Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Auld Lang Syne.

This is the most frustrating time of year for baseball fans. The year is almost out and the nation is shutting down for the holidays – which would be well and good if baseball shut down as well, affording all of us two weeks to detox from the Hot Stove League and re-introduce ourselves to our families and all that.

The problem is that while baseball almost shuts down, there’s always the possibility of some news, a trade, a free agent signing, so you can’t help but refresh on MLBTradeRumors.com (hi Tim, and thanks for the links) or your sports portal of choice. As soon as you think nothing’s going to happen while you’re on vacation between Christmas and New Year’s, bam! Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley are traded to San Diego for Derek Bell and Phil Plantier in a 12-player deal on December 28th. So you have to stay plugged in, even though 99% of the time you’ll be watching the paint dry. (Yankees fans are exempt from this.)*

*: You could argue that the Royals – or at least David Glass – should be happy that Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees. After all, the Yankees are always over the luxury tax threshold, so adding Teixeira means more luxury tax means more money in Glass’s pockets. The details are still coming in, but Tex’s contract looks to be about for $22 million a year. Multiply that by the 40% luxury tax rate = $8.8 million. Divide that by 29 other teams, and you get about $300,000. That’s 300 grand a year in David Glass’s pocket, and the actual number is probably higher than that, as (I believe) luxury tax revenue is apportioned to teams at least partly based on their own revenues, so a low-revenue team like the Royals will get more. So let’s say 500 or 600 grand a year. The Yankees get Mark Teixeira, and in return the Royals get a month of Kyle Farnsworth. Or, if they’re smart, a quality amateur signing out of Latin America.

If you’re desperate for any Royal rumors, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Royals would like to sign Jerry Hairston, but don’t have the payroll flexibility to afford him. If that’s true, that’s unbelievably sad and criminally negligent on the part of Dayton Moore. It’s one thing to not afford Furcal, but Jerry Hairston? And with Furcal off the board, Hairston isn’t a bad fit for the team – he’s a decent hitter, knows how to draw a walk, and can play shortstop well enough that he’s a reasonable fill-in option, but not so well as to tempt the Royals into moving Mike Aviles off the position.

But the Royals can’t afford him, because they just spent $4.6 million a year on Farnsworth; $3 million (approximately) on Mike Jacobs; $2.7 million on Miguel Olivo; and $1.8 million on Horacio Ramirez. That’s $12.1 million for 2009; subtract out the league minimum for the four roster spots those guys will hold, and that’s $10.5 million spent on four players who do not materially improve the Royals next season (especially since you’d still have Leo Nunez.) That’s enough money to sign Rafael Furcal. Instead the Royals don’t have enough money to sign Jerry Hairston.

The Royals would have enough money to sign Furcal and Hairston if Dayton Moore hadn’t spent $12 million a year on Jose Guillen last winter. I don’t want to beat a dead horse into the ground, but I just have to point out that the Angels just signed Juan Rivera to a three-year deal for $12.75 million. Not $12.75 million a year - $12.75 million for all three years.

This is amazing and more than a little galling if you’re a Royals fan, because Juan Rivera and Jose Guillen are pretty much the same player. Guillen’s career line is .273/.323/.446, with a career OPS+ of exactly 100. Rivera’s line is .284/.331/.468 with a 106 OPS+. Rivera is 30 years old – Guillen was 31 when he signed with the Royals. Granted, when Guillen signed he had the better recent numbers, whereas Rivera missed almost all of 2007 and hit poorly in part-time play in 2008 (but mashed the ball - .310/.362/.525 – in 2006).

Baseball analysts (I dislike the term “sabermetricians”, because of the stereotypical images that it conjures up more than anything else) are constantly accused of caring about the numbers. The reality, though, is that we couldn’t care less about the numbers – we care about what the numbers mean. I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head what Jose Guillen’s batting average was last year – but I can tell you that his overall mix of baseball skills is highly overrated and barely merits an everyday job, let alone $12 million a year. I don’t particularly care whether Jose Guillen or Juan Rivera is 1% better than the other. What I care about is that the established record suggests that Guillen and Rivera are pretty much the same player – highly-aggressive right-handed hitters with good power and questionable defensive value in a corner outfield spot. That one player is making three times the other is 10% a reflection of the economy, and 90% a reflection of the way these two players are perceived, a perception that does not jibe with reality at all.

There are many skills that are required of a general manager, and defining a GM as “good” or “bad” is terribly simplistic. Dayton Moore does many things well, and he still has my support as the man who could lead the Royals to the playoffs once again. But after three off-seasons to prove himself on the free-agent market, with one notable exception (Gil Meche), all he has proven is that he is prone to wildly overspending for highly replaceable talent. For all he does well – and really, Moore has done almost everything else well – the Royals are unlikely to make the playoffs unless and until he learns to ration his disposable dollars with more care.

We’ll probably be going dark here at RotR for the next week or so. Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas per se, but we certainly honor the spirit of the holiday. It is written in the Qu’ran (19:33) that when Jesus spoke from the cradle, he said, “So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!” We unfortunately don’t know what day he was born, but December 25th works for me.

So if you’re celebrating Christmas on Thursday, then let me wish you a Merry Christmas. If you’re celebrating Hanukkah, then let me wish you a Happy Hanukkah. If you’re celebrating Kwanzaa or Festivus or any other holiday that I fail to mention – we Muslims just celebrated our Eid two weeks ago – I hope it is a happy and safe one. And I hope to see you all next year.

In the meantime, if any of you want to suggest ideas for what I ought to write about between now and Spring Training, please feel free to comment, with the caveat that I may feel free to ignore your idea. I do have at least one project I plan to write about in January – call it the Royals Time Capsule if you will. But that’s a project for another day.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rany's Royal Ramblings.

Bill Simmons calls it The Ramblings. Joe Sheehan calls it Bullet Point Friday, or sometimes Short Attention Span Theatre. I call it The Column You Write When Your Brain Is So Fried By The Chiefs That You Can’t Focus On Any Topic For More Than A Hundred Words.

- My Spanish literacy is very limited, so I’m grateful to the Royals for their recent efforts to educate me. I mean, who knew that “Jairo Cuevas” is Spanish for “Tim Pugh”? (And how many of you even get that reference?)

- I lumped Doug Waechter in with Kyle Farnsworth in my last post, as the news had just come across the wire before I hit “publish”. Now that we know the details of his contract, it’s clear that was unfair of me. Waechter signed a one-year deal for $640,000, and there’s just no way you can describe a $640,000 deal to anyone as a bad deal. Waechter will be making about 14% of what Farnsworth will make in 2009, and even that understates the difference, because the league minimum is about $400,000 (it’s now indexed for inflation, so I’m not sure the exact figure). Waechter is making just $240,000 in marginal salary over some career minor leaguer – in terms of marginal salary, he’ll earn just 6% of Farnsworth’s income.

I don’t know much about Waechter except that he was once a crappy starting pitcher for the Devil Rays – back when that was sort of a requirement for his job – then blew out his shoulder and was re-invented as a useful reliever for the Marlins last year. The major difference between 2008 and the rest of his career was his performance against RHB. His line against LHB (.303/.358/.486) was along the lines of his career numbers (.289/.351/.521), but his numbers against RHB improved dramatically (.216/.281/.338 vs .267/.322/.432). It’s hard to compare Waechter the post-injury reliever to Waechter the pre-injury starter, but he did appear to be a fundamentally better pitcher last season; his strikeout rate (6.54 per nine) was easily his career best. At worst, he’s a useful ROOGY, a pale but still useful simulacrum of Ramon Ramirez.

- It’s been a week, and the Kyle Farnsworth signing continues to baffle me. I appreciate that Dayton Moore probably does not have time in his busy day to read my blog, but after I defended the Coco Crisp trade in large part by detailing how Moore has built a high-end bullpen almost entirely on the cheap, it just amazes me that he would suddenly rip a page out of the Allard Baird playbook by trying to spackle the holes in his bullpen with hundred-dollar bills. We’ve seen this play run before. It didn’t work with Roberto Hernandez. It didn’t work with Ricky Bottalico. It didn’t work with Doug Henry. I see no reason to think it’s going to work with Kyle Farnsworth.

- Here’s a friendly wager for Moore. Here’s a list of a number of players that are or were available for around the league minimum: Waechter, Eduardo Morlan (Rule 5 pick by the Brewers from Tampa Bay), Jesus Colome (non-tendered by Washington), Joe Nelson (non-tendered by the Marlins), and Muntader Al-Zaidi (just signed by the Yankees.)

Using whatever metric you prefer – ERA, ARP, WXRL, whatever – I’m willing to bet that including Farnsworth and the first four pitchers on that list (I’m not sure the shoeicide bomber is ready for prime time), Captain Tightpants will rank no higher than third among these five pitchers at the end of 2009. Unless the metric you prefer is “salary”.

- On the other hand, this almost made the Farnsworth signing worthwhile.

- When he’s not signing pitchers with big fastballs and big ERAs to big contracts, Moore continues to do good work on the margins. A few weeks ago the Royals designated Tyler Lumsden, once considered the key to the Mike MacDougal trade, for assignment. That gave them 10 days to trade him or let him go on waivers – when a player is DFA’ed, typically he’ll get traded for scraps or some spare change, as the alternative is that some other team will pick him up on waivers anyway. Lumsden had a 7.21 and 5.88 ERA in Triple-A the last two years; the wonder is that anyone would want him at all. Well, the Astros did, because the Astros’ farm system looks like the landscape to “Fallout 3”. So the Royals traded Lumsden to Houston for the ubiquitous PTBNL, a player whose name typically winds up being “Cash”, and I don’t mean Kevin. (I have this sinking sensation that I’ve used that line before.)

