Great Lakes Royals

June 15, 2011 8:33 PM

How Challenging Will It Be To Replenish the Royals Pitching Rotation?

Photo of Zack Greike warming up in the bullpen...

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It's very possible that the lasting memory of the Zack Greinke trade will be a net negative, but there will be an element of revisionist history responsible for shaping the perception of fans.  Basically, for the trade to someday be accepted as wise, the Royals must prove they can rebuild their starting rotation and make it come out better on the other side of the trade.  I don't think anyone was expecting 2011 to be something other than a mulligan year for the Royals rotation.

Consider that 2011 is the first year that the Royals haven't featured Zack Greinke and Gil Meche at the top of their rotation since 2006, when Scott Elarton and Joe Mays got the first two starts.  I don't know if things could get worse than that.  Maybe they could have.  My imagination isn't good enough to fathom what less of a plan would have looked like.  In 2007, the Royals surged towards the middle of the AL in run prevention on the strength of 500 innings thrown by Brian Bannister, Gil Meche, and Zack Greinke.  The bullpen was very strong too behind rule 5 pick Joakim Soria, and I'm trying not to ignore their contributions, but Greinke pitched much of that season out of the pen and really, this was a three man show as it's difficult in baseball today to have just three quality pitchers combine for 500 IP in a season.  It's worth pointing out that the Dayton Moore Royals have never been better in the runs scored/prevented pythagorean equation than they were in his first season.  They, in fact, regressed each year from 2007-2009.

The Royals were able to handle Bannister's regression in 2008 because the bullpen reached all time highs in effectiveness and because Kyle Davies looked like he had "gotten it" in September, when he threw like a number three pitcher for a month.  But in 2008, more than any other year, the Royals had two ESTABLISHED starters enter the year and perform like professionals for a combined 66 starts.  They had not enjoyed that in the decade prior and have not enjoyed that since (unless you want to argue Greinke/Chen in 2010).  In that 2008 run environment, two established starting pitchers featuring mid three ERAs for a whole season was enough to come out on the correct side of the run prevention equation.  In the 2011 offensive run environment, teams are going to need at least three established starters to get by.  The 2011 Royals have Jeff Francis and Felipe Paulino.  Neither really fit the bill as an "established front line starter" but behind them, its really ugly.

The only reason the Royals didn't completely fall off the map in run prevention in 2009 after their bullpen fell apart at its seams, Gil Meche's back split in half, and Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies had a year long incompetence-fest is because Brian Bannister pitched like a decent no. 2 pitcher most of this season.  Oh, and because Zack Greinke gave up fewer than two runs/start (not earned runs, mind you).  Greinke kept the Royals afloat that year, though unsustainable personal means.  In 2010, the Royals found no help for him, and the year of the pitcher missed Kansas City entirely.  The bullpen did find solutions under Ned Yost, and the Royals managed to at least avoid increasing the runs against in a year where leaguewide offense dropped substantially.

The 2011 Royals cannot say the same thing.  Four Royals pitchers (excluding Paulino) have made their season debuts in Kansas City thanks to injury: Danny Duffy, Vin Mazzaro, Nate Adcock, and Sean O'Sullivan.  Not one of the three has more strikeouts than walks as a starter.  The Royals top four rotation pitchers of Hochevar, Davies, Chen, and Francis have at least avoided that designation, and Paulino gives a legit fifth starter, but the results thus far for Hochevar and Davies have been embarrassing.  Hochevar has regressed from 2010, and his K rate has fallen to 4.2 per 9 innings, below the K rates of Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen.  That's what the Royals have.  The question is: how difficult will it be for the Royals to get back to what they had?

Well, if Paulino pitches really well the rest of the year, it may not be difficult at all.  It could be as simple as developing the command Duffy and Mike Montgomery in a particularly productive spring training and then going out to the free agent market much like Moore did in 2007 and getting a front of the rotation pitcher at a cost of 10 million per year.  The four most important pitchers on the Royals heading into 2011 (Hochevar, Davies, Francis, Chen) could all be no better than no. 5 type pitchers next year if the player development works out that well.  And then, the ability to spend money in free agency on, say, C.J. Wilson adds quality to the quantity, and the Royals have themselves a strong run prevention unit.

If things continue to spiral away for the starting pitchers this season (Paulino and Duffy struggle in the bigs and Montgomery's results remain bad in AA), the Royals then are going to be pushed towards making a trade for a front line pitcher, a potentially costly trade.  And even then, the Royals still wouldn't "be there" yet.  Could the Royals get maybe Chad Billingsley from the Dodgers (or Matt Cain from the Giants) for Billy Butler and Chris Dwyer?  Perhaps they could, but if Billingsley and Edwin Jackson come to Kansas City next year to lead the Royals rotation, and the Royals are weakened by a middle of the order bat in order to get front line pitching, are the Royals really any closer to contending? Doubt it.

So a lot of it depends on how the Royals' current rotation progresses between now and the trade deadline.  It's possible the Royals are a lot closer to a strong run prevention unit then they seem, and when they can go long stretches without throwing Sean O'Sullivan or Vin Mazzaro out there every fifth day, the overall numbers improve.  This has already happened since O'Sullivan's DL stint.  It's also possible the Royals aren't getting any closer at all.  And it makes a big difference.  The former requires a wise move and a good month or so in player development in 2012 to make the Kansas City Royals the favored team in the AL Central.  The latter makes 80 wins a struggle whether or not the Royals deal a middle of the order bat to get pitching help that they've proven unable to develop themselves.

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June 12, 2011 1:22 AM

Royals Manangement has Tough Decisions to Make, Should Start Soon

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 10:  (L-R) Chris Getz #17, ...

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Should Process 2012 actually happen on time, the Royals are going to have to: 1) make a number of really difficult decision, and 2) be right on them.  Every time the Royals pull up a super prospect to the major leagues, it gets more and more difficult to build around them because the team has less flexibility. 

Two days ago, the Royals made their first big decision when they brought Mike Moustakas up to the big leagues.  The timing of the Moustakas move wasn't at all controversial, but it forced the Royals hand in two ways.  It made the team select one player at second base: Chris Getz or Mike Aviles.  Both players had options remaining, and Getz had pretty clearly outperformed Aviles in a two months sample, so the decision to send down Aviles was somewhat easy. 

But now the Royals have Wilson Betemit on the active roster and simply no place to play him.  Betemit, as well as fourth outfielder Mitch Maier, almost certainly will not be back with the Royals in 2012.  Both players would be better off traded immediately, rather than forced to compete with each other in pinch hitting roles (although right on cue, here comes the NL portion of the Royals' schedule...and hopefully we get to see some Eric Hosmer in the outfield).  The Royals have three outfielders at Class AAA Omaha (Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, and David Lough) who all figure to be on next year's opening day roster.  Combined with Alex Gordon and (probably) Jeff Francoeur, there is simply no place on the roster for Maier.  Maier and Betemit happen to have as much trade value as any player on the Kansas City roster right now, but the Royals will have to act quickly, and may not have the luxury of picking their offer selectively.

