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Non-Roster Invitees on the Pitching Side

January 31, 2011 3 comments

If you’re reading this blog post from roughly 75% of the country, you’re about to get hit with a winter storm that will make many previous storms blush. Well, maybe. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard such a discrepancy throughout meteorologists than I have during this storm. I have heard that we could get hit in Kansas City with anywhere from four inches to 24 inches and everything in between. Get it together people. Boy, it’s a good thing people who predict baseball aren’t this divided on issues…

To keep our minds off the impending winter storm, let’s talk some baseball to warm us up. I had a dream last night that the Royals signed Kevin Millwood. I share that with you for two reasons. One, if I’m right I’d like for it to be documented. Two, it just shows how much I miss baseball and I assume you do, too, if you’re here at all and especially if you’re here on a regular basis. Well, there’s some good news for you. Pitchers and catchers report on Valentine’s Day for the Royals. Finally, that holiday signifies love correctly. With baseball.

Today, I wanted to look at the non-roster invitees from the pitching side to Spring Training and see who has a chance to break camp with the club or be up in relatively short order. The list is broken into basically two different sections. The first section is guys who aren’t really prospects, but they’re either flyers or organizational guys that the Royals want to reward with a trip to big league camp. Most of the pitchers on the NRI list are guys who are prospects, but there’s a couple like Luis Mendoza, Zach Miner and Steven Shell who are, by no stretch, prospects. Some would argue that Blaine Hardy isn’t a prospect either, but he’s young enough and had a good enough 2010 minor league campaign that he’s closer to legitimate prospect than organizational fodder.

So, of those three who are not prospects, I think Zach Miner has the best chance to break camp with the big league club. The thing he has going for him over others is that he has done very well against the Royals in his career with the Tigers. That seems like such a silly reason for someone to be an integral part of the roster, but it happens all the time with teams. They fail to realize that perhaps a player was so good against their team because their team isn’t very good. As for Mendoza and Shell, well we’ve seen what Mendoza can do and Shell seems to me like a guy brought in to just provide some spring innings because they do have 30+ games and need to save the important pieces for the regular season. I could be wrong and they could both be lights out after an offseason of work, but my guess is that Miner is the only of those three to break camp with the team if any of them do.

Of the prospects, I think the best bets to be on the roster on March 31 are the relievers, specifically Tim Collins, Louis Coleman and Brandon Sisk. Sisk was recently added to the list of NRIs and might be looked at as the favorite to open the season as the lefty out of the pen. Some in the organization may feel that Collins would benefit from a little more time in AAA and be a mid-season callup. He has, after all, spent just a few innings above AA. In Sisk, the Royals have a guy who will strike out a lot of batters, but also suffers from the walk bug which will be a common affliction in the Royals bullpen this year. He’s a little bit older, but still considered a prospect. He’s only pitched as high as AA, but if the Royals see more value in Collins’ future, then they’d possibly rather Sisk make the leap and not worry quite as much about his development.

In 212.1 minor league innings in his three-year career, Sisk has struck out 245 batters and walked 80. The walks, while high, shouldn’t be a detriment to him as a Major Leaguer.  He’s served in a closer’s role at times in his minor league career, and while that’s probably not his Major League role, it’s good experience for a player to have in pressure situations. Aside from his stat sheet, I don’t know a whole lot more about Brandon Sisk, but as 2011 is an evaluation season mostly, I’d be all for getting a look at him.

Louis Coleman has an opportunity to break with the big league club as well. I’ve discussed him a little here, but I like what he brings to the table as one of the bridge men to get to Joakim Soria. I think that Gil Meche’s retirement opens the door for Coleman if the Royals put Sean O’Sullivan in AAA rather than in the bullpen. Coleman has thrown 113.2 innings over two seasons with 125 strikeouts and just 29 walks. He also is a groundball pitcher and that shows up in his home runs allowed with just seven in his minor league career. I don’t think Coleman has the stuff to be a closer, but he’s a great guy to come in as a stopper if the team needs a groundball or a strikeout. He’s got a bit of a funky delivery which might actually help relievers who come in after him as hitters have to readjust to more traditional arm angles. Long term, I think Coleman can be a guy for the Royals similar to what Jesse Crain was for the Twins.

The bullpen is where the first wave of prospects will come in for the Royals, and that’s no different on the list of non-roster invitees. I think a few of these guys will make impacts throughout the season and almost certainly by Opening Day of 2013, but by then they probably will no longer be on the NRI list. I just can’t get over how much fun Spring Training should be this year to watch all the young guys battling it out in camp. As a sidenote, I love it when legitimate prospects have high numbers in Spring Training at some points in their careers because those are the shots inevitably shown when they’re big stars, and it’s fun to see later on when a guy like Albert Pujols is shown in a shot wearing number 73 or something like that. Everybody be careful in this storm, and just think baseball for warm thoughts.