So I was dumbfounded when, immediately after the Rule 5 draft (i.e. as soon as the player was guaranteed not to be selected by another organization), the Astros completed the deal by sending the Royals Jordan Parraz. Parraz isn’t a great prospect, but he’s a prospect, the sort of prospect teams never get when they’re clearing their rosters of the Tyler Lumsdens of the world. Parraz was a sixth-round pick of the Phillies in 2003 as a high school pitcher; after a year of community college, he was a third-round pick of the Astros as an outfielder.

He’s a very good athlete, and has hit pretty well throughout his career, but for some reason has been promoted very slowly through the system – he’s now 24 and has yet to play in the high minors. But he has speed (54 steals the last two years) and plate discipline (lifetime .372 OBP, and .399 last season), and has shown flashes of power. If he were two years younger he’d be a great prospect; even as old as he is, I love athletes who have shown secondary skills even if they haven’t exactly learned how to hit yet. I would have traded Lumsden for him straight up even if Lumsden wasn’t on the 40-man roster and didn’t have to be DFA’ed.

This summer the Royals traded Horacio Ramirez to the White Sox for Paulo Orlando, a trade I heartily endorsed. I asked Kevin Goldstein who he liked better, and with the caveat that neither one is a great prospect, he preferred Parraz to Orlando. If it was shrewd to trade Ramirez, having a decent year as a middle reliever at the time, for Orlando, trading Lumsden for Parraz is larceny. Petty larceny, maybe, but still a criminal offense.

- Unfortunately, relaying this story just reminds me that Moore just paid Ramirez $1.8 million (plus $1.1 million in incentives!) for a return engagement. Let’s review, class, since some of you weren’t paying attention:

1) Signing a failed major league starter to a minor league contract, and trying him in relief: smart.

2) Signing the same pitcher, who was moderately successful as a reliever, to a seven-figure contract while attempting to move him back to the rotation: dumb.

- To clear payroll, the Royals axed John Bale and Joey Gathright. Bale might still re-sign, for less money than he would have earned in arbitration (a minimum of $1.6 million). If he can be resigned for less, I’d say he’s worth it; if you eliminate the three starts in his ill-fated trial in the rotation, over the last two years Bale has a 3.16 ERA in relief. Like Ron Mahay, he doesn’t have a big platoon split, so he can be used both ways, allowing the Royals to save Jimmy Gobble for LOOGY situations only. There’s some untapped potential here.

Few players have more untapped potential than Gathright, but cutting him was the right move for this team. Gathright doesn’t do anything that Coco Crisp can’t do; Gathright is faster, but he has yet to show he can translate that speed into game impact yet. Cutting Gathright is painful, given that Moore gave up J.P. Howell to get him, but it’s precisely because it was painful that I like this move. Howell is a sunk cost, and holding on to Gathright in the hopes that he might redeem that trade would have just thrown a bunch of money at a player who isn’t going to get enough playing time to justify his salary anyway.

On the other hand, this clears a path on the roster for Ross Gload. Speaking of sunk costs…

- The Royals are still doggedly in pursuit of Rafael Furcal, and while it doesn’t appear they can afford him, I can’t help but believe that Moore is going to find a way to shake down David Glass for the extra cash. If he can’t, he has no one to blame but himself. I’m not even talking about the Jose Guillen contract, though I certainly could spend 5000 words re-visiting the stupidity of that move.

I’m talking about the fact that Moore will be paying somewhere between $6.5 million and $8 million in 2009 for the services of Farnsworth and Ramirez – roughly 70% of the money needed for Furcal’s contract was wasted on two pitchers who are barely worth a roster spot. Furcal appears to have a 4-year, $40 million contract offer from Oakland (and let’s be honest: doesn’t the fact that Billy Beane is in the running to sign Furcal elevate Furcal’s standing in your eyes?) I think a 4/$44 contract will get it done, and in a world where A.J. Burnett is getting 5/$82.5, 4/$44 for one of the top 10 shortstops in baseball looks like a bargain.

So get it done, Dayton. Unless you want your next press conference to lead off with a question from an Iraqi journalist.

- This is just so sad on so many levels. In 2003, Rob Neyer and I met up in Kansas City for a weekend of baseball, and the first place we met on Friday morning was at the Negro Leagues Museum. Rob had some business to attend to – he was interviewing Buck O’Neil for one of his books, or maybe for his ESPN.com column. I would have had a chance to meet Buck as well, but I had never toured the museum before, and I lingered inside so long that by the time I finished Buck had came and went (immaculately dressed in a white suit, I was told.) I didn’t regret taking my time – the museum was that powerful. Afterwards I did get the opportunity to meet Bob Kendrick briefly, and was moved by the level of enthusiasm and passion that he had for the museum, Buck, and the greater cause that both were serving.

I don’t live in Kansas City and can’t speak to the specifics on this case. But when Joe Posnanski and Jason Whitlock agree on something this passionately, I defer to their judgment. I’m glad I’ve been through the museum already, so I’m not conflicted about not seeing it again. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend going once, because you’re just hurting yourself if you don’t. But if you have, well, if Poz ain’t going back, I ain’t going back.

- I wondered how long it would take for someone to make fun of my crush on Connor Barth after yesterday’s game. Looks like it took reader Dave about 3 minutes.

I could respond by saying that until yesterday’s game, not only had Barth converted all of his kicks, he would have made all his kicks if the uprights had been squeezed together by five feet on each side. I could respond by saying that both of his misses yesterday were by just a foot or two, and that I don’t know a Chiefs fan alive who thought there was any chance, given all that had just transpired, that Barth was going to nail his 50-yard attempt at the buzzer. Even KC Wolf was shaking his head before the kick. (I have no response for missing a 34-yarder. Yeah, that was pretty inexcusable – almost, dare I say it, Tynes-esque.)

But instead, I’ll just respond by saying that if Barth had squeezed his final kick through the uprights, this would not have happened. I said Connor Barth was The One…I just didn’t say that he was The One Who Will Get King Carl Fired. Hey, I told you he was money.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


“We’ve added two productive everyday position players for about $9 million,” Moore said. “We would not have been able to do that in the free-agent market.”

No, Dayton, you’ve added two everyday position players – I’d hold off on proclaiming them both “productive” for the moment – for over $14 million.

Coco Crisp: $6.25 million

Mike Jacobs: $3.25 million (estimate)

Kyle Farnsworth: $4.625 million

You can’t claim that Coco Crisp only costs you $6.25 million when you spend almost as much money to replace the guy you traded to get him. That assumes Farnsworth is a true replacement for Ramon Ramirez – and given that the former had a 4.48 ERA last year, and the latter a 2.64 ERA, that’s an awfully bold assumption.

One of the most common mistakes a GM can make is to spend money just because he can. Moore has received a license from Dayton Moore to raise the team’s payroll, and he deserves full credit for obtaining that license, something Allard Baird, for whatever reason, could never do. But a license to spend money is not a mandate to spend money. Kyle Farnsworth will not be paid with a big pile of $100 bills that Moore had just rescued from a bonfire. That was money in David Glass’s bank account, and whatever your feelings are on the creditworthiness of banks at the moment, if Moore had left that money where it was, there’s a good chance it still would have been there if he came back with a request for more money later.

Like, say, if he had wanted to pull out all the stops to signing Rafael Furcal. I’m not 100% sold on the idea of signing Furcal – I think Aviles deserves a chance to prove he can’t play shortstop, and I think Callaspo deserves a chance to prove he can’t maintain a .360 OBP. But I’ve come around to Joe Posnanski’s point of view, which is that the Royals are a lot closer to contending than most people realize, and while Furcal is a risk given his age and recent injury history, if he’s healthy he’s going to be an impact player for at least the next two years. It’s not unreasonable to think he can have enough of an impact to alter the outcome of the AL Central.

The Royals could offer $11 million a year on Furcal, who might prove irrelevant but at the same time might have a huge, postseason-caliber impact on the team. Or they could spend nearly half that much money on a player who at his best is a decent middle reliever, and hasn’t been at his best in four years.

More and more, it’s clear that Moore is aggressively trying to make the Royals into a contender in 2009-2010, with the caveat that he won’t do anything that might hamstring the Royals from building a year-in, year-out juggernaut in 2012 and beyond. In that vein, I understand why he’d sign someone like Farnsworth over Juan Cruz, who several readers have pointed out is a Type A free agent and would have cost the Royals their second-round pick. All Farnsworth costs the Royals is some of David Glass’s money. If you’re of the opinion that the Royals are still two years away from contention, then this move doesn’t matter one way or the other.

But if you’re of the opinion that the Royals can contend in 2009 or 2010 – and so long as Zack Greinke is under contract, I think they can – then you have to ask yourself, was there a better way to spend this money to win more games over the next two years? Maybe Glass’s bank account is inexhaustible, and there’s still money left in the till for Furcal. But if there isn’t, then Moore just blew his chance to sign an impact everyday shortstop for a hot-headed, over-rated, meatball-grooving middle reliever.

