves. The Cubs didn’t do it for me, but I really enjoyed the Braves, so much so that I’d consider them my National League team. Well, they had a young shortstop prospect named Wilson Betemit some years ago and they were constantly hyping him on TBS, so I sort of grew an affinity for him. Rational or not, I was sure that he was going to break out for the Royals. Sure enough, he had a very strong 2010 season and came back and was quite good for the Royals in 2011 before moving aside for Mike Moustakas.
The promotion of Moustakas is what took away a lot of the trade value of Wilson Betemit. When Betemit was playing every day, it was a near lock that he would achieve Type B free agent status meaning the Royals could receive a pick in the compensation round of the 2012 draft if he left the Royals as a free agent. By putting him on the bench, he wasn’t in a position to accumulate the numbers necessary to reach that status. Additionally, as a bench player who hardly played, the Royals didn’t quite have the leverage that they did when he was starting. And finally, while a very solid player, Betemit is also very limited in what he’s capable of doing. He can hit, play a below average third base and fill in at first base. That’s useful, sure, but when you factor in that he is a free agent at the end of the season, it’s not worth much more than two lower level prospects who you hope can contribute as a role player in the big leagues.
The fallout from the trade and the timing of it was actually really important in the game last night because Betemit was originally in the starting lineup. So, the first thing that happened was Moustakas was back in the starting lineup against a tough lefty like John Danks. The second part of it was that Mike Aviles was recalled from AAA, but he would be unable to make it to the stadium in time for the game, so the Royals bench, which was already short with just three players was down to two. Then, when Melky Cabrera left the game with a stomach bug and Mitch Maier had to come in, the bench was down to just Matt Treanor. Now, this particular problem came into play because of a transaction that happened at an inopportune time for that night’s game, but it’s part of a larger problem of roster management. This is a big reason why teams should not carry 13 pitchers. Any little thing happens and your bench consists of your backup catcher.
So twice in the late innings of a tie game, Billy Butler reached base and could not be pinch run for due to two reasons. The first is that his replacement in Treanor wouldn’t have even been considered an upgrade and the second is that you can’t use your backup catcher like that. After the game, Yost mentioned that they had Kyle Davies ready to pinch run and potentially play outfield if need be, but I’m not sure if he was joking. I don’t think he was, which concerns me about Yost’s sanity, but that’s another story for another day. Luckily, the Royals returned the favor from the walk-off balk and were able to score on a walk-off wild pitch with none other than Billy Butler at the plate.
And that leads me to my final point for this rambling post which is the conversation that people are having that Butler looked upset when Gordon scored the winning run. Quite frankly, I’m sick of the bashing of Billy Butler. He is one of the best hitters on the Royals and is one of the best hitting designated hitters in baseball. I understand that people are disappointed with his power and RBI numbers, and I am, too. That fact doesn’t mean he’s not an amazing hitter. The criticism reached a new low last night. I was at the game, so I wasn’t able to see Butler’s reaction, but my guess is that he was a little bummed at himself because he swung at a bad pitch. Sometimes a designated hitter might feel a little detached from the game, which is why it’s so difficult for players to make that transition. As a designated hitter, the only way you can help your team is by hitting and Billy Butler’s swing and miss at that pitch in the dirt didn’t help his team in any way. It’s been a frustrating season for Billy, but to think that he has an attitude problem because you think he might have looked annoyed when Alex Gordon slid across home plate is absolutely ridiculous.
When the Royals fired Trey Hillman last season and hired Ned Yost, I was euphoric. I know that a baseball team doesn’t ultimately matter in my life, but my summers are pretty well taken up by Royals games and thinking about ways they can get better. Luckily, they’re usually pretty bad so there’s not much down time in thinking about those ways. When I heard that Trey Hillman was finally out as manager, I figured that the Royals had figured out the first way to get on their way to being a better club who could compete for a division title. And for a long time, it didn’t really matter what Ned Yost did because he had one huge thing going for him: he wasn’t Trey Hillman. As time passes, it becomes clearer to me why exactly he was fired with his Brewers in the thick of a pennant race. When he was hired and people from Milwaukee told us of his faults, I thought that they were silly. Now, I’m beginning to understand way more than I did at the time.
The reason I bring this up is that the Royals had a closed door meeting yesterday that I assume was initiated by Ned Yost. Upon coming out of the meeting, Yost was asked questions by reporters about the nature of the meeting and he did not mention anything that was said. That part doesn’t bother me so much, but it’s how snippy he was with the reporters combined with the fact that he seems to be morphing back into Nervous Ned makes me believe that the Royals might not be able to win with him at the helm.