El Chup informs me that Miner is out until at least June.

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We’re Number One

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

At this point, it’s old news, but the accolades are rolling in for the Royals system. Both Baseball America and Keith Law have ranked the Royals farm system as the best in baseball. Unless you either just began following baseball this week or woke up from a coma that lasted more than, say, eight months, this is not news at all to you. And if you did recently wake up from a coma, congratulations on, you know, waking up from that coma. We missed you. I’ve seen a lot of articles around the internet about what this means for the Royals in terms of the future and what other number one ranked organizations have done following the ranking. I’ll give you the skinny on it before I get in to my real points. Every team who was ranked number one since 2001 has made the playoffs within five years. There are all sorts of different situations in those teams, but the one constant is that every single one of them has made the playoffs within five years. I could deal with some postseason baseball in this city.

I’m sort of interested in the Royals staying power as one of the top organizations. Looking at a few teams on this list, all but the Rays were just one time top organizations while the Rays have been the top farm system three times in the last ten years. Obviously, that’s what the Royals should be striving for. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rays as the top system in 2013 either after their array of high draft picks in the 2011 draft. That’s a fantastic organization in terms of drafting, scouting and development, and it’s what the Royals should strive to be. You knew that, though. My question is how much staying power do the Royals have in the top ten farm systems? In order to be a competitive franchise, they’re going to need to always have a pipeline of talent.

I hate to keep coming back to the Rays, but look at what they’ve been able to do in spite of the fact that they lost the biggest name in franchise history, their lockdown closer, an extremely important starter and their power bat at first base. They can just plug holes, and because they’re always incorporating younger talent, they had the money to go out and get some veteran influences in Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez because they’re not paying for guys like Jose Guillen. They can trade Matt Garza because they have his replacement in house, and he’s probably better than Garza. Maybe he won’t be right now, but within a year, I’d predict that Jeremy Hellickson is a better pitcher than Matt Garza.

The point is that the pipeline needs to continue to flow and that the organization cannot rest on it’s laurels of all these number one rankings they’re receiving now and will continue to receive until the start of the season. The pipeline is important to, but one thing I should note before getting too invested in the minors is that the minor league talent needs to become Major League talent. I’ve read this many times on the internet from disgruntled Royals fans who don’t think a good farm system is enough. They don’t fly a flag for having the best farm system. And that’s true, the guys need to come to the Majors and produce. That’s something that has a lot of people skeptical about this youth movement that the Royals have finally begun. They point to Alex Gordon being the best prospect in baseball or Jim Pittsley or Michael Tucker (who had a surprisingly nice career) or any of the number of Royals highly touted prospects who fizzled at the big league level. I don’t want to harp on this, but we have never seen this much high-end talent at once. Even if the attrition rate is higher than it has been, this system should still produce five to eight big league players and one or two stars. Now, if ever an organization could screw this up, I think it’s this one, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

It’s interesting, though, to see what’s next for the Royals in the system. They’ve got this group of players who presumably will be in the Majors in 2011 and 2012 with some slipping to 2013, but the lower levels are filled with guys who should make up the next wave of talent in 2014, 2015 and 2016. If Moustakas comes up in 2011 and absolutely rakes, maybe he’s a little too expensive for a team like the Royals who would rather invest in a more complete hitter in Eric Hosmer or Wil Meyers. The key to building a successful, winning organization is having a guy like Cheslor Cuthbert ready to take over for him. Mike Montgomery is putting up great numbers, but he’s got a bit of an injury history and John Lamb is actually better, so you sign Lamb long-term, let Montgomery walk or trade him and replace him with Jason Adam.

I think the Royals are doing this right. They have some serious talent at all levels of the organization, and I have complete faith in this regime to draft well to keep that talent flowing. The new collective bargaining agreement might make this null and void, but they have so much talent coming through that some is bound to leave as a free agent, but at that point they’ll be able to collect draft picks like the Rays have this year to restock. The beauty of having 12 picks in the first 85 or whatever it is the Rays have is that they can draft for both immediate need and future needs, which is amazing for them. My guess is that the system will be changed by then, but if it’s not the Royals will be able to take advantage of it in the same way.