Similarly, beyond the ramifications of Mike Moustakas' call-up, the Royals have plenty of other timely decisions that will shape their future.  I'm going to start that discussion with the two "remaining" left handed pitching prospects: Mike Montgomery and Chris Dwyer.  Heading into the 2011 season, Royals fans envisioned a dream scenario of a rotation that would feature Montgomery and Dwyer, along with fellow prospects John Lamb and Danny Duffy.  Duffy has made the rotation, having performed at roughly league average through five starts.  But Lamb has hit a roadblock in his pitching career, undergoing Tommy John surgery.  And that puts a lot of stress on the Royals to turn Chris Dwyer and Mike Montgomery into pitching prospects.  Quickly.  So that the 2012 Royals can win games.

But first, the Royals have to figure out what to do with Kyle Davies and Bruce Chen as they come off the disabled list.  I think the obvious move is to send Duffy and Vin Mazzaro back down to AAA.  But is this the best move?  Mazzaro is just filling in, so his spot in the rotation should be pretty obviously available.  But I think a lot of fans felt that when the Royals pulled Duffy up, it was for good.  Now with not one, but two starting pitchers scheduled to come off the disabled list, and the not-so-troublesome development as waiver pickup Felipe Paulino pitching like the Royals best starter, Duffy becomes expendable in the immediate.  After all, what's the alternative?

The alternative is to try a variation of the six man rotation, sending down one of the many Royals relievers.  Generally, I am not a huge fan of attempting a six man rotation, but it does give a team added flexibility to skip (or use) a starter for purposes not including starting a game.  I don't know if this would be such a good short term strategy, so much as it is merely a way to keep Duffy in the major league rotation.  As uncharacteristic as it would be for the Royals to employ more than five starting pitchers at one time, it would actually be a good way to defer a decision until more information is known.

Both Dwyer and Montgomery have been struggling with command issues in general, and specifically, walks.  A couple of observations to make about this duo.  First, their performances have been quite similar.  I think the discussion starts with the fact that both could come up today and exhibit the ability to get major league hitters out.  But starting pitchers have to be more efficient than good at times, and think by that development, Dwyer can't start games unless he finds his control.  Montgomery, like Duffy, would only be mediocre as a big league starter if he walks as many batters as he is now in AAA.

Still, I've looked at Montgomery's peripherals, and he's doing a good job keeping the ball on the ground and keeping the ball in the ballpark.  I understand the Royals probably have a plan for Montgomery in the minors, probably to the tune of 15 to 20 starts, but I would bring him up and let him hash out his control issues in the big leagues.  Not to contradict what I wrote above about having Davies and Chen coming off the DL, things do have to sort themselves out at the big league level in the immediate, but aside from a specific work plan that the Royals may have on Mike Montgomery, I can't see any reason to leave him in the minors until the results (read: ERA) improves.  In the sense of being able to help the Royals, Mike Montgomery is ready for the majors.

Dywer is, in my opinion alone, closer to ready than everyone thinks.  His control issues are very, very real.  I don't know how much improvement he can actually do between now and the big leagues.  He has a little bit more of a flyball tendency than Montgomery, and he puts so many baserunners on that he could be destroyed by big league hitters.  And I'm not sure that's going to change a whole lot three years down the road.  But one thing I'm absolutely certain of is that Chris Dwyer could come up today and strike out more hitters per start (even considering he'd likely never get out of the fifth inning) than Luke Hochevar or Jeff Francis.  And in my mind, that makes him very close to big league ready.  Though because he's getting hit around pretty good in AA, it's hard to see Dwyer as someone who could ever help the 2011 Royals, no matter how many chances he would theoretically be given.  His value may ultimately come of the bullpen at the end of 2012, although the Royals can still wait about 365 days to make that decision.

If you pencil Montgomery into the 2012 Royals rotation along with Duffy, Hochevar, and Paulino (who is under team control through 2014), there's still one spot the Royals can't fill, and will have to go to the open market if they don't want to juggle Vin Mazzaro and Sean O'Sullivan in a year the team is supposed to contend.  They can obviously go bargain basement and bring back Bruce Chen or Kyle Davies, but enjoy a lot of payroll flexibility to spend on someone who can lead the staff (a contract similar to the one given to Gil Meche in 2007 isn't out of the question).  If the Royals wanted to split the difference, and pay out for an effective big league pitcher without having to go in more than one year, they can always compete to bring back Jeff Francis, though it is more likely that Francis is to get traded before the deadline, capping his career as a Royal.

The good news is that the free agent market for pitchers in 2012 looks a lot better now than it did at the beginning of the season, and it is headlined by C.J. Wilson of the Rangers, Edwin Jackson of the White Sox, Mark Buehrle of the White Sox, Roy Oswalt of the Phillies, Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals (who will qualify for free agency thanks to service time accrued while on the DL), Brad Penny of the Tigers, Adam Cook of the Rockies, Paul Maholm of the Pirates (this club option may actually be exercised), Joel Pinero of the Angels, Javier Vazquez of the Marlins, Jon Garland of the Dodgers, and potentially, CC Sabathia of the Yankees.  Not every pitcher there qualifies as a "catch."  Cook, Garland, and Pinero do not get strikeouts, and are not valuable signings.  Buerhle is aging okay, but still has little room to decline before he's unemployable.  Vazquez has a little more room for error, but is in severe decline, and always had a bit of a longball tendency.  Anyway, the help is out there if the Royals want to make a deal.

More serious decisions may have to be made up the middle.  The Royals can squat on their catching situation for the rest of this year, but need to figure out a solution for next year.  Matt Treanor and Jason Kendall won't be back.  Optimistically, we're looking at a Sept. 2012 arrival date for Salvador Perez.  That's really optimistic the way his bat is playing at double-A Northwest Arkansas.  Brayan Pena should be back in the fold because there is no one else in the organization is capable (though I would expect the team to acquire near MLB ready catching depth at the trade deadline for its veterans).  And while the SS situation appears to be settled somewhere between Alcides Escobar and Christian Colon, second base has become more of a muddled mess than anyone would have believed in 2008 when the Royals drafted Johnny Giavotella and in 2009 when Jeff Bianchi was hitting .315 as the AA shortstop, and in 2010, when the Royals acquired Chris Getz in the Mark Teahen trade, and over that whole time when Mike Aviles was hitting well.  Despite the four players listed above all having their merits (and I might throw AA 3B Mario Lisson in there even though he's never played 2B in the minors, his future is as a pro utility infielder), it's not clear if the Royals have a pro player in the group.