(Make that two relievers: Doug Waechter?)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Winter Meetings.

Every year, we look forward to a winter meetings event filled with big trades and surprising free agent signings – and every year, it turns out to be a dud. This year has been no exception so far, although things usually start moving a little in the last 24 hours.

One player we hope will not be moving is Zack Greinke. Here’s how things have changed under Dayton Moore: when I first heard the rumor that Moore was talking to the Braves about a Greinke-Francoeur swap, I didn’t even bat an eye. I had no doubt that this rumor was grossly mischaracterized at best, and more likely just an outright fabrication. I do not always agree with Moore, but he and I agree on one thing: he is not an idiot.

The best part of the rumor was the fact that Moore actively sought out more than one reporter to debunk the rumor. Moore likes to run a tight ship when it comes to rumors, but he also can’t help himself when it comes to shooting down rumors that are false (or rumors that he wants everyone to believe are false.) The downside to that is that when he doesn’t deny a rumor, you know there’s some fire with that smoke. (You’ll notice the lack of denials regarding the Royals’ interest in Rafael Furcal, for instance.)

But in this case, I think Moore was justified to speak out, and speak out forcefully, that there was nothing to the notion of trading Greinke for Francoeur. It was as if Moore wanted to send a message to all Royals fans that can be translated as, “I just wanted to reassure all of you that not only am I not stupid enough to trade Zack Greinke for Jeff Francoeur, I’m not stupid enough to even think about trading Zack Greinke for Jeff Francoeur. Thank you for your support.”

But at some point the Royals are going to do something, so let me try to run down the likely possibilities as I battle through this nagging cold. There are two types of moves the Royals are looking at: they almost certainly will add a reliever or two to their bullpen, and they might open the vault for a big addition either in the lineup or in the rotation.

We know they’re looking at relievers right and left – well, mostly right, as I think Moore is satisfied for now with Ron Mahay, John Bale, and Jimmy Gobble from the left side. (Assuming that Gobble fixes whatever ailed him last season, that’s a reasonable complement of left-handed relievers.) Some quick thoughts on the guys who have been publicly linked to the Royals:

Kyle Farnsworth: His name has come up several times as someone the Royals are strongly pursuing. I don’t see it. Farnsworth throws really hard, and as a 25-year-old setup man for the Cubs, he struck out 107 batters in 82 innings, with a 2.74 ERA. The problem is, now he’s 32 years old. He signed a three-year deal with the Yankees before the 2006 season, and over the last three years his ERAs are 4.36, 4.80, and 4.48. As much as I appreciate his service on behalf of Yankee-haters everywhere, I’m not sure his mediocrity was intentional, especially since he had a 6.75 ERA last season after the Yankees foisted him on Detroit.

Farnsworth still strikes out about a man an inning, and walks about a man every third inning – that’s something to build on. But he’s way too prone to the long ball. Kauffman Stadium will help some, and maybe Bob McClure will help some, although Farnsworth isn’t exactly famous for his coachability. If the Royals are looking at a 1-year, $2 million deal or something, he’s a nice flyer to take. But he’s coming off a 3-year, $17 million contract, and is probably looking for something comparable. The danger is that the Royals pay a 32-year-old pitcher based on his potential, not on his reality.

Brandon Lyon: Lyon’s coming off a disappointing year with the Diamondbacks, but I like his overall track record more than Farnsworth. Lyon isn’t the power pitcher that Farnsworth is, but he has better command and is stinger with the long ball, especially when you factor in Arizona’s ballpark. He’s coming off a 26-save season and may want closer money even though he gave nothing like closer performance last year. Farnsworth has more upside, Lyon’s the safer bet, and I wouldn’t sign either for Mahay money.

Russ Springer: Two years ago, Springer was a 38-year-old pitcher who had never had an ERA lower than 3.42 in a season with 15 innings or more. Over the last two years, he has ERAs of 2.18 and 2.32, and merely adds to the argument that Dave Duncan, not Leo Mazzone, is the best pitching coach of the last generation. I love McClure, but even I’m skeptical he can keep the magic going as Springer enters his 40s. Avoid.

Juan Cruz: Now here’s a guy I can get behind. Cruz has power (158 Ks in 113 IP the last two years) and effectiveness (2.61 ERA in 2008; 3.10 ERA in 2007.) He has one save in his major league career, so you don’t have to pay a premium for a service you don’t need. I can’t imagine that he’ll be any cheaper than the three guys listed above, but it’s better to spend good money on a good reliever than any money on a mediocre one. I’m confident that Moore can scrounge up a reliever from the ranks of free talent out there that can duplicate what Springer will do over the next year or two. Cruz, on the other hand, is not an easily duplicated talent.

I’ll try to be back soon with my thoughts elsewhere on the diamond.

Friday, December 5, 2008


After the season ended, I was hoping to hand out quick, Whitlock-like end-of-season grades for everyone associated with the Royals, but ran into a time crunch instead. (Although a comparison of Tony Pena’s 2008 with Eddie Drummond’s 2007 might have been interesting, in a grisly-car-wreck sort of way.)

If I had, though, the grade that might have surprised the most people was the grade I would have given to David Glass: an A. Glass (and particularly son Dan) had as much to do with the Royals’ stretch of 100-loss seasons as anyone, but things have changed dramatically in the Dayton Moore era.

There’s really three things you want from an owner: 1) open up the pocketbook when necessary; 2) hire the right people; and 3) stay the hell out of their way. In 2008, at least, Glass has done all that. The Royals have money to spend on free agency every year; Dayton Moore is highly-regarded in the industry, and just as importantly, has been allowed to hire a number of highly-regarded baseball men to assist him, most recently Mike Arbuckle.

And on the third point…when was the last time you saw David Glass’s name in the paper? Unlike five or even three years ago, you never see Glass weighing in on baseball matters. Occasionally he’ll talk about the finances of the club or the ongoing renovations, but that’s it.

Like today:

Royals owner David Glass has an easy explanation for the anticipated increase of 20 percent or more in the club’s payroll for the 2009 season.

“You just put money in,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s simple.”

The increase figures to boost the Royals to about $70 million — nearly $12 million more than last season’s franchise-record $58.2 million — and comes at a time when several teams are trimming payrolls because of concerns over the economy.

Glass cites two reasons for the increase:

•The Royals are making measurable progress in their rebuilding plan after winning 75 games last season and escaping last place in the American League Central for the first time since 2003.

•A sign of good faith to the fan base upon completion of $250 million in public-funded renovations to Kauffman Stadium.

Those are both good reasons. Let me add a third reason, far more compelling than the first two.

I want you to compare these three stocks:

Stock July 2 2007 December 4 2008 Change

A 35.51 27.55 -22.4%

B 36.23 14.11 -61.1%

C 48.33 55.11 +14.0%

Stock A is Wells Fargo & Company, which represents the bulk of Carl Pohlad’s fortune. Last year the Twins’ owner ranked 114th on Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, with an estimated net worth of $3.1 billion, $1.3 billion of which was tied up in Wells Fargo stock.

Stock B is Cablevision Systems Corporation, which is the primary source of wealth for the Dolan family. Larry Dolan, who bought the Cleveland Indians in 2002, doesn’t appear to be involved with the company all that much – it was founded by his brother Charles. (If only idiot nephew James could have bought the Indians instead. Based on the way he’s run the New York Knicks into the ground, you’d figure that by now the Indians would have a permanent hold on last place.) But it does appear from this article that Dolan’s wealth is tied into the company. He’s a successful Cleveland lawyer, but you don’t amass enough wealth to buy a major league baseball team just by being a successful lawyer. (Now is not the time for a Miles Prentice joke. Actually, scratch that – now is a perfect time for a Miles Prentice joke.)

And Stock C, of course, is Wal-Mart.

The stock market is in the midst of its worst decline since the Great Depression, but if your portfolio consisted mostly of Wal-Mart stock, you’d almost be forgiven for thinking otherwise. It’s a cliché to say that companies which service the bargain-basement sector of the economy are recession-proof, or even a hedge against the market, but in this case the cliché is absolutely true.

I can’t find a recent estimate of David Glass’s net worth; the best I can do is this KC Pitch article which (quoting a KC Star article that is behind the wall) estimates his net worth at $323 million in 1999 – before he bought the Royals. It’s instructive to note that from 1999 until mid-2007, Wal-Mart stock was essentially flat – the stock price was 47.94 in July, 1999, which meant the stock price went up about 1% in eight years. Where Glass has made a real killing this decade is on the Royals themselves – he paid $95 million for them in 2000, and in April Forbes appraised them at $301 million.

But over the last 18 months, while Carl Pohlad has lost hundreds of millions of dollars, and the Dolan family has seen their net worth cut in half…Glass has done well for himself. His net worth is still a fraction of Pohlad’s, but Pohlad has never seemed interested in using his financial assets to the Twins’ advantage anyway. A team like the Indians, though, are feeling the pinch. Most teams in baseball are.

The Padres are having a fire sale (in addition to everything else, their owner is going through a costly divorce.) The White Sox have unloaded Nick Swisher and Javier Vazquez in the last month, though if anyone knows how to rebuild and compete at the same time, it’s Kenny Williams. Meanwhile, the Royals felt they could take a risk on offering Mark Grudzielanek arbitration, even as the Yankees didn’t feel they could take the same risk with Andy Pettitte and Bobby Abreu.