I was watching the Red Sox – Rays game on Sunday Night Baseball a couple days ago and in that game, Joe Maddon got kicked out. Then, a couple innings later, his bench coach, Dave Martinez, got kicked out as well. The announcers were talking about what they were doing the clubhouse and somebody mentioned that they were probably watching the game in Joe’s office. Then one of the other announcers chimed in to make the point that he doesn’t have a television in there and that they’re probably sipping on some expensive wine. The reason I tell that story is that it illustrates the difference between Maddon and Yost. Just once, I’d love it if the Royals make a hire like that and he turns out to be a mellow guy who can manage a hell of a baseball game.
Now I try not to harp on the manager because only in the extreme cases does a manager make a huge difference either way. Hillman was one of the excessive ways to the negative, and that worked out well for Yost. It’s easy to follow sheer incompetence because any kind of basic knowledge makes you look like a genius in comparison. Anyway, I’m doing talking about managerial qualifications. I’ve heard a quote that I’m sure you’ve heard many times as well. It is “winners win and losers meet” and that was the first thing I thought of when I heard reports that the Royals had a closed door meeting. If any team was in need of one, it was certainly the Royals. They were 22-22 at one point during the first Cardinals series. Can you believe that? Since then, they’re 17-36. That’s pretty pathetic.
I obviously have no idea what they could have talked about behind closed doors. As a fan, I hope they talked about the lackadaisical play of most of the team since the break. I hope they talked about the team’s inability to get a big hit when necessary. I hope they talked about the fact that the starting rotation needs to give seven innings every time out because the bullpen will be taxed otherwise. There’s every chance in the world that they talked about nothing at all and used the opportunity to close the door, get away from baseball and the media and just try to clear their heads. The thing about the 2011 Royals is there is a good baseball team buried somewhere on that roster. Unfortunately, it’s under a pile of bad baseball that the team just needs to get out of.
Think about that for a second. Ignoring the fact that this team has had some excellent stretches of baseball early in the season,, think about the fact that there’s more talent on this Royals team than we’ve seen in quite some time. On the infield, with the exception of Getz, everybody has a future in the big leagues as a starter. And (you knew there had to be an obligatory reference) Giavotella isn’t far away from the big leagues as the missing link to the future infield. The outfield is young and productive and will just get better when Cain can get to the big leagues. Catching sucks around baseball, so I’m not worried about that. The pitching staff looks good with the bullpen all set and the starters seem to be beginning to fall into place. Paulino looks good every time out and Duffy keeps getting better. Somewhere within this team is a good baseball team.
I don’t know. Maybe they find it behind closed doors. They looked awfully good last night with a couple exceptions. I know that Jake Peavy isn’t the same guy who won the Cy Young with the Padres a few years back, but he still throws hard and throws strikes. It’s a good combination and the Royals chipped away against him before getting him out of there in the seventh and then holding on. Danny Duffy looked as good as I’ve seen him after the first inning last night. He ended up throwing 94 pitches in 7 innings after having a 25 pitch first inning. That’s the kind of efficiency he needs to be a star in this league. So yeah, maybe they woke up from that meeting and will play much better from here on out. It would go a long way toward making fans believe that 2012 will be different than any other year in the past 27.
I suppose you thought that after another fantastic day at the plate for Johnny Giavotella that I’d be writing a whole post about how he should be the Royals starting second baseman rather than Chris Getz. Well, I’m not going to do that. The fact that he’s still in Omaha, though, while Getz is masquerading as a Major League player is infuriating to me, and I just don’t get it, but I’m not going to get too terribly worked up over it until the trade deadline comes and goes. The reason for that is that we are less than two weeks away from the Royals potentially shaking up their roster. The problem with Giavotella right now is that he is not on the 40 man roster, so they would have to do some work to get people off the 40 man in order to get him to the big leagues. Yes, there is certainly some dead weight on there, but trades may be the best way to make the space. And if there is anybody up above looking out for the Royals, a contending team will lose their second baseman in the next week or so and actually want to trade for Chris Getz.
Rany stole my thunder a little bit with his post from a couple of days ago about the trade value and the likelihood of certain players getting traded, but I’m going to talk about it anyway. As you all know, the Royals have a few players who are probably not really a part of the future and they have what appears to be suitable replacements in the minor leagues that might actually make the team better. The Royals spent the off-season doing exactly what they should have done. For young players ready to play in the big leagues, they were on the roster. For those who were not ready, the Royals signed stop gap free agents. It’s not typical for me to praise what they did, but I think they did the right thing signing guys like Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur.