The favorite in the clubhouse has to be Giavotella, who is a Dayton Moore draft pick, in fact, the only one of the group drafted by Moore.  He's become something of a boom or bust prospect.  If he can come in and contribute with average defense at second base, the Royals might have their no. 2 hitter of the future.  He was never thought to be a great hitter in the minor leagues, but in four years in pro baseball, he's posted an on-base percentage of at least .350 every year, and has a career mark of .370.  He's thought to have little power, but he's now sports a .420 career minor league slugging percentage.  If you translate that to the majors over the next 3.5 years when he's costing the Royals practically nothing prior to age 27, that is really good offense out of your second baseman.  The problem with Giavotella is that his defense makes him a very fringe player at second base, and the Royals have no where to move him.  Third base, first base, and DH are manned by everyday players under contract through at least 2015, and the first possible move for Giavotella off of second base is the everyday left 2014, when Alex Gordon is available for free agency.  The timing is poor: Giavotella won't be around for three more years in this organization unless he can be the second baseman.

Bianchi and Lisson definitely could handle the glovework workload of a second baseman, but will probably be competing with each other to be the utility infielder on a competing Royals club.  Bianchi has the upper hand by virtue of being on the 40 man roster, and by being three years younger.

It's for the reasons listed above that the Royals would love if Getz established himself as an everyday player against right handed pitching, because solutions at second base for the Royals are just not very obvious.  Getz cannot drive the ball, at all, but has some on base ability.  Already at age 27, the fact of the matter is that Getz probably just isn't good enough to play everyday, though he might provide a passable platoon with Giavotella if the Royals aren't sold on a full on change.

Many observers expect Christian Colon to eventually slide over to the right side of the infield, but he appears that he will need to take this full season to catch up to AA pitching.  A year ago today, Colon was still playing for Cal State Fullerton in the College World Series, so there's no reason to rush him to the majors.  I don't really like him as a second baseman anyway, although if he simply has to move to the keystone to play because Alcides Escobar developed THAT well as a hitter, then so be it.

Ironically, the Royals could enter 2012 with a gaping hole in their lineup at second base because they had TOO MANY different potential solutions to go find someone like Kelly Johnson, Omar Infante, Adam Kennedy, or, if the Blue Jays decline his option, Aaron Hill.  There could be very good values on the market at second base this offseason.  It is nothing short of imperative that the Royals know for a fact whether Chris Getz, Mike Aviles, or Johnny Giavotella is the guy for them at the keystone in 2012.  The Royals do not have to make that decision right now, but with the rest of the positional roster more or less in place for next year, the Royals need to make a decision at second base.  And aside from starting pitching, it's their most trying future situation that they will face after the Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas call-ups.

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June 7, 2011 11:59 AM

Streaking Royals

SURPRISE, AZ - MARCH 12:  Manager Ned Yost of ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I'm going to illustrate a point about the 2011 Kansas City Royals, and it is going to have little to do with the outcome of the season to date.  Because the truth is, I have no idea if this team is terrible and trending towards the first pick in the 2012 MLB draft, or if they are better than they've showed recently and are trending towards .500.  All I know for a fact is that the Royals are trending, hard.

The baseball season is an conglomeration of random events loosely related to the skill of a team, played out over a sample of six months so, in time, we know what is real and what is a mirage.  Typically, however, the Royals have not been this committed to showing themselves to be both a good and a bad baseball team in the same season.  Check out these selective splits:

  • Mar 31 to Apr 16: 10-4 (.714)
  • Apr 17 to Apr 28: 2-9 (.182)
  • Apr 29 to May 12: 8-4 (.667)
  • May 13 to June 5: 5-17 (.227)
It would take a much more critical look at things to see any meaningful stretch (except perhaps full season) where the Royals have resembled something average.  To illustrate this point, allow me to narrate about the Royals season to date, divided into these four non-equal quadrants.

The First 14 Games

The Royals started very, very hot against an easy schedule.  They won three of these games against the Angels, three of these games against the Mariners, two against the Tigers, and one each on the White Sox and Twins; only the Tigers are over .500.  The Royals had a number of hitter start hot in this small sample.  Wilson Betemit, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler OPSed over .900 during this timeframe.  But the WPA (which I like better in a small sample) tells a different story.  It suggests that the start had a lot to do with the 6 starts made by vet lefties Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis (+0.5 WPA each), as well as the consistently good offense.  The Royals did most of their damage in the middle and bottom of the order with Billy Butler (+.74 WPA), Betemit (+.60 WPA), Matt Treanor (+.66 WPA), and...Chris Getz (+.61 WPA)?  We remember Treanor's walk off homer to beat the Angels in extra innings, but what you may not remember is that Chris Getz posted a .351 on base percentage as a full time player at the beginning of the season, and the Royals win games when their bottom of the order gets on base.  Alex Gordon mashed, but didn't get a lot of opportunities to do much in the three hole, thanks to the table-setting stylings of Mike Aviles (.250 OBP), and Melky Cabrera (.286 OBP).

Mostly on the back of his walkoff homer against the Angels, Kila Ka'aihue enjoyed a major contribution to the Royals early season successes: a +0.443 WPA.

Making life difficult on the Royals during this timeframe were Aviles, Luke Hochevar (-.23 WPA), Kyle Davies (-.83 WPA).  The remarkable thing about the Royals starting pitching over this timeframe is that there was basically no difference in the strikeout rates of their starters the first three times through the rotation.  When Davies failed, it was because he put too many players on base via the free pass, and Luke Hochevar had an issue with gopher ball.

Second Half of April

This time was deceptively tough schedule-wise.  Deceptive, because the Royals did nothing but play the Indians and Rangers, and the Indians were supposed to be a team that the Royals could fight with every game.  It seems like forever ago, but the Royals actually managed to split the first series before tanking, though they were lucky to do so.  The Royals used their bullpen to stave off disaster, because their outfield was pretty much responsible for avoiding an 0-11 stretch and splitting with the Indians.  Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera took a few key walks, and Jeff Francoeur drove them in.  Otherwise, this group looked nothing like it did to begin the season, because Getz stopped getting on base, and Matt Treanor did what he could with a .158 BA.  Wilson Betemit and Billy Butler struggled with runners on base.

The real issue is that the Royals weren't even in a lot of games over this stretch because Luke Hochevar and Jeff Francis.  Hochevar started putting runners on base before giving up dingers, and Francis' strikeout rate tanked.  Kyle Davies actually had his best three game stretch of the entire season, setting a season high strikeout rate for a Royals pitcher over any three game stretch (8.2/9 innings), and walking just one person per nine innings.  He finished significant negative in WPA thanks to batting average on balls in play against him.  It did look like the Royals wouldn't recover.