I’ve been tough on Dayton Moore as have a lot of the online and offline world. He’s deserved a lot of the criticism, but one thing he also deserves is praise for this farm system. He’s not the one putting it together in anything more than a supervisory role; that’s what the people he hired do. But he hired them, and he was able to convince David Glass to open up his wallet in the draft, which is potentially his biggest victory as GM of the Royals. The jury is still out on Dayton Moore as a Major League GM. This offseason has given me hope that he’s getting it. One thing that can’t be denied, though, is that he has given hope to a city about baseball that hasn’t had hope in quite some time. Hopefully this isn’t the last number one ranking we see in the near future, and I have a feeling that it won’t be.

Wil Myers to the OF and the Top 50 Prospects

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

First order of business is that over the weekend, it was unearthed that Wil Myers would officially be moving to the outfield. Those surprised by this move are probably first time readers of the blog, so welcome. I don’t believe that anything has been officially announced, but we know that he’s been taking flyballs for awhile, and the Royals seem to believe that now is the time he’s ready to make the adjustment. My guess is that he’ll start out in high A for at least a month or so to leave him at a level where he’s experienced some success and that he’s comfortable while he’s making the adjustment. His bat is ready for AA, but it’s hard to start at that level at a new position. There is a chance that he’s taken to it like a fish to water and just happens to be a natural outfielder. He is athletic enough for that to be a possibility.

The good news with this is that it probably gets him to the Majors a lot faster than had he stayed behind the dish. I mentioned how ready his bat is, but his glove as a catcher was that far away from Major League ready. I think there’s probably a chance that he would develop into at least an average catcher, but for a number of reasons this move makes sense. Aside from getting to the Majors quicker, this will allow him to play 150+ games instead of about 120 games. Most catchers aside from the apparently bionic Jason Kendall (who is said to be way ahead of schedule…I know…not good.) are not able to play daily behind the plate. If the bat is good enough, they can play first or DH on days they’re not catching, but the Royals lineup in the future will hopefully be too good to take out any of Butler/Hosmer/Ka’aihue/Robinson. The other thing is that while Myers was a below average catcher, he has the athleticism to become above average defensively in the outfield. I’m obviously not ready to declare him a gold glove winner in right field, but he has a chance to be excellent out there. He’s got some pretty good speed, good baseball instincts and a good arm.

As a bit of a segue, I’ve noticed that people tend to wonder what this will do to his prospect status. Obviously a catcher is much more important on the defensive spectrum than right field. I don’t think it does anything, though, because I’m not sure that anybody ever thought of Myers as a catcher in spite of him playing there throughout the last two years. I think the move to the outfield was something that most believed would happen, so in their rankings they pretty much accounted for that. As far as Royals prospects go, the only way I see this making an impact on rankings is if someone had Myers ahead of Hosmer, but now have flipped them. Either way, he’s a top three prospect in the Royals organization and probably top 20 in all of baseball. If anything, because his bat will now be able to be in the lineup more often, he’s potentially a better prospect.

Speaking prospects, MLB Network and Jonathan Mayo released their Top 50 prospects last night, and the Royals were well represented, of course. They had six of the top 50 and four of the top 20. The only real surprise to me was Jake Odorizzi. He was listed at number 37, ahead of guys like Dwyer and Duffy and only three spots behind John Lamb. From what I’ve noticed, most people rank Odorizzi behind the other two lefties, and obviously not nearly as close to Lamb. Of course, this is just one man’s opinions and these lists mean very little, but I thought it was interesting that he was ranked so highly. It was obviously good news for Royals fans as there’s yet another person who thinks one of the Royals pitching prospects deserves a ridiculously high ranking. My guess is that Dwyer and Duffy weren’t too far off the list, and that if they went to 100 that you would see those two plus potentially two other Royals in Christian Colon and maybe even Tim Collins.

The rest of the Royals were bunched pretty well with Myers at 16, Montgomery at 14, Hosmer at eight and Moustakas at seven. As you saw with my prospect list from a few months back, I don’t like Moustakas quite as much as Hosmer or Myers and I had Montgomery behind Myers as well, but it’s hard to argue with some tiny little differences. As the well-respected prospect reports come out, and you don’t have to keep relying on reading what I have to say, it’s going to be fun to be a Royals fan for a few weeks. They’re realistically not going to be too good in 2011, but it’s a lot of fun to hear about all these guys coming through the system and what other people think about them. The thing I love is that when the Royals are brought up, it’s almost like prospect gurus need to wipe the drool from their chin. I love this system, and I love the Royals. The love has been unrequited for some time now, but I have a feeling that with all these guys working their way through the system that I’ll be soon rewarded for my patience.

Does Dayton Really Love His Former Braves?