So why is Glass willing to raise payroll while other teams are looking to cut costs everywhere? Partly because he can afford to. With the White Sox retrenching, with the Tigers adrift, and with the Indians’ ownership watching their net worth crater – Cablevision stock is down almost 10% today as I write this – Glass may be thinking that a well-timed cash spend this winter might put the Royals into contention much sooner than anyone thinks.

If there’s a silver lining to the economic meltdown – at least if you’re a big fan of schadenfreude – is that some of the richest and most successful titans in America have been brought down with it. But at least a few of them have survived nicely. As a Royals fan, I guess I can’t complain that David Glass is one of them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


In my last column, I openly wondered whether Miguel Olivo would have earned the Royals a draft pick as a type B free agent had they let him move on to another team. My friend Keith Law set the record straight: Olivo would not have entitled the Royals to any compensation. This makes the decision to bring him back more palatable, though still not particularly appetizing.

But it turns out that Dayton Moore had his eye on an extra draft pick after all. Yesterday, after it was long assumed that the Royals would not offer Mark Grudzielanek arbitration, the Royals caught everyone off guard by offering arbitration just hours before the deadline. And this evening, Grudzielanek responded by saying “I’m probably 95 percent, 98 percent sure I'm going to pass on it.”

Let’s take this one by one. The Royals offered Grudzielanek arbitration, even though they can’t really afford him, and even though they appear to have moved on from him. Grudzielanek made $4.5 million last year; even if he had hit like the love child of Tony Pena Jr. and Andruw Jones last year, he’d be looking at an arbitration award comfortably in seven figures. Grudzielanek didn’t hit like Pena or Jones; he hit like, well, Mark Grudzielanek, batting .299 and playing his typical heady defense at second base. He’d be looking at an arbitration award in the range of about $5 million or so.

And yet Grudzielanek, who is unlikely to get anywhere close to $5 million a year on the open market, is at least 95% sure he won’t take the offer. Trying to guess the market for Grudzielanek is difficult, because it only takes one outlier to alter it. But the market isn’t exactly lacking in second baseman; Cot lists Alex Cora, Ray Durham, Jerry Hairston, Orlando Hudson, Felipe Lopez, Mark Loretta, Nick Punto, and Juan Uribe as free agents at the position, and simply by virtue of age, most of those guys are going to be more desirable than Grudz.

I could see this going one of two ways: either Grudzielanek finds a team that thinks he still has enough left in the tank to be an everyday player, and gets a 2 year, $8 million deal – or he doesn’t, and he’s forced to sign a 1 year, $1 million contract and fight for playing time in spring training. There isn’t much go-between, because a second baseman only has value if he’s playing every day – you can’t be a utility player if you can’t play shortstop.

So why would the Royals offer Grudzielanek more money than he’s worth, and why would Grudzielanek decline it? I’m the last guy to believe in a conspiracy theory – I’m the guy who checks every forwarded email with Snopes.com, then embarrasses the sender by hitting “Reply all” and replying (with proof!) that the United States is not actually minting the “Amero” coin and discarding the dollar. But this time, well, call me Mel Gibson.

I think – and this is only an educated guess, not predicated on any kind of insider knowledge – that Moore and Grudzielanek have reached some sort of gentlemen’s agreement, in which Moore has offered Grudzielanek arbitration with the understanding that it won’t be accepted.

Why? Well, it’s a win-win situation, or at the very least, it’s a win-no lose situation. The Royals get themselves a supplemental first round draft pick, which is a very valuable commodity. The Royals got one of those last year when David Riske left, and used it to select Mike Montgomery, a high school left-hander who was named the #1 prospect in the Arizona League and the Royals #4 prospect overall by Baseball America.

But because Grudzielanek is a Type B free agent, this supplemental pick would not be taken away from his new team; this is an extra pick created solely for the purpose of compensating the Royals. A Type A free agent would cost his new team their first or second round pick, but a Type B free agent is free to his new team from a draft standpoint. Therefore, Grudzielanek’s Type B designation is irrelevant to any team interested in his services, which means his price tag should not be affected at all.

So the Royals get themselves a very valuable commodity, and Grudzielanek does his old team a favor with no skin off his back. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no way for the Royals to compensate Grudzielanek for his participation in this charade with anything more than their gratitude, but that might be enough.

The reason I'm so certain that the Royals can frame this in a way that makes it worthwhile for Grudzielanek is that this has almost certainly been done before. After the 2006 season, the San Diego Padres hit upon a bonanza of extra draft picks, as no fewer than five of their free agents signed with other teams, earning the Padres compensation. One of them, Woody Williams, was a Type A free agent, earning them a supplemental first rounder as well as the Astros’ second-round pick. (How’s that working out for you, Drayton?) Then Type A free agent Dave Roberts signed with the Giants, earning another supplemental first rounder and a fourth-rounder (because the Giants were busy giving up all their higher draft picks to other teams.) Then things got interesting.

Chan Ho Park, who gave the Padres a 4.81 ERA in 2006 (and had a 5.74 ERA in 2005), was mysteriously offered arbitration – and declined. Alan Embree, who had a 3.27 ERA as a LOOGY in 2006 – but a 7.62 ERA the year before – was offered arbitration. He signed with Oakland instead. And finally, Ryan Klesko, who was injured almost all season and had nine plate appearances all season, was offered arbitration. He signed with the Giants.

Park, Embree, and Klesko were all Type B free agents. Embree and Klesko were the two lowest-rated Type B free agents to sign with another team. Yet the Padres got extra draft picks for all of them, and wound up with six of the first 64 picks, and eight of the first 87 picks, in the 2007 draft.

Park signed with the Mets, for one year and $600,000. In 2006, he earned $15 million in the final year of the ridiculous contract the Rangers gave him in the 2001-02 off-season. I find it…hmm…odd that Park would decline arbitration, and then accept what amounted to a 96% pay cut with another team. (It’s extremely rare to see a player awarded an arbitration salary lower than the previous year, and almost unheard of for their salary to decline more than 20 or 30%.)

In 2006, the Padres paid Klesko $10 million, then another $500,000 to buy out his 2007 option. In 2007, Klesko declined the team’s offer of arbitration in order to sign with the Giants for $1.75 million – a pay cut of more than 82%.

Like I said: odd. Even, dare I say it, suspicious.

It’s possible that Grudzielanek could stab Moore in the back (I believe the technical term for this is that he might “Boozer” the Royals), but Moore has an out. As Bob Dutton reported, “The Royals retain some financial wiggle room if Grudzielanek accepts arbitration because arbitration-determined salaries are not guaranteed. Teams must pay only one-sixth of a salary if they release a player with 45 or more days remaining before opening day.”

If that were to happen, Grudzielanek could respond with one final salvo of his own: he could file a grievance. Once again, we have the Padres to thank for the precedent here. It seems that after 2006, one of their players didn’t get the memo: Todd Walker, who was offered arbitration along with all of his friends, gleefully accepted, and won his arbitration case to the tune of $3.95 million. A month later, the Padres released him. “This is strictly a baseball decision,” general manager Kevin Towers said, adding that Walker's salary “didn't factor into the decision. We're two-time NL West champions and want to win again. For us it's putting the right 25 guys on the field to start the year and we felt there were people that were ahead of him.”

While I have found evidence that Walker and the MLBPA were considering a grievance, I can’t find any confirmation that it was officially filed, and certainly there’s no evidence that he won.

I’m not anticipating any of this with Grudzielanek, mind you; I’m simply pointing out what options each side has if this deal were to sour. I have no reason to think either Moore or Grudzielanek are anything other than honorable, so the odds are slim that this will blow up in the Royals’ face. Assuming it doesn’t, this is a huge under-the-radar win for Moore and the Royals: they basically acquired a top prospect for nothing.

In fact, even if Grudzielanek were somewhat likely to accept arbitration, the potential reward of an extra draft pick would make this a worthy gamble. We can’t say just how worthy a gamble this is until we calculate the value of a draft pick. Fortunately, my colleague Nate Silver already did this in a column from back in 2005.

What he found was that late first-round and supplemental picks (basically any pick from #26 through the end of the supplemental round) returned an average of $4.24 million in value, above and beyond a player’s salary (but not his signing bonus) over the course of his career. The average signing bonus for these players was about $1 million – so after accounting for the cost of signing the player, earning an extra draft pick was worth $3.24 million. Accounting for salary inflation over the past three years, we can revise that number upwards to about $4 million.

On the other hand, if Grudzielanek decides to accept arbitration after all, then he’ll cost the Royals about $5 million, and is unlikely to deliver that much value in return. Let’s say that he’s worth about $2 million, which seems reasonable for a second baseman with declining range and no secondary skills, but someone who can still punch the ball to right field.

So if the Royals offer arbitration to Grudzielanek and he leaves, the team earns a draft pick worth $4 million. If he accepts, the team flushes $3 million down the drain. If these numbers are accurate, the Royals should offer Grudzielanek arbitration whether he’s 100% certain to decline, or 95% certain, or even 50% certain. The break-even point is 42.9% - if Grudzielanek is more than 42.9% likely to decline, they should offer him the deal. That number is obviously approximate, and based on a number of assumptions, but if it's not 42.9%, it's 37.1% or 57.3% - not 95% or 98%. This is a low-risk, high-reward move.