For the next four series, the Royals played their best baseball of the season.  The schedule was easy: the Orioles, Athletics, and Twins are all last place teams, but the Royals went 6-3 against these teams, then took a series in Yankee Stadium that looked great, but proved to be the harbringer of absolutely nothing but letdown.  Midway through this winning stretch, Kila Ka'aihue was demoted for Eric Hosmer in the midst the Royals winning 5 of 6 games and losing the other game by one run.  During this span, Matt Treanor hit .389/.593/.444.  Yes, the Royals catcher got on base 60% of the time.  Clearly: Hosmania.  The Royals would have been even more fantastic had second base not represented a huge offensive and defensive sinkhole for the team (Getz: .188/.235/.281).  Mike Aviles, however, mashed to the tune of .333/.366/.528, mostly at third base prior to Hosmer coming up.  Even Alcides Escobar had a good stretch with the bat, mixing in doubles with his .231 BA.  Wilson Betemit's performance in the clutch changed completely (-.4 WPA -> +.5 WPA w/ identical .740 OPS).  Melky, Alex, and Frenchie all flashed power, even as Gordon struggled to get on base.

Luke Hochevar stepped up and led the pitching rotation for at least this length of time, though he did it by getting ground ball outs, and not by striking people out (2.7 K/9).  The Royals did not get strikeouts over this timeframe.  The bullpen was great again, but the rotation K/9 rates fell about one per game from the levels established in April.

And what of Eric Hosmer?  Well, he OPSed 1.159 with two homers in his first six MLB starts. Hosmania indeed.

Utter Collapse

Prior to the extra inning victory over the Blue Jays last night (which occurred while I was doing the research for this article), the Royals won just 5 of 22 games.  This was made possible thanks to the Royals pitching rotation, which was never, ever good, but took on injuries to the two guys who actually were striking out hitters, Kyle Davies and Bruce Chen.  It was in this losing streak where Eric Hosmer (.755 OPS) and Alex Gordon (.811 OPS) have showed their mettle as potential leaders of a successful Royals offense.  But they've been pretty much alone from an offensive perspective, joined only by Chris Getz' returning on base percentage (.358), and Billy Butler's .800 OPS (but just a -.129 WPA).  Getz (season line: .241/.321/.290) has thoroughly beaten out Mike Aviles (season line: .222/.267/.407) for the second base job.

During this "collapse" the Royals have actually found solutions in terms of starting pitching.  Jeff Francis has thrown well (+0.013 WPA).  Danny Duffy has shown the ability to get MLB hitters out and puts the Royals in every game he starts (-0.06 WPA).  Ditto for shrewd waiver pickup Felipe Paulino (+0.281 WPA, includes Monday's win vs. TOR).  That's three effective pitchers right now, which is as well as the rotation has thrown this year.  But Sean O'Sullivan's meltdown was spectacular (an astounding -1.504 WPA, suggesting that O'Sully has actually taken the Royals OUT of 3 games that would have been 50/50 games with an average starter -- such as Duffy -- in)  3 competent starts out of 5 means the Royals are taking two losses each time through the rotation automatically, not to mention Soria's struggles here in the remaining three games.  The Royals are going to ride out Luke Hochevar and hope for the best, but he's pitching like a no. 5 starter, and in the other spot, the Royals have no solution until Bruce Chen or (sigh) Kyle Davies is healthy, and will run out Vin Mazzaro tonight just hoping for some sort of acceptable performance.

If the Royals can find their offense, they can win games with the regression occuring in their rotation, and the fact that Paulino and Duffy can strike people out.  The Royals, for example, would have a much better probability of going 4-0 in Duffy's four starts vs. the 0-4 they are if they play them again.  Two blown saves by the bullpen (actually three, Crow blew Duffy's win and then Soria blew Crow's win against Texas an inning later) have cost the Royals offense it's due for providing Duffy decent run support, decent, of course, because in the other two starts the offense was a non factor.

Alcides Escobar was a negative value player over the last 22 games, making a disproportionate percentage of his errors and missed plays to his left, while hitting a robust .169/.211/.169, which is a .380 OPS.  Matt Treanor, who has driven the Royals offense as much as anyone during its winning streaks, hit .189/.318/.243 over these games, which is a pretty expected Treanor line for this point in his career.  Wilson Betemit may have a lot of trade value, but in these 22 games, he hit just .268/.316/.352.  And of course, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur have helped established the Royals outfield as one of the best in baseball offensively, but during this losing streak, are hitting .259/.304/.376, and .229/.264/.337 respectively.  The Royals can't commit to playing Cabrera and Francoeur every day if they are going to hit like that.  This needs to be a two way street. 

The Royals reshuffling of the lineup to have Gordon-Cabrera-Hosmer-Francoeur-Butler hit 1-5 every day has created a situation where the team is disproportionally dependent on Cabrera (-0.394 WPA) and Frenchie (-0.549 WPA) to produce, and this is a big reason that the Royals are averaging about two runs a game for the last week and a half.  The other problem it has created is a severe limitation against left handed pitching.  Gordon has done fine against lefties this season (identical .816 OPSes vs pitchers of both hands).  But Melky Cabrera is a switch hitter who absolutely cannot hit lefties.  So Alex Gordon is seeing a higher percentage of lefty relievers from the leadoff spot thanks to this lineup because opposing managers can leave the LOOGY in to face Cabrera and Hosmer, who really struggle against lefthanders.  With Ned Yost batting Jeff Francoeur and Billy Butler, and Wilson Betemit/Mike Aviles (players who can handle left handed pitching) 4-6/7 every game, it's really easy to manage your pitching against the Royals lineup.

The solution, I believe, is to leave Alex Gordon in the leadoff spot, and alternate from there.  If pitchers are going to get this Royals lineup out, the Royals need to at least make it hard on them.

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April 6, 2011 8:24 PM

Royals' April Road Softens after White Sox Series Split

Chicago White Sox player Paul Konerko playing ...

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As bitter as Wednesday's loss may have been for Royals fans, the rebound should come pretty swiftly.  The Royals play 21 games the rest of April, and 11 of them will be played against bottom feeders Seattle and Cleveland.  That should help the Royals fairly easily bolster a record with which they will look to stay over .500 on the season.  The other games include three against the Tigers this upcoming weekend, and four against the Twins spread out over the course of the month, and then a 3 game set in Texas that would look to be the toughest match of the month.

4-2 is a good outcome to a homestand that brought in the White Sox and the Angels.  It could have easily been 6-0.  It could have easily been 1-5.  It was, however 4-2, not a bad result for a team that played far more than 54 innings of baseball (64, to be exact), and outscore the Angels and White Sox by one run.  That scoring margin could have easily been seven runs scored over runs against, if Joakim Soria had merely retired Juan Pierre before the damage began.