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Sort of a running gag around the blogosphere is the joke that if a guy hasn’t played for the Braves, then Dayton Moore doesn’t want him. At times, it absolutely seems that way. I thought it’d be fun to look at his Braves signings and/or trades and see a few things about them. The first thing I looked for is if the player was acquired to do anything more than play a role as minor league filler. The second thing I looked for is if the player actually played well or if it appeared to me that he was acquired simply because Dayton knew the player or the organization from which he came. For the purpose of this post, I have decided to count every player signed by the Royals in Dayton Moore’s tenure who played for the Braves at any point, though, that will be noted.

I’ll begin by alphabetically listing the former Braves players who played in the Major Leagues with the Royals or will in 2011 following their acquisition:

Josh Anderson
Wilson Betemit
Gregor Blanco
Melky Cabrera
Jesse Chavez
Bruce Chen
Roman Colon
Juan Cruz
Kyle Davies
Kyle Farnsworth
Jeff Francouer
Luis Hernandez
Anthony “Mutton Chops” Lerew (sue me, I made up the nickname)
Ron Mahay
Brayan Pena
Tony Pena, Jr.
Odalis Perez
Horacio Ramirez

There might be a couple who I’ve missed from previous season, and maybe even a couple who I’ve missed from this off-season, but this list is a pretty good indicator of the talent Dayton Moore has brought to the Royals from the Braves organization. I should clarify my reasoning for including players like Melky Cabrera who played for the Braves, but did so after Dayton Moore was gone from the organization. A lot of the people who criticize Moore for his affliction for former Braves do so because they feel he is helping out his former employer or something along that line. I’ve never seen this specifically printed, but I get the feeling that there’s some sentiment that he’s a little lazy when it comes to filling out a roster and looks to players he presumably knows. I can’t speak to that one way or the other, but that’s sort of the basis for this.

Of the above list, eight players were brought in to play significant roles on various Royals teams. By significant, I mean they’re either a starter or were brought in to pitch out of the bullpen on a Major League deal. If you add Gregor Blanco and Jesse Chavez to the list, they make ten, but I’m of the belief that they were the warm bodies that Moore was able to get for Ankiel and Farnsworth, and while they did play quasi significant roles down the stretch, that was never their intention on this roster.

In that regard, let’s take a look at these players one by one and the roles they were brought in to fill. Alphabetically, Melky Cabrera is the first name on this list. He isn’t one of DM’s guys from the Braves, though there are reports that he tried to trade for him from the Yankees a couple of times. Cabrera was brought in on a one year deal for very little money to help stabilize the outfield while the young guys make their way to the Majors. Of course, shortly after signing him, the Royals traded for Lorenzo Cain, so Cabrera may end being nothing more than a spare part. I have no problem with this move at all.

Juan Cruz is next up on our list of former Braves. When the Royals signed him, just before Spring Training in 2009, pretty much everybody thought the Royals had made a great signing. He was a hard throwing reliever who struck batters out and had a track record of terrific success. He would be a fantastic bridge to Soria and would make the Royals bullpen a strength in a year where they felt they could compete, or at least publicly claimed that. What transpired was not pretty. He was superficially good early in 2009 and then got hurt, but didn’t go on the DL (which is quite a Royals pattern). Then he went on the DL and he was never the same. The Royals flat released him early in 2010 and reports began to surface that he’s a bit of a clubhouse problem. It’s hard to criticize this signing without using hindsight as this was a deal that was loved by pretty much everyone at the time. If he could go back and undo it, though, I guarantee you he absolutely would.

Kyle Davies was acquired in a deal for Octavio Dotel. Moore signed Dotel to be the closer in 2007, probably with the intention of flipping him at the deadline. Luckily for the Royals, a guy by the name of Joakim Soria turned out to be pretty decent, so trading Dotel was an even easier decision. At the time of the trade, it was widely rumored that the Mariners were interested and were offering Wladimir Balentien. At the time, Balentien was a minor league outfielder in the midst of a .291/.362/.509 season in AAA Tacoma. He was a corner outfielder, but could hold down center on a very short-term basis. When the Royals acquired Davies, there was a near mutiny. Davies was a hometown Braves guy, one of the guys that they are famous for drafting and developing. He had been considered a top pitching prospect from the time he was 14. He had a slightly below average rookie season in 2005, a horrific second year in 2006 and was working on a bad 2007 when the Royals acquired him. He didn’t get better. 2008, though, something clicked for him and he was a bit above average, but has been below average statistically the last two seasons. I could go on much longer about Davies, but the fact that the Braves got about four innings from Dotel makes me not hate this trade, but it does seem a bit lazy to just have gone to your former team to get a player that Moore probably knew extremely well from his time climbing the Braves ladder.