Since I started this blog, I’ve written fewer words about Grudzielanek than almost anyone else on the roster, even though he was an everyday player. Like a good umpire, I suppose the mark of a good veteran player is that no one ever talks about him. Grudzielanek joined the Royals in 2006, and for three years did exactly what he was expected to do: hit about .300, rope some doubles, and turn the pivot as fast as any second baseman in the game. And he did so with eerie consistency: in his three years he hit .297, .302, and .299, and finishes his Royal career with a batting average of .29955 – which conveniently rounds up to .300. (Only two other players have hit .300 or higher as a member of the Royals, with at least 1000 plate appearances: Jose Offerman and George Brett.)

Grudzielanek won a surprise Gold Glove in 2006; while his range isn’t what it used to be, he still turns double plays very well. He goes down as one of the better free agents the Royals have ever signed, along the lines of Greg Gagne, who was an exceptional defender at shortstop for the Royals from 1993 to 1995, hit with better-than-expected pop, and (this isn’t something I say very often) did all the little things right.

So Grudzielanek, if this is goodbye – and nothing personal, but I hope it is – then thank you for all you’ve done for this team. Playing for a team that was usually remembered only for its gaffes, thanks for being the forgotten man. Thanks for proving those of us wrong who thought you were too old and too average to help the Royals when they signed you in 2006, and when they picked up your option in 2007, and when they picked up your option in 2008.

And thanks for the parting gift. Dayton Moore might have thought it up, but it was very thoughtful of you to deliver it.

Monday, December 1, 2008


In anticipation of what I hope will be a news-worthy month, and with the Winter Meetings just a week away, let’s start cleaning house on the smaller-print news items of the past two months.

The mystery over whether Miguel Olivo would be classified a Type B free agent (and snare a supplemental first round pick upon his departure) turned out to be a moot point when he and the Royals papered over their differences and mutually agreed on his 2009 option, adding a 2010 option in return.

The calculus of this deal partly depends on whether the Royals could have swapped his services for a draft pick. Unfortunately, I still don’t know if he was a Type B free agent or not; two different source have given two different results.

Just evaluating him as a player, it’s hard to get past Olivo’s .278 OBP last year, or the fact that this performance actually raised his career mark to .275. Olivo was as responsible as anyone for the team’s historic reluctance to draw walks last year; he took a free pass just seven times all year, which is to say, he was as likely to steal a base (a perfect 7-for-7 in attempts) as he was to accept one as charity.

In his defense, Olivo is pretty damn valuable for someone with a .278 OBP. He hit 22 doubles and 12 homers in half a season’s work; on defense, he threw out 14 of 33 attempted basestealers, proving that John Buck’s difficulties (12-for-71) were not the fault of the pitching staff. (Buck was Meche’s personal catcher for most of the season, and with Buck behind the plate, opponents stole 12 bases in 13 attempts. In eight games with Olivo back there, only one player attempted a steal – and he was gunned down.)

Olivo had a better year than Buck, both offensively and defensively, but that alone is hardly justification for bringing him back. Olivo remains a terrible fit for the lineup, as his lack of OBP exacerbates a team-wide problem, and precisely because the rest of the team struggles to get on base, Olivo’s power (with him batting low in the lineup, behind out factories like Jose Guillen) is less valuable than it might otherwise be.

There’s no question he’s deserving a roster spot – it’s a big question whether it’s worth paying a couple of million for a platoon player. Olivo once again played wallball against left-handed pitchers, hitting .262/.296/.534 against them, but just .251/.268/.399 against more traditional folk. This extends a career-long tendency for pronounced platoon splits; his career numbers are .286/.315/.526 vs. LHP, .224/.260/.367 vs. RHP.

Because his platoon splits are so massive, Olivo’s worth is very much tied up with his usage. Unfortunately, I see no reason to think that the Royals are going to maximize his value by using him in a way that utilizes his strengths and avoids exposing his weaknesses. He agreed to return largely because he was promised the role of #1 catcher, and anyway, the Royals are in no position to spend millions of dollars on a platoon catcher, which means they have no intention of using him in that role even if they should.

So while the decision to re-sign Olivo could work, I am doubtful that it will, and I think the Royals would have done better to let Olivo go and keep the money (and – possibly – the draft pick.) But now that they’ve kept Olivo, they have to figure out what to do with Buck.

Having both Olivo and Buck didn’t make a lot of sense in 2008, and I don’t see how it makes any more sense in 2009. You’d be hard-pressed to find two more similar players at the same position – low-average hitters with OBP issues and mid-range power. Olivo’s a lifetime .241 hitter; Buck’s at .234. If you compress their career numbers into a 162-game season, then Buck has 29 doubles, 1 triple, 19 homers; Olivo has 28, 3, and 18. Buck would strike out 137 times over a 162-game season, Olivo 141 times. Buck has figured out the strike zone the last two years and draws walks at about a league-average rate, but his ability to throw out baserunners has deteriorated badly over the same timeframe. Olivo’s a little faster, but he’s also two years older.

Really, the most significant difference between them is that Olivo has a much more pronounced platoon split – Olivo has much better numbers against LHP, but Buck has better numbers against RHP. This makes Olivo the more useful player in a part-time role, and Buck the more useful player in a full-time role. Naturally, the Royals have re-signed the former to a position more appropriate for the latter.

Everyone’s talking about Mark Teahen and David DeJesus on the trade market, but I’m really curious to see if Dayton Moore can move Buck this month, and if so, what he can get in return. I’d rather keep Buck and toss Olivo back, but if you’re going to go with Olivo, then it makes no sense to back him up with the exact same player. Especially since Moore shrewdly snagged Brayan Pena off waivers from his former employer.

Pena has hit just .228/.252/.315 in 127 career at-bats over four different seasons, but in the minors he has been a consistent .300 hitter. Literally: going backwards from 2008, his minor league averages are .303, .301, .302, .326, and .314. His career high in home runs is six, but over the last four years he’s hit 76 doubles in just under 1200 at-bats, so he’s not a complete punch-and-judy hitter. He’s an extreme contact hitter who could give Alberto Callaspo a run for his money: over those same four years he has whiffed just 102 times, but also has walked just 94 times. He turns 27 in January, and if he gets regular playing time I could see him approximating what Johnny Estrada did for the Braves in his late 20s.

Perhaps most importantly from a roster management standpoint, Pena’s a switch-hitter. As I’ve written before, he’s kind of like Gregg Zaun, The Practically Perfect Backup Catcher himself, without the walks. Pena would make the perfect backup to Buck, and given Olivo’s struggles against right-handed pitching, I’d argue that Pena should really be in a job-sharing arrangement, getting the start against any right-hander with a good slider or a three-quarters motion. According to Clay Davenport, Pena’s numbers with Omaha this year translate to a line of .246/.313/.375 in the majors. Not great, but not bad, and if the Royals can combine that line against RHP with Olivo’s typical line against LHP, they’d have themselves a pretty nice combination behind the plate.

The Royals could just go with Olivo and Buck again and play the hot hand like they did last year, but I doubt it. Pena’s out of options, and was added to the 40-man roster after the season. I don’t think Moore has spent this much time trying to snatch Pena from the Braves, and keep him around, just so that he can waive him next March. Plus, the Royals just signed J.R. House to do the catching in Omaha next year.

House is a very nice minor-league pickup. He’s already 29 and has just 60 major-league at-bats, but he was once a very-well regarded prospect in the Pirates’ chain, and put up numbers to match. He hit .306/.378/.480 in Triple-A last year, a doppelganger of his career numbers of .310/.372/.496, and just two years ago he hit .345/.392/.521 between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s never gotten a real shot at the majors because 1) he’s considered rough defensively; 2) he was in an organization that didn’t know what the hell it was doing; and 3) I’m guessing that his heart was never 100% in baseball, given that he was a prized quarterback recruit out of high school, and finally gave into temptation after the Pirates released him in 2004, returning to West Virginia and playing as the third-string QB for a year.

House would appear to have football out of his system now, and has had three good seasons in a row in the high minors. He only got the briefest of opportunities at the major league level, despite playing for the Orioles and Astros – check that, because he played for the Orioles (who gave the backup job to Paul Bako in 2007) and Astros (who will probably enshrine Brad Ausmus in the team’s Hall of Fame one day). He’s 29 and his teams have yet to deem him worthy of a regular roster spot in the majors – but then, he has yet to play for a team that knew what the hell it was doing. If you want to take a long-shot gamble on a player who might be the surprise of baseball next season, the Mike Aviles of 2009, put your money on the House.

But for Opening Day, it looks like the Royals’ optimal solution would be to go with a combination of Olivo and Pena, with Moore hopefully turning Buck into some useful talent elsewhere. (Buck, at the very least, would be one of the better backup catchers in the game, and the upside that he has a late-career emergency a la Mike Stanley or something is still there.) I just feel that the optimal solution for the Royals was to avoid the path with Olivo that they’ve already ventured down.

Monday, November 24, 2008


When I wrote about the impact of the Mike Jacobs trade, I planned to include a sentence about how the trade was really just window dressing for this off-season, that it was just a distraction from the really important things that might or might not happen. “The Jacobs trade has nothing to do with whether this off-season will prove to be successful or not,” I wanted to write. “All that really matters is whether Zack Greinke signs a long-term contract.”