With better days in the near-term future for the Royals, today's outcome would seem more like the evening out of a crazy luck filled season to date, although the Royals didn't lose this game because of poor fortune, instead losing on a rare meltdown by closer Joakim Soria.  In terms of second guessing the manager, I was convinced the Royals should have skipped Soria because he was handling a high workload and even with an off-day on Thursday, and because pretty much any reliever you put out there can close out a team up three runs with three outs to go.  The Royals, I feel, were set on using Soria in a save situation with an off-day to follow.  While fatigue was certainly a part of Soria's meltdown, I don't feel that the Royals had a better play in terms of raw win percentage other than to pitch Soria.  This was proven out by him getting the first two outs.  The White Sox had the perfect mix of fortune: hits falling, and not just that, but finding the gaps in the infield and the outfield in the perfect order.  It only took five hits for the White Sox to take a one run lead.

Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, and Paul Konerko hardly reached by convincing contact off Soria, but by placing the ball where plays couldn't be made.  Soria's walk to Gordon Beckham may have been the most troubling play of all: with two outs in the inning, a walk and a home run there hurt exactly the same.  Soria, at that point, was clearly struggling with his command.  Rios' ball probably would have been an out if it made it through to Alcides Escobar at short.  Carlos Quentin's double was the first solid drive of the inning off of Soria, and it was only combined with the really good managerial decision to "go for the win" and pinch run for Konerko with Brent Lillibridge that the White Sox were able to take the lead on that play.  Soria is having trouble missing bats, sure, which is contributing to the problem, but he's not exactly throwing batting practice out there.  He didn't make a pitch when he needed to make a pitch, though history shows this to be an isolated fluke.

Anyway, if this loss hadn't occurred in such improbable blown save fashion, it wouldn't have made any more of an impact on the fan despair meter than yesterday's win -- tied up in the 8th on a Billy Butler bomb -- was worth in terms of euphoria.

It's great that the Royals are finally playing some close games against teams in the playoff race, and they have hitters they can rely on after six games, and this is an easy team to like going forward.  It doesn't seem this way now, but because of the unexpected 4-1 start, even one win on Friday in Detroit will quickly erase the sting of the White Sox extra inning loss.  The Royals have a shot to move to 5-2, and everyone who follows the team would have taken that before the season.
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April 4, 2011 6:58 PM

Royals Opening Weekend Series Win over Angels a Step in Right Direction

Bruce Chen

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It's very overused to suggest the Kansas City Royals are moving in the right direction, after all according to headlines, the Royals have been moving in the right direction for years, and haven't actually improved as a team.  With that caution noted, the 3-1 opening weekend series victory is a move forward for the franchise.  Not the first move forward, and certainly not one that will be without setback.  But here's what makes this series different: it's a step in the right direction with players will will be on the next winning Royals team.  And that, perhaps, is a first for the Dayton Moore Royals.

There were no blowout wins to speak of, but the Royals also won a game that they historically would have lost on Sunday.  They lead 5-0 thanks to an offensive outburst and bad Angels defense.  But windy conditions caused pitcher Bruce Chen's flyball tendency to become a home run tendency.  Chen gave up four solo dingers in total, and former Royal Alberto Callaspo added a rare two run shot off former Angel Sean O'Sullivan in some sort of weird evaluation of a single trade.  Normally, giving up a 5-0 lead to trail by two late in the game would doom the Royals, but the Royals scratched across two runs in the 9th much in the same way they got the 5-0: hitting the ball hard and questionable defense by the Angels.

Walks were a big part of the Royals' series win: even Jeff Francoeur got one!  Every player who started a game for the Royals in the four game series took a walk, with the lone exception of C Brayan Pena who did not appear in games 1 or 3.  Kila Ka'aihue took four walks to lead the team.  Alcides Escobar and Matt Treanor combined to take 5 walks, which might be the most by a catcher/shortstop combo for the Royals in a single series in quite some time.

Alex Gordon looked dreadful in two of the four games, and yet he still managed a .350 on base percentage and .771 OPS for the series, which is a number that if he can merely prorate over the entire year, will basically mirror his 2008 season and give us a good baseline for who "the real Alex Gordon" is: a guy who has the offensive ability to play everyday in the corner outfield for a winning Royals team.

Kila Ka'aihue looks like a middle of the order threat with a .231/.412/.538 line.  It's a preposterously small sample, but as a fan, please, please, please let this be the "real" Kila Ka'aihue as a major league hitter.  The .231 batting average will always leave him underrated by most (and frankly, has to increase to sustain a .412 on-base percentage in a small sample), but the Royals can compete THIS year if Kila is actually a .412 on-base guy and Alex Gordon can hold a high batting average while OPSing .771.  I don't want any more from those two than we saw in the first series.

Now, Chris Getz obviously won't sustain a .400 OBP this year (nothing in this series, despite his clutch performances suggests Getz can hit all of a sudden), and Matt Treanor would be fortunate to OPS .650 this season, much less the 1.295 he sits at after 11 plate appearances (the alternative side of fun will small samples!).  And outside of walks/homers, Melky Cabrera and Alcides Escobar simply weren't worth much at all with the bat that series.

But the defense looks good overall.  Clearly, Cabrera's range in center is sub-par for a major league centerfielder, and Alex Gordon takes forever to get to the left field line.  Doubles in the gap and down the lines will be a big issue this year.  But both Chris Getz and Mike Aviles played awesome defense at the keystone and Alcides Escobar looks like one of the best Royals' shortstops I've ever seen (on par with Tony Pena in 2007).  Kila impressed as the first baseman in three of the four games.

Jeff Francis had the best pitching outing in the series, and so far, Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies look exactly like Hochevar and Davies.  Chen had a bad start, but the conditions played a part in that, I still have a good feel on what kind of marginally valuable pitcher Chen is going to be.  If Francis throws like an ace over the long haul, this is going to be a pretty nice staff overall with an improved defense.  It will also have the luxury of handing off early to a very strong Royals bullpen.  Two runs allowed on a Callaspo homer by Sean O'Sullivan were the ONLY runs allowed by the Royals bullpen all series.

What makes me most optimistic about the rest of the season for the Royals is that this could have been a four game blowout sweep of a (perhaps) contender had the Royals brought a quicker hook for their starting pitchers, excluding Sullivan.  Hochevar, Davies, and Chen all started off quite well, and then gave up the longball in bunches as they began to fatigue.  If the Royals turn over the game earlier to the bullpen, they have, I think, a rotation good enough to compete with the rest of the AL Central.  What the Royals don't have is a proven lineup 1-9, and there should be legitimate concern about the bottom of the lineup when compared to other AL teams.

It all starts with the middle of the order, and so far so good for the experiment batting Alex Gordon-Billy Butler-Kila Ka'aihue 3-4-5.  Once they establish (or fail to establish) themselves, we will re-evaluate the Royals chances this season.  That's the only thing that matters right now on the offensive end.  After four games, it's only good news for the Kansas City Royals, and making that optimism last into June and the Draft season is the best way to make fans "Trust the Process" in bunches.
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March 12, 2011 1:55 PM

Can Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies Lead a Rotation?