Kyle Farnsworth was just a silly signing at the time, but I don’t think it was silly because of his time with the Braves. It was silly because Farnsworth was never very good. I’m not going to go into terribly great detail here because Farnsworth is boring. He throws hard and he throws straight and he has pretty good control. As a result, he gets strikeouts, but also allows home runs. This was a bad signing, but I think Dayton Moore was more mesmerized by the 98 flashing on the radar gun than the fact that he used to wear the navy and red.

It seems silly to get into Jeff Francouer as I’ve done so readily in the past and have a full season ahead to talk about his shortcomings. For this exercise, it is prudent to point out that Dayton Moore has always had a strong relationship with Francouer from their time in the Braves organization, and this signing seems to me like one that Moore is living in the past. That said, it’s just a one year deal and it’s for under $3 million which is chump change in baseball. If Jeff Francouer was a failed top prospect from the Nationals organization, people might not be applauding the move, but would probably think it was a reasonable risk to take. Of course, I’d argue that if he was a failed Nationals prospect, he never would have been signed because he didn’t have an existing relationship with the general manager.

I’m going to gloss over Ron Mahay and Odalis Perez pretty quickly because both were brought in to stabilize chaotic units. Perez was actually only acquired because the Dodgers forced the Royals to in order to get the real prospects in the deal (who will never reach the majors), and he consistently went six innings in his starts and gave up four runs. There’s value in that. I can’t fault Moore for trading for him because I think it had nothing to do with his Braves days and everything to do with wanting the other two and wanting to get rid of Elmer Dessens. Mahay was signed because the Royals needed a lefty in the pen, and he did a great job until he got hurt. Plus, he was a Brave for all of two months.

The one name on the list that really angers me in the context of the Dayton loving former Braves discussion is Tony Pena, Jr. In spring training of 2007, it was clear that the Royals could no longer have Angel Berroa as their shortstop. His defense had eroded and his offense was terrible. Even the Royals couldn’t be excused for keeping him on their roster anymore. So they had to go out and get someone because the pipeline was completely dry. Because of that, part of the blame for the acquisition of Tony Pena, Jr. has to be laid on the shoulders of Allard Baird, but he didn’t make the final decision, so that’s the only time I’ll include him in this discussion. I don’t remember now who was available at the time, but I would be surprised if someone like Craig Counsell or even Willie Bloomquist couldn’t have been had. Instead, the Royals traded a legitimate, though injured, pitching prospect in Erik Cordier for Tony Pena, Jr.

The point of this isn’t that trading Erik Cordier was like trading Curt Schilling like the Astros (and Orioles) did or anything of that nature. It was that nothing really had to be given up in order to acquire Tony Pena, Jr. and his limp bat. Pena was a player who had shown that he could not get on base, couldn’t really hit and was above average defensively. From watching him every day while he was here, I’ll admit that he could make the great play look easy, but I never got the impression that he was an elite defensive shortstop who could overcome his terrible bat. In his first year here, he wasn’t historically bad, putting up a .267/.284/.356 line. After that, though, he was one of the worst every day players to ever play the game. Literally. Then, magically in 2008, he pitched an inning in a blowout against the Tigers and was really good. By 2009, the Royals had sent him to A ball to become a pitcher. Then, to compound their mistake of trading for him in the first place, he became a minor league free agent, and if he actually does do something useful on the mound, it’ll be with a different team. It’s not something I’m going to hold my breath over, but it’s still annoying that the Royals won’t even be able to reap the benefits of the conversion they unearthed.

I came into this exercise thinking that I would have one viewpoint that could not very easily be changed, but it was actually. In looking at all the former Braves that Dayton Moore has signed over the last few years (including minor leagues), I came to the conclusion that it’s not really that big of a deal. Yes, it’s funny when he signs another former Brave to a minor league deal or even for small money to a big league deal, but the fact is that his major acquisitions typically have nothing to do with the Braves. My problem with this practice is more that I fear he’s not looking into other options who may unearth a gem or at least a gem of a season like the Royals got from Wilson Betemit. What if Betemit had never been with the Braves? Would he have been a player to whom Moore would have even given a minor league contract? It’s a legitimate question, and I fear I know the answer. Even the very best teams need  surprises to come out of their minor leagues be it someone like Wilson Betemit or a prospect emerging. The more likely bet is a minor league free agent fills in for an injured player well or even displaces him, and my concern is that the players who the Royals have to count on will be former Braves rejects rather than players from all around the league.