In regard to those two signings, it’s funny what half a season can do to change opinions. In the offseason I thought the signings were good ideas in principle because the Royals needed someone to handle the outfield duties. Of course, the Royals hadn’t yet traded for Lorenzo Cain, so that wasn’t an issue in anybody’s mind just yet. Even though Cain wasn’t in the fold, I did not like the signing of Melky Cabrera after reading reports that he was out of shape and didn’t work very hard at his craft. On the other hand, while I mocked the Jeff Francoeur signing just like everybody else did, I thought it had a chance to work out well, especially if the Royals used him as a platoon partner for someone. Well, as it has turned out, Cabrera got into better shape and has been one of the Royals best hitters while Jeff Francoeur is doing his best to make sure nobody forgets his April because if they do, they’ll realize that he’s been absolutely terrible since then. So now, it’s easy to look in the minors and realize that the Royals have only one outfielder who, without a doubt, is ready to play in the big leagues every day and that is Lorenzo Cain. There’s increasing sentiment that the Royals should trade just one of the outfielders they signed and keep the other. I think I might agree with that, but I think they should keep Cabrera. He’s due arbitration after the season, but still shouldn’t make a ton of money and can handle right field until Wil Myers is ready sometime during the next season.
Anyway, I meant to get to the trade possibilities much sooner than this, but hopefully you stayed with me through my ramblings. There are essentially five players who have some serious trade value on the Royals roster right now. They are the two outfielders, Jeff Francis, Bruce Chen and Joakim Soria. I’d put Billy Butler on the list, but I just don’t think they’re going to dangle him at this point. He’s in a deep slump and might be traded in the off-season, but right now his value is about as low as it’s been since his sophomore season. With those five above, though, there are certainly contenders who could use them and who could give up something good for them.
Melky Cabrera; Possible Destinations: Red Sox, Rays, Phillies, Pirates, Giants – All these teams need outfield help in some way or another. Teams like Tampa Bay probably wouldn’t need to trade somebody for a guy like Cabrera as they have two outfielders in the minor league system who have a chance to contribute, but they might need some help regardless. The nice thing about a guy like Cabrera is that he’s been a fourth outfielder before, so if he’s brought into a situation where a team needs a rental because of an injured outfielder returning in mid-September, he can slide into that role again when the time comes. I think the Royals can actually expect more for Cabrera because of all the teams who could use him. Dayton Moore recently said that he’s looking for near ready starting pitching in trades, but I think the best bet with trading is to trade for talent in the lower levels of the minors and hope that you come up with a stud. Cabrera could bring back two very talented, raw minor leaguers or a prospect at the back end of the top ten in a mediocre system.
Jeff Francouer: Possible Destinations: Red Sox, Indians, Phillies - Francoeur is less marketable than Cabrera. For one, he can’t play center field. You can argue all you want that Melky can’t either, but he hasn’t been heinous there this season in spite of some of his troubles, so in a smaller ballpark I think Cabrera could patrol center decently enough for half a season. Francoeur is, however, a very good right fielder. The most likely destination for him is Philadelphia where they badly need a right-handed hitting right fielder who can mash lefties and play good defense. I’d love to see them be able to get a guy like Trevor May, but unless the Phillies get really desperate I don’t think they’d part with him for Francoeur. Now, if you add Soria to the mix, maybe they could get something going there. A guy like Vance Worley might be a fair return for Francoeur from the Phillies and it would give the Royals their near ready starting pitcher.
Jeff Francis/Bruce Chen: Possible destinations: Yankees, Indians, Tigers, Brewers, Cardinals - Any team in contention could use more pitching. I group these two together because I don’t think the Royals are going to trade both of them, but I do think they’re going to trade one of them. Neither pitcher is going to fetch much on the open market, so the Royals could probably have their choice of a mediocre arm who is pretty good in AAA, but probably won’t be more than a reliever in the Majors or a raw guy with some potential in the low minors. I’d take the raw guy every day of the week.
Joakim Soria: Possible destinations: Yankees, Rays, Rangers, Angels, Phillies, Diamondbacks - Realistically, every team wants Joakim Soria. Some teams don’t need him, but every team wants him. Sadly, he has more value to the team he is on than he does on the trade market. Teams don’t typically give up serious talent for closers, last year’s Ramos for Capps trade notwithstanding. I mentioned above potentially packaging Soria with Francoeur to the Phillies and that could get the Royals a really nice package including any of the high upside arms in the Phillies system as well as a guy like Worley who is ready now to contribute. I don’t think the Royals should trade Soria now, though, but rather in the off-season if they’re going to at all. I just don’t see a huge market for him at this point, which is odd because of how dominant he’s been since regaining the closer’s role.
So there you have it, just a few hundred words on the trade market for the Royals marketable players. Check back in two weeks to get an idea of what the roster looks like. Oh, and count on August 1 as the post where I scream bloody murder if Giavotella isn’t in the big leagues.
It occurred to me that I’m an idiot and there is one more player who has some serious trade value on the Royals and that is Wilson Betemit. How I could overlook him is completely beyond me. I could see him as a fit with the Tigers, Angels, Brewers, Marlins and Braves. He might be able to get a mid-tiered prospect like Melky could get. That all depends of course on how desperate the team looking to trade for him gets.