Kyle Davies

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Though their statistical records are less than stellar, the Royals' front office is trusting two longtime righthanders Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies to be the front of a rotation with the primary goal of pitching well enough to prevent long term embarrassment to the franchise.  History says: that's a tall task.  Hochevar clearly has the ability to be an above average major league quality starter and one of the pillars of the future Royals rotation, but, his career to date lies somewhere between replacement level and average major league starter.

Davies, alternatively, pitched well enough at a meaningless juncture of last season to receive an arbitration-avoiding contract from the Royals this year, while the team opted to non-tender Brian Bannister for the (completely legitimate) crime of not being a better pitcher than Kyle Davies.  Of course, a closer look would suggest that while Davies has now been unable to get his ERA under 5.00 in back to back years, he's actually become a pretty decent major league pitcher, just one who is prone to the occasional abondonment of control.

Davies improved his walk and home run rates in 2010, while his strikeout rate held steady.  And for Luke Hochevar, 2010 was an injury-shorted half-season, but one that may have represented a "breakout" season -- at least the start of one -- nonetheless.  Hochevar didn't improve his rates overall (his HR rate went way down while his walk rate actually increased), but Hochevar started to finally strand some baserunners in 2010, and established himself as a firm no. 2 pitcher in the rotation.

This year, Luke Hochevar has to play the role of the number one pitcher.  Hochevar merely has to prove that his rate numbers from 2010 can be sustained over the course of a long season, and then he will have earned his way into discussions for a long-term contract to stay with the Royals.

For Davies, this could be his final shot at holding a spot in the major league rotation.  Kyle Davies has made improvements in his career before, but he's never sustained such improvements.  Royals fans thought Davies to be an excellent no. 2 or 3 option after his 2008 season where he went 9-7 with a 4.06 ERA.  There's no doubt that when Kyle Davies keeps the ball in the yard, he pitches like a solid major leaguer.  But I'm not a believer that Davies understands how or why he loses his command and starts giving up the gopherball.  I think with Kyle Davies, it's a function of luck and that his true skill level lies in the vicinity of 5.00 runs/9, and that he's a barely above replacement pitcher.

With all the focus that will be paid to Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen -- lefthanders on $2 million, 1-yr contracts -- it might be easy to miss the make or break year that both Hochevar and Davies are facing, albiet at different points in their career.  The Royals need to see the potential manifested in both of them, and they are running out of time.  Here's to hoping that Hochevar looks the part of an ace this year in anticipation of all the pitching arms coming up from the farm system in 2012, and that Davies can figure out out to keep the ball on the ground, marginally increase his strike out rates, and induce pop-ups to keep the ball in the park and -- finally -- establish himself as a quality member of the Royals' pitching rotation.
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March 10, 2011 2:39 PM

More Likely Future Royal: Gordon or Ka'aihue?

Alex Gordon

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Yesterday's Billy Butler article comes with one more obvious point that must be made.  If the Royals end up getting major league contribution from every member of the trio of Wil Myers, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer (or really, even without Moustakas), that means that the Royals cannot continue to play Alex Gordon and Kila Ka'aihue in the same lineup for as long as they will be team controlled.  And because the team needs it's answers on it's hitting prospects, let's face it, it's really a competition for 2011 between the two left-handed hitters to prove their value to the team.

It's the million dollar question: do you believe in Kila Ka'aihue, Alex Gordon, or neither?

I think I know where the Royals stand.  They still view Alex Gordon as a major league regular.  And they're just not sure what they have in Ka'aihue.  The move of Alex Gordon to left field was the team's attempt to try to work him into their future plans.  But that move could ultimately be the thing that does Gordon in, for good, in Kansas City.

I believe two things about Alex Gordon's first four years in a Royal's uniform: 1) that he, by virtue of his strong 2008 season (the best year the Royals -- as a team -- have had since 2003), he already proved himself as a major league regular who deserves the benefit of the doubt on a losing team, and 2) that Gordon's problem is that people continue to expect him to live up to the promise of being the number one rated prospect in baseball in 2007, and that 1600 career PAs (as well as diminishing youth) suggests than Alex Gordon's pros and cons, alike, are commonly known.

Whether Gordon plays third base or left field on the current Royals team is irrelevant -- saying otherwise is a fundamental misunderstanding of positional value.  Gordon's batting runs created will not be altered by where he is going defensively the next inning.  But because Moustakas has already, in effect, forced Gordon to switch positions, Gordon isn't going to settle in to a role or bench position on a contending team.  He's either going to need to improve his ability at the plate and let his offensive value contribute to the team as one of the first six hitters in the order, or the Royals would be better off giving up on him and giving the plate appearances to someone else.

Someone else, like Kila Ka'aihue, perhaps?  To be sure, the Royals would much rather Gordon hit like a left fielder and that Ka'aihue hit well enough to bring something back in a trade.  Otherwise, if Kila hits well enough to get a big money extension (and Butler already was extended), then the Royals could find themselves delaying Eric Hosmer's major league ETA trying to teach him to play left field with his athleticism as Gordon merely eats plate appearances.  I think for that reason (and plenty of others) that the Royals don't really believe in Kila as a major league regular.

Kila's small sample MLB numbers are actually worse than Gordon's in a significantly larger sample.  Ka'aihue has hit .224/.314/.398 in 206 plate appearances.  Gordon, for his career: .244/.328/.405.

Of course, the Royals didn't believe Billy Butler would ever play the field well enough to justify keeping him, and they've apparently now sufficiently believe in his bat (if not his glove) as the foundational pillar that The Process be built upon.

Ultimately, I feel the Royals may have this one backward.  Gordon and Kila are similar players.  They both rely heavily on the walks and home runs to help their offensive value.  But it's Kila, I feel, who has more room for future improvement, at least on the offensive end.  He can, if he develops this year in a full season role, cut his strikeouts, maintain his home run power, and learn to drive the ball to the gaps.  Gordon continues to struggle with batting average at the ML level, even though it's never been a problem for him in the minor leagues.  Gordon could restore some of his 'prospect' luster by 1) clearing the fence more and 2) playing a good defensive left field.  But I would rather bet on Kila Ka'aihue becoming the major league regular, and then hoping Hosmer can play left field.

Gordon just strikes me as a slightly below average major league hitter -- one of the better hitters on the 2011 Royals to be sure -- but not a significant figure (or member of) a contending Royals team.