A lot of the issues that I have with Dayton Moore and that many others do are that his history doesn’t bode well for when the Royals really need him to be at his best. I’ve talked about this before about how I don’t completely trust him to go out and supplement the prospects with big league talent that will help the Royals win. And acquiring free minor league talent is another way to do that. If the Royals hadn’t given Raul Ibanez a shot, he may very well be retired and selling insurance instead of contributing to contending teams. It’s a very real concern that I have for the future of the Royals, and one that I don’t think will be put to rest in my brain until the Royals actually win under Dayton Moore’s watch.

Butler Signs Extension

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Billy Butler signed a four-year, $30 million contract extension with the Royals yesterday. The deal includes an option for a fifth year and a $1 million buyout if the team option is not exercised. The breakdown of the deal is as follows:

$2 million signing bonus
2011: $3 million salary
2012, 2013, 2014: $8 million salary
2015: $12.5 million option

This is an absolute steal for the Royals. When this deal was first announced yesterday, I agreed with Rany that it’d probably be structured in the same way that many deals are that buy out a year or two of free agency from a player. I figured his salary would escalate each year, but this, to me, works better. If all goes right with the Royals, then some other players will be beginning to become expensive and Butler’s $8 million salary will in no way stop the Royals from extending their up and coming players or going out to sign a free agent that could be that final piece.

I’ve written about the possibilities of Billy Butler’s extension a couple of times in the offseason, here and here. Because of that, I’m not going to delve too deep into what this means for the franchise or what I thought would have been fair, but this is the third significant player that Dayton Moore has extended since becoming GM of the team. It’s becoming more and more difficult to say things about how the Royals never keep their talent because they can’t afford it. Yes, some of the players coming through the system will need to be traded after their fourth year or just not re-signed when they reach free agency, but that’s true for every team other than the handful of big market teams who can do pretty much whatever they want payroll wise. For a long time, nobody got locked up except for Mike Sweeney, but that mindset has changed around the organization and city.

This has probably been Dayton Moore’s best offseason since coming to Kansas City, which is sort of damning with faint praise, but it’s a fact that still remains. He handled the Greinke trade in a way that was about as good as you could expect considering Greinke vetoed a couple of deals that may have been better. I’m not crazy about either the Cabrera signing or the Francouer signing, but they were so cheap that it’s hard to argue too much about it. When they’re playing over better players, that tune may change, but for now, signing guys who once showed tons of promise for short-term, low money deals is never a bad idea as long as they’re not stunting progress for players who have brighter futures. The DeJesus trade wasn’t popular among fans, but I find it difficult to get too terribly upset over a deal involving a guy who was incredibly unlikely to be a Royal in 2012. I obviously like DeJesus better than Mazzaro, but I might like five years of Mazzaro better than one year of DeJesus, and I love DeJesus.

So now the Royals have their best hitter locked up through 2015 if they so choose. They have their closer locked up through 2014 if they so choose and the earliest this young talent coming through the system can reach free agency is after the 2016 season. I’ve been very, very critical of the Royals and Dayton Moore in particular, but I’m a huge fan of what I’ve seen this offseason from him. Because of my age, I haven’t had a chance to experience a whole lot of winning baseball in Kansas City throughout my lifetime. I can’t remember being this excited about the team since I was about five years old and predicting big things for Danny “Tarbatull” on home video. They may lose 100 games in 2011, but at least it’ll be entertaining.

 

What Is Going On???

January 22, 2011 Leave a comment

I felt that I had to weigh in on yesterday’s action that included the Rays trying to win the 2004 World Series and the Angels trying to…well I’m not really sure what the Angels are trying to do. Let’s start off with the less puzzling moves and focus on the Rays. They needed a DH and they needed a left fielder, so they signed Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. As recently as two years ago, those would have been franchise changing type moves, even for a franchise as strong as the Rays. Now, they’re a little puzzling, but at least you can come up with a defense for them.

While neither provides much defensively, Damon still has some speed and when put in an outfield with BJ Upton and Desmond Jennings will probably not have to do a ton of work. The Rays are taking a giant step back defensively from Crawford, but overall the outfield defense is still a strength. Offensively, I get the feeling that Damon could implode at any time, but until he does, you have to assume he’s good or a .350-.365 OBP, a slugging percentage north of .400 and a few stolen bases. If you had told me 15 years ago that Johnny Damon would be playing for his sixth team, I’d have thought you were crazy, but he has apparently decided that he’s fine bouncing around from team to team in this portion of his career. Presumably he wants to get to 3,000 hits because other than individual awards that he probably has no business winning now, he’s accomplished everything else in his career. Players who completely alienate two franchises are a rare breed, so enjoy Damon while you can.