And then, before I published, Bob Dutton reported that Greinke is in no rush to sign a long-term deal anytime soon, if at all.

There are a couple of possibilities as to what Zack really means when he says “I don’t need to get a long-term deal because I feel I’ll be able to pitch (well) and earn a long-term deal when I become a free agent.” As I see it, he could have made this comment for one of three reasons:

He’s posturing.

He sincerely wants to see if the Royals can build a winner before committing to a long term deal.

He’s just saying a bunch of legal boilerplate to hide the fact that he's already planning to leave town at the first opportunity.

Greinke may simply be posturing in an effort to get the most money in a long-term deal, which is certainly his right. For all of Zack’s personal issues, he’s never lacked for confidence in a baseball sense – one of the reasons he was so successful at such a young age was because he pitched fearlessly, changing speeds and throwing strikes like a seasoned veteran. He knows he’s good, and he may be willing to play chicken with the Royals to get the offer he feels he deserves.

It’s also quite possible that Greinke wants to see tangible evidence that the Royals are going to be a competitive team before he commits to them. This is the same guy who claimed he would rather spend the year on a competitive team in Double-A then play with the last-place Royals. The team’s incessant losing has sucked the life out of me at times, but at least I can just tune them out when things get really bad. I can only imagine how painful it would be to actually be a member of the team, to be one of the most talented pitchers in all of baseball, and have to suffer through the 2005 season like Greinke did.

It’s easy for you or I to say that he should feel lucky to get paid millions to play a kid’s game, but the choice here isn’t whether Greinke plays baseball for the Royals or for the Wichita Wranglers, like he did in 2006. The choice here is whether Greinke gets paid millions of dollars to play baseball for the Royals in 2011…or whether he gets paid millions of dollars to play baseball for another team that, by default, has a better chance of making the playoffs.

Reasons (1) and (2) are not mutually exclusive, and I think they’re both a factor here: I think Greinke isn’t willing to sign for under market value, and I think that he’s reluctant to commit to a franchise that hasn’t definitively proven that it’s committed to winning.

If there’s a silver lining here, I think that reason (3) is unlikely. The first parallel that came to mind when I read Greinke’s comments was to Carlos Beltran. Beltran, like Greinke, was someone I had long advocated the Royals needed to sign to a long-term contract, and like Greinke, the Royals dithered for so long that by the time they woke up to the reality that free agency was approaching, it was already too late. Beltran was similarly non-committal about a long-term deal after the 2002 season, and while everyone ignored the elephant in the room when the Royals were contending in 2003, after the season it was clear that Beltran was leaving one way or the other.

I think that Greinke might be different, if for no other reason than that his agent isn’t Scott Boras. The player controls the agent and not the other way around – or at least it shouldn’t be the other way around – but who a player chooses to represent him is usually a clue as to where his priorities are. If Greinke switches agents this winter, I might as well put my Greinke jersey on eBay right then and there. But for now, I’m prepared to take his comments at face value.

My optimistic side – some of you would call it my naïve side – thinks that, given Greinke’s documented battle with social anxiety disorder, he would be inclined to stay in a comfortable setting rather than risk moving to an unfamiliar and unforgiving milieu. Kansas City has treated him well, by and large. Both the organization and the fan base were very supportive of him when he broke down and left the team for a spell. The local media market is smaller and less intrusive than pretty much every other major league city, and the cracks about his love for Chipotle aside*, the media attention he does get is quite positive. I’d honestly be fearful for Greinke’s psychological well-being if he ended up in New York.

*: I eat at Chipotle at least once a week, so far be it from me to criticize his dietary habits. If anything, I think his fine taste in fast food cuisine should be commended. I did not, however, cry when Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston broke up.**

**: Does anyone really think Zack was being serious when he said he cried upon hearing the news? I think Zack has a wicked and sarcastic sense of humor, and I think he is so good at saying things deadpan that people don’t realize when he’s joking. He comes across as a simpleton at times, but I wonder if the joke’s really on us.

No one thought Beltran was a good fit for New York either, given that he’s a very introverted and quiet player for a superstar, and he ended up with the Mets. But again, Beltran’s agent is Scott Boras. And Beltran has been quoted at least once as second-guessing his decision to take the highest offer on the table and move to New York.

So I do think that despite these comments, Greinke may still be amenable to signing a long-term deal, and that the suggestions from fans that the Royals should look to cash him now are waaaaay premature.

There remains a fourth possibility, which I really don’t want to acknowledge, but I have no choice:

4) The Royals already made a long-term contract offer to Greinke, but they low-balled him so egregiously that Greinke decided to go public with his displeasure.

I’d like to discount this possibility, but with the Royals you can never be sure. As I’ve indicated before, and as Dutton also pointed out in his column, the parameters of an acceptable Greinke contract are already largely in place, thanks to the four-year deal that Scott Kazmir signed during the season.

On May 14th, Kazmir inked a 3-year, $28.5 million contract extension with the Rays, effective from 2009 to 2011, which bought out his first year of free agency; the Rays also have an option for 2012 at $11 million. (Technically the contract is 3/26 with a $13.5 million option and a $2.5 million buyout, but it’s equivalent and simpler to list it as 3/28.5 with an $11 million option.)

Kazmir and Greinke are very different pitchers, but they’re also very comparable. They’re about the same age (Greinke is about 3 months older), and more germane to our discussion, they have equivalent service time, both being four-plus players this winter. Kazmir is a power lefthander with control issues and Greinke is a power righthander with homer issues, but in terms of overall value they’re very similar. Kazmir had a 3.49 ERA this season; Greinke had a 3.47 ERA.

Kazmir has the better overall career numbers, as he doesn’t have a season like 2005 on his resume and didn’t miss almost all of 2006, but Greinke had the better 2008 – in large part because he threw over 200 innings while Kazmir missed the start of the year with an elbow strain and was limited to 27 starts and 152 innings. They both have relatively fresh arms, Greinke because he missed much of 2006 for non-arm-related issues, Kazmir because the Rays have been extremely cautious with his pitch counts. (He has never thrown more than 121 pitches in a game, and with his command issues this year, the Rays limited him to 5.64 innings a start to keep his pitch counts down.

If you polled 100 baseball men as to who they’d rather have over the next four years, I doubt you’d get a split wider than 60/40 in either pitcher’s direction. I’d rather have Greinke, because his recent performance is better (and coincided with an increase in velocity) and because I’m more certain that he will stay healthy, but I’m hardly an unbiased observer.

So is Greinke asking for more than Kazmir money? If he is, I can’t imagine it’s all that much more. On the one hand, Kazmir signed in the middle of his fourth season, more than 2 ½ years from free agency, while Greinke now stands just two years away. (Mind you, I’ve been advocating that the Royals sign Greinke to a Kazmir-like contract pretty much since the ink dried.) On the other hand, with the economy cratering, the usual hyperinflation that characterizes the free-agent market is unlikely to manifest itself this year.

If Kazmir got 4/39.5, I’d think that Greinke would hope for something in the range of 4/44, or basically the last four years of Gil Meche’s contract. If he’s willing to sign for that, the Royals should have a contract on his agent’s desk by the time this paragraph is over.

Dayton Moore has made a lot of moves over the last two years that I have disagreed with, some vehemently so. But in every case I have at least understood the rationale behind his decisions. Nothing is more exasperating as a sports fan than when your team makes a decision that defies any rationale. It’s better to make a decision for a bad reason than for no reason at all. When your team does something that can not possibly be explained using the accepted standards of logic – like trading Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez, or announcing to the world that you have begun a rebuilding phase by trading your best young player – you just want to rip your hair out.

While admittedly I’m not privy to the personal discussions between Moore and Greinke, his decision to not make signing Greinke to a long-term deal a top priority until now is utterly inexplicable. Maybe he’s trying to sign Greinke as we speak, and maybe he isn’t. But there’s little question that Moore did not make a serious effort until after this season was over. Greinke himself was quoted during the season as saying that the Royals had yet to approach him about a long-term deal, and I have heard nothing through the grapevine to contradict this. This nonchalance, this laissez-faire attitude towards the best young player the Royals have developed since Beltran is just mystifying.

There’s been some talk that Moore has a policy against negotiating long-term contracts in mid-season, a policy that was apparently waived for Joakim Soria because Soria himself approached the team. But if that’s a policy, Dayton, it’s a silly one. And even if it’s not, some players are so talented that they warrant exceptions to any policy. Zack Greinke has exceptional command of exceptional stuff – the last six words apply to maybe a dozen pitchers in the world today, certainly no more than a dozen under the age of 30. There’s a very real possibility that, a decade from now, Greinke will be considered the greatest pitcher ever developed by the Royals. (Sounds like a topic for a future column.)

But if that happens, right now it looks like there’s a good chance that the best years of the greatest pitcher ever developed by the Royals will be for the benefit of another team. And there’s no excuse for this. Baird didn’t get Beltran signed to a long-term deal, but as it happens, it wasn’t for lack of trying, or even for lack of succeeding – negotiations with Beltran were proceeding well until factors outside of Baird’s control intervened. (The more I learn about the Allard Baird Era, the more I’m convinced that the Allard Baird Era was not the fault of Allard Baird.) But Moore doesn’t appear to be even trying.