As for Kila, I don't know if he's going to make it through to the other side either.  Seems like even if he can establish himself, the Royals would rather move him for pitching depth and let Hosmer play first base.  That means it's pretty likely that this Gordon/Kila competition may just be about building trade value.  Either way, we'll know by the end of the year whether the front office's faith in Gordon pays off, or whether Kila Ka'aihue forces the front office to back Ned Yost's assessment of him and make him -- at least temporarily -- a major league regular as he has earned.
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March 9, 2011 6:02 PM

Billy Butler's Extension and Committed Future Salary (or lack thereof)

Billy Butler

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At the time of the Zack Greinke trade (as well as the last post on this blog), Billy Butler was the best player on the Royals to not be on a long term contract.  Because of the unexpected retirement of Gil Meche -- a shock to the front office which certainly planned on having Greinke and Meche in the budget for 2011 -- that's $25 million in salary that just suddenly came off the books.

It would have made no sense to not immediately re-invest some of that cash into the 2011 team, and so the Royals spent $2 million of that $25 million on a signing bonus for 1B Billy Butler, who agreed to extend his contract through 2014 with a club option for 2015.  The total cost of the deal to the club is an astoundingly cheap $30 million of future committed salary.

It's also worth pointing out that the only future guaranteed contribution towards future payroll that the Royals had on the books was the Joakim Soria option buyout ($750k).  In practicality, Butler becomes the only Royals player on the payroll beyond this season.  That's significant, because Butler is now the first (and only) piece of this team who has locked down a spot on the next contending Royals team.

Soria's future is very much up in the air.  While the Royals hold three consecutive club options on his contract, it's at least somewhat likely that Soria will be exercising those options elsewhere.  At some point, the Royals will decide that they can get more return for Soria than the help he's bringing to the team.  And then this team will officially and unquestionably belong to Billy Butler.

The question today is whether the Royals can build a winner around Butler, or whether they need to bring in outside help in order to contend.  First, we'll start with the obvious: Billy Butler is one of the better hitters in the American League.

This is a list of the best hitters in the AL (by wOBA), with the 1st-10th best omitted.

  • Nick Swisher, NYY .377
  • Evan Longoria, TBR .376
  • Joe Mauer, MIN .373
  • Billy Butler, KC .372
  • Mark Teixiera, NYY .367
  • Victor Martinez, BOS .364
  • Alex Rodriguez, NYY .363
  • Vernon Wells, TOR .362
After all the great hitters having career years (the top ten, which included Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, and Adrian Beltre), that's really a who's who list of the best hitters in the AL.

Now before you get really excited, Butler is probably the least valuable of all those players.  Butler plays first base, and though he does an okay job defensively all things considered, he doesn't play it as well as Mark Teixiera does it for the Yankees.  Butler also has a really poor showing in terms of baserunning value, which contributes to hitting into a lot of double plays when combined with his propensity to hit the ball on the ground.  What Butler is, a lot of the time, is the toughest out in the Royals lineup.  When he's on, he's the most difficult player to get out.

With all of that said, I think that even despite Butler's favorable age, his .372 wOBA from last season represents more or less a high water mark of how good he will be in the majors.  I think he can maintain this level for the entirety of his shiny new contract -- and that alone makes him a really good deal for the money he will be paid -- but ultimately, I see Butler as a table setter for the future middle of the Royals lineup.  He's clearly the three hitter (or wherever you want to hit your best batter based on optimal lineup construction) on this team, but to me, Butler is a no. 2 hitter in the body of a number four or five guy.

I fully understand that baseball managers are men of wisdom as opposed to brilliant decision makers, and that who Butler looks like and what position he plays will have more to do with where he hits than how he hits, but Butler need to have at least THREE power hitters with home run power batting directly behind him to play in a winning lineup.  And sure, the Royals have three prospects with "light-tower power" in the system, and maybe someday I can get to see a lineup where Lorenzo Cain leads off ahead of Butler, both of whom set the table for Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Wil Myers.  That'd be fantastic.

But its also asking a lot of both the player development system of the Royals to develop three different prospects to their best possible projection, and then to see that Butler doesn't have the natural homerun power of the upcoming prospects, and put him ahead of them where they can hit with runners on base.  More likely, I think Butler could find himself in competition to stay in the middle of the order while the Royals choose to set the table with vastly inferior offensive players who are primarily in the lineup for defensive value.

In that sense, the Royals would be missing an opportunity to build around a gifted, established hitter in Billy Butler, and would instead be building despite his presence.  And in that case, you could probably find a better use for $30 million between now and 2014.

None of this is the fault of Billy Butler, the best, and most established hitter on the Royals.  It's more an indictment of the organization he plays for.  The real question is not whether Butler is a good value.  He's a great value.  It's whether Butler will be the first investment by the Dayton Moore Royals that involves money being spent on a playoff team.  That will be the ultimate judge of the contract; to see if the Royals are spending towards specific goals, or whether they are just spending because they unexpectedly had a lot of money available, and a player who deserved a raise and the security that comes with being the franchise player of the Kansas City Royals.
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December 20, 2010 8:57 PM

Zack Greinke Trade Reactions

Apr. 05, 2010 - Kansas City, MISSOURI, UNITED STATES - epa02105081 Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke walks off the field against the Detroit Tigers in the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri USA, 5 April 2010.
Zack Greinke is settling in his new digs right now, as a resident of Milwaukee, WI.  The Royals traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday for three major leaguers (OF Lorenzo Cain, IF Alcedies Escobar, RP Jeremy Jeffers), and a prospect (SP Jake Odorizzi).

The former three all head to the Royals 40-man roster.  All three have remaining contract options.

There are a number of different camps that have separated in terms of panning the trade.  Some feel that the Royals didn't get enough and should have waited longer (or into the season).  Some feel that the Royals didn't get enough because they set the asking price too high, backing teams out of the market.  Some are blaming the situation on Greinke, who fired his agent less than a week before the trade was consummated.  Believe it or not, there's also a camp that likes the timing of the trade and is satisfied with the prospect haul.

I don't think I fall directly into any one camp.  Clearly, it's hard to be disappointed with the quantity of prospects or the major-league readiness of the prospects.  Those were two major selling points of the Greinke trade.  The Redskins got a 4-for-2 that could be seen by some as a 5-for-1 -- that the Brewers taking Betancourt from the Royals was actually a favor.  One of the reasons I like the timing of this trade is because the Royals somehow did manage to package their worst remaining player with their best player.  This is a trade that fills a lot of holes on next year's team, including the SS position as well as an outfield spot.

Could the Royals be reaching a point where pitching becomes it's greatest need?  In the context of the 2011 team, that's the case.  The lineup has a really good shot at being adequate: they'll likely have below average offensive production from the right fielder, and the catcher, if not the second basemen.  The ceiling for the lineup is an average AL lineup.  For the rotation, chances aren't that good without Greinke.  There's still some home that opening day starter Luke Hochevar can break out, but I don't know how much hope anyone has for Sean O'Sullivan, Kyle Davies, or Vin Mazzaro outside of maybe, someday, a number three starter.  Even those chances aren't very good.