On the Manny front, I actually quite like this signing. It’s just for $2 million, so if he pulls his Manny act at any point, the Rays can show him the door and be out very little. Honestly, that’s probably the most likely scenario, but in spite of his issues last year, he still hit .298/.409/.460. For $2 million, that is fantastic production.  The red flags come when looking at his White Sox numbers. The first two parts of his slash stats, .261/.420, look absolutely fine, but he slugged an abysmal .319 with just two extra base hits in 88 at bats. Sometimes great hitters lose it quite suddenly, and at 38 years old, that’s not out of the question for Manny. Still, I actually love this risk because of how relatively inexpensive it is.

One quick side note before we go on. This has been brought up on Twitter a lot recently, and really began when the Rays signed Kyle Farnsworth. Why is it that every single move the Rays make is intelligent while if the Royals were to do the same thing, it’d be just the dumbest thing ever? I’ll grant the fact that the Rays have earned the right to get the benefit of the doubt to some extent, but dumb is dumb, no matter who is doing it. If the Rays were to go out and, oh, I don’t know, trade for Vernon Wells and not get much money in return, I guarantee you there would be some writers who would try to spin it by saying that Andrew Friedman must know something we don’t. If the Royals did that, the internet may crash with bloggers, newspaper writers, car salesman and high priests rushing to write how dumb they are. I’m not saying that Dayton Moore is a genius because he’s clearly got some growing up to do as a GM, and is still probably one of the ten worst GMs in baseball (and even that may be kind). My point is that just because a move is made by a team who typically makes smart moves does not mean that the move isn’t stupid. My guess with the Rays two moves is that one ends up working and one ends up failing miserably. I’m not sure which one is which, but I think we’ll be seeing a 50% success rate come August or so.

So I was clearly joking about trading for Vernon Wells with very little salary relief. I can’t imagine a team would be stupid enough to do that. Oh right, the Angels were. Picture the steepest mountain you can. That is what a line graph would look like of Angels fans hopes as the off-season began. Arte Moreno promised he’d spend money and make the Angels competitors in the American League West again. There was some talk that the Angels might sign three of the biggest free agents with Carl Crawford as the top target, Adrian Beltre a close second and Rafael Soriano a close third. Well, Crawford and Soriano went to the ridiculously competitive American League East while Beltre went to the team the Angels least wanted him to go, the Rangers. So the Angels whiffed on all three. It happens. They were able to bolster the bullpen with signings of Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs (are there two more different names out there?).

But unfortunately for Angels fans, they felt the pressure of not having done what they set out to do, and with money burning a hole in their pockets…well they spent it. They traded productive players Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli to the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells who has $86 million remaining on his contract for the next four years. Early reports indicated that the Blue Jays did not send any money in the deal, making it the heist of the young year, but those were quickly amended to state the Blue Jays sent $5 million. To you and me, $5 million is a boat load of money. To them, it’s the equivalent of me robbing a mom and pop shop and then giving them a $20 to clean up the damages. It’s almost as if the Blue Jays felt bad and said, ‘ahh, sorry kid, here ya go’ and tossed in some cash.

Let’s look at this from the Angels perspective first. Ignoring money, this move improves their outfield defense if they’re willing to play Wells in left and Bourjos in center with Hunter in right. If they insist on Wells or Hunter playing center, then their defense takes a large step back. Realistically, Wells replaces Juan Rivera on the roster, and strictly comparing those two, they did get better. Adding in Napoli was just world class stupid. Over the last three years, Napoli has hit .258/.341/.502 with 66 homers on an Angels team that occasionally struggles for offense. Scioscia clearly doesn’t like him behind the plate because of his defense, but there is definitely a place in the lineup for that bat. While Kendry Morales should be completely healthy in 2011,  Napoli would have been a fantastic backup option. Overall, the Angels got worse here.

Dave Cameron, I believe, said about six months ago that the only way the Blue Jays could trade Wells is if they picked up $65 million of his remaining contract. And most people agreed. Tony Reagins, the Angels general manager, on the other hand, scoffed at that notion and is now the leader in the clubhouse for stupid trade of the year. The odds are pretty well against Vernon Wells earning his contract and replacing the production of the two guys sent to Toronto for him, but we all know it could happen. If that does happen, I will be utterly shocked. The nice thing about this trade is that it sort of makes me feel better about Dayton Moore and the Royals.