We strive to avoid hoary clichés here at Rany on the Royals, but George Santayana’s statement holds true here: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. You’d think the Royals would have remembered what happened when they didn’t sign Beltran to a long-term deal, or Dye, or Johnny Damon. You’d think they could look around the league and notice that this year, four years after Beltran was traded, seven after Dye was traded, eight after Damon was traded, all three of them are still playing at an All-Star caliber. Damon hit .303/.375/.461 with 29 steals; Dye hit .292/.344/.541 and got some MVP votes; Beltran hit .284/.376/.500 with 25 steals and also got a few votes.

Not that it’s realistic to think the Royals could have kept all three, but if they had, the 2000s Royals would have had one of the greatest outfields in the history of baseball. Instead, they traded all three, and all they have to show for them right now is Mark Teahen and John Buck.

So yeah, you’d think that the Royals would have learned that when you have a star player in his mid-20s, you need to do everything you can to lock him up long-term before it’s too late. But I guess what happened on Baird’s watch is no concern of Moore’s. To borrow an expression once said about my people, the Royals never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

(Feel free to bring up Mike Sweeney if you want. Just remember that Sweeney, as a first baseman and a right-handed line-drive hitter, had a much riskier profile than any of the outfielders. And even so, I still would argue that his contract was a good idea at the time; no one could have predicted that Sweeney’s back would give out like it did.)

Again, I don’t have the best viewpoint for what’s going on, and for all I know the Royals are putting the finishing touches on a contract that will keep Greinke in Kansas City well into the next decade. And it may well be that one of the primary reasons that Moore traded for Crisp and (especially) Jacobs – rather than going with an unproven hitter like Ka’aihue – was to show Greinke that the Royals are committed to surrounding him with enough talent to win, not in 2011 or 2012, but next year.

If that’s the case, let me be the first to toast Moore for completing the single most important transaction he could have made this offseason. Because no matter how many Mike Jacobs trades Moore botches this winter, if he signs Greinke to a long-term deal, this off-season will have been a success.

And no matter how many Coco Crisp trades he wins, if Moore doesn’t sign Greinke to a long-term deal, this off-season will have been a failure.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

RamRam for Coco.

Okay, I guess you’re getting three columns this week.

In some ways, trading Ramon Ramirez for Coco Crisp is similar to trading Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs. In both cases, it’s temptingly easy to take one look at the trade and say, “Wow! The Royals traded a middle reliever for a starting everyday player!” And in both cases, once you actually look at the details of the trade, the question of whether this actually makes the Royals better becomes a lot more complicated.

The difference is that Nunez for Jacobs didn’t help the Royals all that much, relative to a stand-pat move. Trading Ramirez for Crisp does.

Let’s start with what the Royals gave up. Ramirez was nearly as effective in his role as Joakim Soria was in his – Ramirez threw 71.2 innings, allowed just 57 hits, and struck out 70 against just 25 (unintentional) walks. Most impressively of all, he allowed just two home runs. Other than nitpicking his control, there’s really no way to fault those numbers. If he can sustain this kind of performance, then he’s got a closer’s job waiting in his future.

There’s reason to think he can’t. For one, he has a very significant platoon split – RHB hit just .153 against him this year, while LHB hit .300. For his career, RHB bat .198/.275/.311, and LHB are at .283/.355/.403. He’s been so successful in large part because he’s been used to face more RHB than LHB, both in 2008 and for his career as a whole, but this would make him somewhat vulnerable in the late innings (at least in a world where teams don’t carry eight relievers and three bench players.)

That doesn’t make Ramirez’s performance less valuable – after all, we do live in a world where teams carry eight relievers and three bench players. But it makes his performance more easily replaced than a right-handed pitcher who is equally effective against LHB and RHB. Right-handed specialists aren’t terribly hard to find. (This is as good a time as any to make mention of the name Chris Hayes, a sidearming non-drafted free agent out of Northwestern who had a 1.64 ERA in Double-A last year. Hopefully this won’t be the last time his name appears on this blog.)

The other reason for concern with Ramirez is that home run total. When you surrender just two homers in 72 innings, there’s some luck involved. When you surrender two homers in 72 innings and you’re not a groundball pitcher, there’s a lot of luck involved. Ramirez isn’t; his G/F ratio last year was 1.26, which is about league average, and for his career it’s just 1.06.

In Ramon’s defense, if this was a fluke, it’s a long-standing one. With the Rockies, he surrendered just 7 homers in 85 innings, and all but one of them was at Coors Field. In 105 career innings outside the Mountain time zone, he’s allowed just three homers. I don’t think there’s any way he can sustain that, but he may have a real ability to avoid gopher balls not typically seen in a pitcher of his type.

I think the Red Sox have made a fine acquisition. Ramirez is an excellent middle reliever, and there’s no reason to think, absent injury, he’s going to suddenly lose his effectiveness. But injury is not an abstract concern; Ramirez just missed almost an entire season with one, and the churn rate of relief pitchers – even good relief pitchers – is enormous.

In return, the Royals got an everyday hitter, an established major leaguer in his late 20s, a player with some plus skills which do not include command of the strike zone. That describes Crisp, but it also describes Jacobs, whose weaknesses I have already dissected. I think Crisp has considerably more value, for a few reasons:

1) While both Jacobs and Crisp don’t walk very much, Crisp hits for a better average, and so has the higher OBP – .331 for his career to Jacobs’ .318.

2) Crisp plays a key defensive position; Jacobs does not.

Crisp, at his best, is one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball. Jacobs, at his best, is a DH.

4) Crisp plays a position where the Royals didn’t have viable in-house options (assuming they couldn’t live with DeJesus out there anymore, which the Royals felt they couldn’t.) Jacobs plays a position where the Royals already had too many in-house options.

Crisp is a switch-hitter with a miniscule platoon split; he has the same career OBP against LHP and RHP, but hits LHP for a touch more power. Jacobs is a glorified platoon player.

I think that these five advantages make up for Jacobs' massive edge in power, and then some.

As I discussed in my last column when it appeared the Royals might trade for Felix Pie – obviously that seems less likely today – by getting a top-flight defender in center field, the Royals can move DeJesus to left and upgrade their outfield defense at two positions. Make no mistake: the defensive upgrade is the only reason to think this trade makes the Royals better, and it is reason enough to make the trade.

Defensive metrics show that Crisp was just average in 2008, but those same numbers suggest he was the best defensive centerfielder in the majors in 2007, numbers which are borne out by some observers (I believe Bill James was quoted in 2007 as saying that he had never seen someone play defense in center better than the way Crisp was playing it.) Split the difference: Crisp is a significantly above-average centerfielder. DeJesus is overqualified to play left field. Jose Guillen is…ably assisted by Coco Crisp and David DeJesus.

My sometimes colleague at BP, Dayn Perry, wrote a book a while back (“Winners”) in which he broke down many of the championship teams of the last generation to see what they had in common. I think his most interesting point was that he found a preponderance of teams that went to the playoffs had essentially two centerfielders: one of their corner outfielders (generally the leftfielder) was a former centerfielder who still had good range at the position. The most vivid recent example would be the 2005 White Sox, who played Aaron Rowand in center, then went out and got Scott Podsednik to play left - which seemed like a waste of resources, to use a scrappy power-free scutterbug in left field, but it worked pretty well for them.

Correlation does not mean causation, but I think there’s a potential synergy in play here, between a DeJesus-Crisp outfield and a rotation that has four fly-ball pitchers in Greinke, Bannister, Meche, and Davies. Even Soria has a low G/F ratio, although in his case it may be because he gets a lot of popouts. If nothing else, this trade gives Bannister a stronger case to get another shot in the rotation, and it raises the odds of a full-fledged, Cy Young-worthy breakout from The Baseball Jonah.

What this does for the Royals on offense is less clear, because it’s less than clear which version of Coco Crisp we’re getting. Are we getting the barely replacement-level bat of 2006-07? The .300-hitter with double-digit homer power of 2004-05? Or the 2008 version, which was somewhere in between?

Three years ago, Crisp hit .300/.345/.465 with 16 homers and 42 doubles, and was just 25 years old. The Red Sox then traded one of the game’s best prospects (Andy Marte - honestly, he was!) to get Crisp. (It wasn’t all bad for Cleveland – they also got Kelly Shoppach in the deal.) Crisp was useless with the stick for the next two-plus years; .264/.317/.385 in 2006, .268/.330/.382 in 2007, .259/.309/.410 through the All-Star break in 2008. Crisp broke a finger early in the 2006 season, and after the trade Sox’ GM Theo Epstein blamed some of his hitting struggles on the finger.

It’s a bit of a stretch to blame a broken bone in 2006 for his inability to hit in 2007, but if that’s the case, you’d expect his bat to come around eventually, and after the All-Star break this year (keep in mind, in just 47 games), Crisp hit .315/.392/.403. To me, more exciting than the jump in his batting average is the spike in his walk rate – he drew 20 walks in just 175 plate appearances (149 AB) after the Break. It might be a fluke, but he had never before walked in even 10% of his plate appearances in any pre- or post-break stretch in his career.

It’s not unheard of for veteran players to add walks to their repertoire as they get older. Let’s hope that working with Kevin Seitzer can help Crisp maintain his newly-discovered penchant for walks, because I suspect Crisp will be leading off in 2009, regardless of whether or not his skill set is truly right for the job. He fits the part – fast guy, steals some bases, hits the ball into the gap – well enough that I suspect Hillman will overlook his questionable plate discipline.

