Does Dayton Really Love His Former Braves?
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:
Anthony “Mutton Chops” Lerew (sue me, I made up the nickname)
Tony Pena, Jr.
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.