The Royals maintain the Joakim Soria ace-in-the-hole.  I personally feel that the time to see if Soria can start games is right now, right at the beginning of 2011.  While I also think the Royals should pick up a veteran starter on a one year deal to bolster the rotation in Greinke's absence, finding out Soria can maintain his four-pitch dominance as a starter would greatly soften the blow by this trade.  It would also give the talent on the farm an established veteran in the rotation by the time it arrives at this level, and more importantly, in my opinion, would open up the closer role to find young players who can handle the role as the Royals get ready to ascend the AL Central standings.

That ascension will not begin in 2011.  For the Royals, the Greinke trade results one last teardown of the big league roster before the talent from the farm system begins to reach the major leagues in bunches.  It's been decided that the frontier of veterans of the next Royals contender will be Billy Butler, Joakim Soria, and uh, maybe Mike Aviles?  Give Dayton Moore some credit: this team could have been a third place team by holding onto and playing Greinke and David DeJesus.  Now, this is a terrible team in the short term, but there's clearly some sort of plan (or process) here.

Unfortunately, while I think the timing of the trade was right for Greinke and right for the Royals, I think they locked themselves into a trade partner before the market completely re-set in the wake of Greinke's trade demand.  From the Brewers, I think the Royals got absolutely everything they could have.  The piece I would have wanted them to add was 2B prospect Brett Lawrie, but I think the key here (Lawrie was dealt to the Blue Jays for SP Shaun Marcum three weeks ago) is that Greinke had the Brewers on his no-trade list until he switched agents, and took them off in response to their acquisition of Marcum.  That was a win-now move for the Brewers, and one of the things that made Milwaukee an appealing destination to Greinke.

This was, I think, the best possible trade package from the Brewers given all the circumstances.  And I think there's more good than bad in it for the Royals.  But I agree with many voices out there that the haul of prospects was underwhelming.  The number one thing I wanted to receive in a Zack Greinke trade was the next Zack Greinke type player.  In reality, the Royals already have a bunch of ace-type pitching prospects in the minors.  And maybe with Jake Odorizzi, everything goes right in Wilmington this year, and he gets fast-tracked as the next Greinke type player this organization produced.  Likely though, there's no one like that in this deal.

Instead, the biggest upgrade and the centerpiece of this deal is the SS upgrade, going from Betancourt to Alcides Escobar.  A bunch of other needs were filled as well, and a bunch of salary was saved, and a bunch of risk was mitigated, and the Royals got some high-value pitchers to help offset the difference.  All of that matters.  At the end of the day, what the Royals HAVE is a better shortstop situation than they've had in years, and no Zack Greinke.

I would describe this trade as "unfortunate."  I hate that the 2009 AL Cy Young winner was a Royal, and now is not, and there's nothing to really be excited about from this trade.  The Royals, uh, fixed some needs and cost structure, and lost some value.  It was the right thing to do from the perspective of leading this organization into the future.  This, I believe, is indisputable.  I'd still rather watch Zack Greinke pitch for the Royals every 5th day than know how much better off the future is because of this deal.
December 10, 2010 3:09 PM

Royals sign Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur? Why them?

July 18, 2010 - San Francisco, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02252954 New York Mets Jeff Francoeur gets hit by a pitch by San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Denny Bautista during the eighth inning at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California, USA 18 July 2010.

To a group of outfielders that already included Alex Gordon, Gregor Blanco, and Mitch Maier, the Royals made the conscious decision to add some people who hold the bat above the right shoulder.  They spent a combined $4 million dollars in 2010 on Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera.  These are nice additions in the way that they help the outfield appear to have more major league quality players in it.  Of course, given the struggles that Francoeur and Cabrera have both had with the bad since 2008, it's hard to see how these players make the Royals better.

Granted, the bar for offensive production from the outfielders was set pretty darn low after the David DeJesus injury and Scott Podsednik trade.  The three players listed above combined with Willie Bloomquist to have some absolutely dreadful offensive production out of the outfield positions.  Bringing in a hacker like Frenchy and a switch hitter who can struggle from two sides of the plate in Cabrera can't make things worse, really.

In addition, I think if you study the trends of the way small market teams spend their money -- Ben Sheets getting $10 million from the A's in 2009, for example -- there's a significant amount of peer pressure from the teams who are funding this spending to make sure the small market teams spend all the way up to an arbitrary limit.  $4 million dollars isn't exactly a lot of money, but I think it's more of a show of good faith to large market teams than a money dump in some bad players.

That doesn't mean the Royals shouldn't have gone out and tried to add some bad players, but if you're the Royals, and you're going to add two players through free agency on good faith to the big league roster, there were playing time limitations on the Royals at a couple of positions: 1B, SS, and a self-regulated limitation at the C position (good for Dayton Moore for rolling with Lucas May and Brayan Pena, I say).  Some of the best free agent values on the market were first basemen.  I think there are a number of good second basemen who the Royals could get in on, but might not be willing to sacrifice the roster space w/o a potential trade.

It may be an instance of poor roster construction, but I think these signings are justifiable under the idea that there just weren't  a lot of good FA outfielders who could have been signed for the price.  I think Marcus Thames would have been a better RH platoon option for Alex Gordon.  I think Gabe Gross was the best available outfielder, but I suspect the Royals may have been priced out there.  I would have signed Reed Johnson instead of Melky Cabrera, personally.  After that, Scott Hairston and Fred Lewis, maybe?

It's disappointing because there were probably better players on the open market than Francoeur and Cabrera, and it's also disappointing because the Royals have been highly ineffective with the open market all along.  That comes with the territory: those who have a choice to avoid Kansas City probably will.  I'd much rather have two guys who want to play for the Royals, even for just a season, than guys who came here because the Royals outbid the market.  It seems like Francouer and Cabrera both passed up other options to be Royals because they want to play.  I suppose that's a good thing.

Jeff Francoeur can't possibly replace David DeJesus in the outfield.  That doesn't mean I feel the DeJesus trade was bad, or wrong, or even premature.  It is what it is.  For 40% of the cost, Francoeur is going to provide about 40% of the offensive production and about 40% of the defensive production of David DeJesus for the same amount of time.  Cabrera is a poor team's 4th outfielder.  These are both hubris motivated signings who last did something in 2007 after looking like promising prospects.  There's no Scott Podsednik level of production from either of these guys who will add runs to the offense in the process of being a one-year rental.  These signings don't do much for the 2011 Royals.

Again, I think they're trying.  I don't think they're better today than they were before the winter meetings, but I think because of hubris and because of a fresh start and fresh coaching, I think there's more here to both Francoeur and Cabrera than just wasting money on failed major leaguers.  They might not -- probably won't -- amount to anything more than that, but that doesn't mean neither was worth the time or effort in a season that doesn't appear to be going anywhere fast.

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