And honestly, having discussed this issue with Kevin Kietzman and Danny Clinkscale earlier today, I’m not entirely sure where Crisp fits best in the lineup. The reality is that the Royals don’t have any ideal leadoff candidates except for DeJesus, who may also be the Royals’ best candidate to bat third. When building lineups, you want to build from the center out, not from the top down – if DeJesus is your best #3 hitter, then you bat him third, even if he’s also your best leadoff hitter. If that’s the case, then your best leadoff candidates are either Crisp or Alberto Callaspo (assuming Callaspo even starts). Callaspo had a .361 OBP last year, but he had a .265 OBP in 2007; he’s far from a proven commodity. The Royals could do worse than to lead Crisp off and tell him to work the count.

I think that the sum of Crisp’s offensive contributions will approximate those of the man he is replacing, likely Mark Teahen. So it’s a wash on offense, and a pickup of maybe 20 runs on defense. If Crisp hits more like he did in the second half of the year, and Joey Gathright doesn’t bat 300 times again, there’s a potential for another 10 or 20 runs of offense to pick up. So overall Crisp might be worth about 3 additional wins. The loss of Ramirez might cost a win-and-a-half.

So yes, the trade makes the Royals better, but at considerable cost. Crisp will be paid $6.25 million in 2009 (counting his buyout), with an option for 2010 at $7.5 million. Ramirez isn’t arbitration-eligible for another year, and the Red Sox control his services for four years to come. In terms of return on the dollar, the Royals could have found a more efficient way to spend an additional $6 million a year.

Or is it? If you share the Royals’ belief that they needed a new centerfielder, then you have to acknowledge that Crisp is a better player than any centerfielder on the free agent market this winter, unless you think 38-year-old Jim Edmonds can play forever, or unless you want to gamble that Rocco Baldelli’s mitochondria will start functioning normally. The other centerfielders out there include guys like Podsednik and Willie Bloomquist. The only way for the Royals to upgrade in center field was by trade, and Grady Sizemore wasn’t available.

Plus, the Royals are now in a position where they can trade Teahen, but they don’t have to trade him, and they can trade him for the best collection of talent and not simply to fill a specific need. (Maybe the Royals don’t need Pie now, although I’d still like to have him. But if the Cubs are willing to move Fontenot instead, well, I suppose we can live with a second baseman that hit .305/.395/.514 last year.)

But the main reason I like this trade is because Moore proves once again he understands one of the key principles to building a winning baseball team: relievers are fungible. Unless you have a truly transcendental reliever, you should never get too attached to them – and if you do have a truly transcendental reliever, you definitely should not be too attached to the guys that set up for him.

The Braves won for years with guys like Greg McMichael and Kerry Ligtenberg as their closers, never mind their middle relievers. More than any other position on the field, relievers are made, not born. Allard Baird thought otherwise, and kept spending money on born relievers like Roberto Hernandez and Ricky Bottalico and Doug Henry, and with that approach the Royals had the worst bullpen in major league history from 1998 to 2006.

Moore came in and, from scraps and discards, built a better bullpen than Baird ever did. Soria was a Rule 5 pick. Nunez was a minor league starter who Baird had rushed to the majors. Ramirez was inexplicably going to be left off the Rockies’ roster after he missed most of 2007, and Moore grabbed him for Jorge de la Rosa. Robinson Tejeda was waived by the Rangers after washing out as a starter; he had a 3.20 ERA in the pen last year. Horacio Ramirez was released by the Mariners; Moore picked him and he had a 2.59 ERA in 24 innings. Last season, Moore fashioned the Royals’ best bullpen in almost 15 years, with only two guys (Ron Mahay and Yasuhiko Yabuta) earning a seven-figure salary.

Just as impressively as the bullpen he’s put together on the cheap is the talent he’s obtained by trading away relievers. He dismantled the bullpen he inherited, turning Mike MacDougal into Daniel Cortes and the just-released Tyler Lumsden; Andy Sisco for Ross Gload; and Ambiorix Burgos for Brian Bannister. He traded Elmer Dessens for Odalis Perez, and in returned for taking on some salary he picked up Blake Johnson and Julio Pimental. He traded Jeremy Affeldt and Danny Bautista for Ryan Shealy and Scott Dohmann. And that’s just 2006.

He signed Octavio Dotel to a one-year deal, then cashed him for Kyle Davies just in time. He signed David Riske to a one-year deal with a player option; Riske walked away and the Royals got supplemental first-round pick Mike Montgomery for their troubles. This year he picked up Ramon Ramirez for Jorge de la Rosa; picked up Horacio Ramirez and then cashed him in for Paulo Orlando after six weeks; and now moved Ramirez and Nunez for two everyday players.

In the summer of 2006, the Royals had one of the game’s worst bullpens. Within two years, Moore fashioned a very good bullpen, and neither spent a ton of money nor traded away any talent to do so – de la Rosa is the only player the Royals gave up to assemble their 2008 pen. And at the same time, Moore used his existing relief talent to acquire his best pitching prospect (Cortes), two mid-range starting pitchers (Bannister and Davies), a pair of usable 1B/OF types (Gload and Shealy), a first-round draft pick (Montgomery), and some minor league depth (Lumsden, Johnson, Pimental, Orlando.)

That is, in a word, astonishing. Especially since not one trade involving a reliever has come back to haunt Moore – the closest might be the Shealy deal, as Affeldt had a good year for the 2007 Rockies, but he was a free agent at the end of the season.

Moore did err when he traded J.P. Howell for Joey Gathright, but the difference is that Howell was still a starting pitcher and had not been tried in relief. I’ve mentioned this rule of thumb before: never give up on a starter until you’ve tried him as a reliever, because you might be leaving value on the table. But in the case of a pitcher who’s already a reliever, there nowhere left to find untapped ability. (And Moore partly made up for that deal by trading Billy Buckner for Callaspo.)

So I don’t know about you, but if Moore wants to trade another reliever – a reliever he had just acquired for a failed starter eight months ago – for an everyday centerfielder, I have faith he’s going to be able to replenish the well.

I’ve known Christina Kahrl since we started Baseball Prospectus 13 Novembers ago. In that time the Royals have made a lot of trades, some good, some bad, some criminally awful. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say “I love this deal for the Royals” for any of them before.

On Monday, Nate Silver wrote this in our Hot Stove Preview for the Royals, under the question “What Should They Do?”:

“There are two somewhat radical moves that the Royals could consider:

  1. Recognize that most closers have short lifespans, that the bullpen is fairly deep behind him, and that his trade value will never be higher, and move Joakim Soria for a premium corner outfield talent.
  2. Decide that they're actually fairly close to contention, and increase payroll by $20 million, hopefully using more discernment in the free-agent market than the sort that brought them Jose Guillen.

Absent doing one of those two things, the Royals are going to be in a holding pattern of some kind or another, with an outside chance of contention if things break just perfectly, but more likely to finish once again with a win total somewhere in the seventies. Sometimes there are no magic bullets and a holding pattern is the best that a team can do, particularly if they have limited financial resources—Kansas City may well be one of those cases. However, Dayton Moore ought to at least be contemplating these sorts of alternatives.”

Moore isn’t going to trade Soria, and he’s not going to try Soria to the rotation. But he’s done the next best thing: knowing he has the security blanket of having the Mexicutioner in the ninth, he’s willing to gamble that he can find pitchers capable of pitching the 7th and 8th. And after this trade, crazy as it sounds, I wonder if he’s setting the Royals up to compete in 2009 if no one runs away with the division.

In fact, I’m pretty sure he is. Because while Crisp makes the Royals a better team, he also makes them more expensive, and he's only under contract through 2010. Setting aside my reservations about Jacobs, I don’t think anyone can argue that replacing Gathright and Gload with Crisp and Jacobs is going to help the team significantly. The problem is that they also raise the team’s payroll significantly, to the tune of over $8 million. The Royals are already bumping up on a $70 million payroll, which they’ve suggested is close to their limit.

I hope that David Glass is willing to show some flexibility in that regard, because the money spent on Jacobs and Crisp will be invested most wisely if it’s accompanied by an additional investment. The addition of Jacobs and Crisp is worth on the order of 5 wins over the course of a year, more if the Royals can turn Teahen into something with present value. Is that enough to make the Royals a contender? No. Even if Gordon or Butler has a breakout season, probably not. If they both have breakout seasons, it’s still a maybe.

But if the Royals add one more bat to the lineup, the calculus changes. The off-season is still young. The Royals have yet to be ruled out of the Rafael Furcal sweepstakes; Furcal, like Crisp, would allow the Royals to upgrade defensively at two positions at once, as Aviles could move to second base. Or perhaps they pony up the dough to sign a big-name starting pitcher, a Ben Sheets or someone of that caliber. Who knows what else Moore has up his sleeve – but unless there’s some money tucked away in his shirt, he’s going to be hard-pressed to make enough moves to propel the Royals into the postseason in the next year or two.

For now, though, the Royals have the luxury of having no more obvious holes to fill in their lineup, and they still have Teahen to dangle out there for whatever suits their fancy. Making this trade in November sets the Royals up to explore every possible trade and free agent option out there in December, without feeling pressured to make a move.

This is not a risk-free trade, but for the Royals, the upside trumps the downside. I think that the Red Sox are more likely to win this trade by a little. But I think that the Royals are more likely to win this trade by a lot.