Maybe good GMs just have moments where they completely turn off their brain and go after players who would have been fantastic targets a few years before. Maybe, every so often, the fan inside the general manager gets out and just wants to trade for a big name. Dayton has still done it a few more times than most of the others, but it’s sort of comforting to know that other GMs do amazingly stupid things some team and that Dayton Moore doesn’t have the monopoly on that. Misery does love company. Dayton Moore may sign him some former Braves from time to time, but at least we don’t have Vernon Wells patrolling the outfield at $20+ million per year for the next four.

And yeah, the Dayton Moore – former Braves post is coming on Monday morning. Be prepared.

Bullpen Takes Shape

January 21, 2011 1 comment

I really hope that Dusty Hughes wasn’t in Kansas City for Fanfest because that would be an incredibly awkward conversation that Dayton Moore would have been forced to have with him if he was. Hughes was designated for assignment to make room for Jeff Francis on the 40 man roster which pretty much opens the door for Tim Collins to make the Opening Day roster as the main lefty out of the pen. When I wrote my post about the bullpen a couple of months ago, I left Collins off because he had so little experience in AAA, and I thought that the Royals would want to leave him down there for a bit to get a little more experience. At the time I would have had no qualms about him being in the Major League bullpen and I still don’t. I think it’ll be nice to have a lefty out there who can strike people out with some regularity.

The Royals did Dusty Hughes a favor. They have allowed him to start his journey to play for 14 different teams and be one of the guys who ends up on a roster out of spring training that surprises fans. The phrase, ‘he’s still playing?’ should be one that he overhears in the stands a lot as his career goes on. Gil Meche’s retirement opens up the door for Bruce Chen, so the 40 man roster is again sitting at 40 players, which is an incredibly novel concept. With the retirement of Meche, the Royals bullpen has gone from a good mix of veterans and younger players to Soria, Tejeda and younger players. Just so we’re clear, I’m very pleased with that. I’m not quite sure who gets the golden ticket to replace Meche, and there’s every chance that it’s someone like Kanekoe Texeira who is legitimately probably not a part of the future, but it could also be someone like Louis Coleman or even a chance to break in someone like Aaron Crow out of the bullpen. As it stands right now, the bullpen is pretty righty heavy, but there are left-handed candidates like Everett Teaford or any of the young lefties if the Royals want to go the Earl Weaver way.

The thing that I find amazing about this Royals team is that about six weeks ago, they were carrying over $60 million in payroll and now they’re sitting at under $40 million (I think, I haven’t added it up in the last couple of days). The highest player on the roster right now is Joakim Soria with a $4 million salary, and could only be replaced by Billy Butler who has asked for $4.3 million in arbitration while the Royals have countered with $3.4 million. I think it is at least a possibility that the Royals don’t meet in the middle and give him a little more, and I think it’s also a possibility that they work out a long-term deal that pays him about $4 million in 2011. Either way, barring a surprising trade, the Royals highest paid player will make under $5 million.

The amazing thing about that is that this team actually has a chance to be way more talented than last year’s squad that had a payroll of about $70 million. They could very well lose 110 games in 2011, but it should be plenty of fun to watch this team this year because players all around the diamond either have upside or interesting stories. Cabrera and Francouer are probably the two most boring players on the roster until Kendall returns, which is hopefully a long, long time, and even they have a career to revitalize. Those stories always interest me. Jose Bautista is an extreme example, but watching him do what he did last year was absolutely fascinating to me. Watching a player on the tipping point of his career, which is where Cabrera and Francouer are, is truly fun to watch. Now, if it’s clear by mid-May that their career is not getting righted, then it gets boring.

Back to the bullpen, though, I love the versatility that Yost is going to have. I hope he continues to use Tejeda in his role as the stopper, and he’s brought into games whenever needed, especially if a strikeout is the cure for what ails the team at the time. I love the Coleman could be brought in for a bit of a weird angle from the right side while Collins can be the surprising little guy who can throw in the 90s. I think if Sean O’Sullivan is in the pen that he might actually be quite effective as a long reliever. With the inexperience and question marks in the Royals rotation, the bullpen is actually an incredibly important part of this team in cleaning up messes and pitching a fair amount of innings. Normally, it’d bother me for a team to leave such an important responsibility to young guys, but this team is learning and rebuilding and it’s fine with me. It probably helps that one of the top five closers in all of baseball is anchoring the back end of the pen.

I keep saying, and I’m not going to change my tune; this Royals team may be terrible, but they are going to be fun to watch and just get more entertaining as the season goes on. I’ve got stir fever with baseball. Just 24 more days before pitchers and catchers report and then it’s finally here. I cannot wait.