Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Interlude.

We’ll get back to the Top 23 list soon enough, but at the rate I’m going the whole list won’t post until mid-March, and in the meantime spring training is underway and stories are starting to emerge. So let’s talk about them.

1) Does anyone think that if Hideo Nomo was from Jersey instead of Japan, that he’d be getting one-tenth as much attention? I understand why the Japanese press is following him around in hordes – he’s a legitimate legend, the man who not only broke the hemisphere barrier but also the man who proved that Japanese baseball was not a vastly inferior product to the American version. (A sentiment that was held by scouts and statheads alike in the early 90s.)

Having said that, he’s done. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2005, and his ERA in his final two seasons were 7.24 and 8.25. (His 8.25 ERA in 2004 is the second-highest in history for a pitcher with more than 15 starts – only Steve Blass’s final season, the one that got a disease named after it, was higher.) He had an ERA over six in winter ball this year. Is there any reason to think he still has something left?

I see no harm in bringing him in. His success was so dependent on his splitter that if he finds it again, I suppose he could be successful again. The bullpen has always been a haven for broken-down starters, and the splitter is definitely a pitch that translates well there. But I think it’s telling that the Royals signed him without ever scouting him over the winter: they really don’t care how he pitched. He’s here for one reason, to be Yasuhiko Yabuta’s buddy. If he shows something on the mound, great. But let’s not talk about him anymore unless and until he does.

2) Do the Royals need to hire some new Spanish translators? First, there was the “confusion” with Jose Guillen as to whether he was guaranteed to play rightfield after he was signed – Guillen thought he was, Trey Hillman said no decision had been made. Hillman managed to smooth things over with Guillen, and coincidentally enough he has been promised the rightfield spot, with Teahen moving over to left.

I don’t have a problem with the positioning; Teahen’s defensive numbers last year were not very good (with the notable exception of his 17 assists.) He showed a good arm in the outfield, but a lot of those assists came because runners were testing his surgically-repaired shoulder early in the year. But I like to have defensive alignments picked out by the manager, not by the players; I’m old-fashioned that way.

And now we have a mini-flap brewing with Miguel Olivo, who apparently thought he was promised the starting catcher’s job when he signed. The Royals have done their best to assuage his feelings and paper over any problems. But you have to wonder who was doing the talking when the Royals signed these guys.

3) Speaking of Olivo, Hillman has reportedly discussed the idea of playing him some in left field. This sounds ridiculous on the surface. Moving a slow, squat guy with a shaky bat to a position where speed and offense are at a premium is, generally speaking, stupid. You don’t have to remember Carlton Fisk’s infamous move to left field in 1986 (thank you, Hawk Harrelson!) to know that.

It’s not quite as ridiculous when you look at the specific circumstances here. For one, Olivo can run a little better than your typical catcher – in his last year in the minors, the White Sox let him go, and he somehow stole 29 bases in 42 attempts. (He’s never swiped more than seven bases in any other season, majors or minors.)

Secondly, Olivo has a fairly enormous platoon split, one of the largest of any active player. Against right-handed pitchers he’s hit a weak .220/.258/.362, but against southpaws he has a career mark of .291/.319/.524. That will play at any position. If Olivo were backing up a left-handed catcher, he’d be an enormous asset, but he’s backing up John Buck, a remarkably similar player. It may well make sense for the Royals to play both Buck and Olivo against left-handers, and better to have Olivo play the field than at DH, where you’d lose the DH altogether if Buck had to come out of the game for any reason.

But does this mean Teahen becomes a platoon player? Does Teahen play first base against LHP? All of this is still in flux – we have no idea who the primary first baseman is going to be, for one thing. I like out-of-the-box thinking in a manager, I’m just not sure this is one of those decisions that should be out of the box.

4) The Star reports that Luke Hochevar may be looked at as a bullpen option this year. As long as this is temporary – one never knows with the Royals – I’m all for it. We don’t see nearly enough teams develop pitching prospects for a year in the bullpen before moving them into the rotation. It works – look at Johan Santana’s career – and for good reason: pitching out of the pen is easier than pitching in the rotation. Nate Silver’s work with PECOTA has shown that if you project a pitcher to move from full-time starter to full-time reliever, his ERA drops as much as 25%. A starter with an ERA of 5 – barely replacement-level – suddenly becomes a reliever with an ERA in the high 3s, which is a useful pitcher.

Hochevar may not be ready for the majors, and given the logjam on the back of the pitching staff, may be best served by another few months in Triple-A. But just because he has a starting pitcher’s arsenal doesn’t mean he can’t thrive in the bullpen and develop his pitches at the same time.

5) Dick Kaegel’s weekly mailbag feature for the team’s website is not normally on my list of useful columns for Royals fans – I swear some of the questions seem so contrived that you wonder if they’re made up. But he dropped a very useful piece of information on Monday:

Which Royals pitchers are out of options? -- Chris K., Lincoln, Neb.

Pitchers with no options remaining are John Bale, Jorge De La Rosa, Jimmy Gobble, Luke Hudson, Ron Mahay, Gil Meche and Leo Nunez. You didn't ask about position players, but here they are: Buck, Alberto Callaspo, Joey Gathright, Esteban German, Ross Gload, Jose Guillen, Justin Huber and Tony Pena Jr.

Going at this player by player: Bale, Gobble, Mahay, Meche, Guillen, and Pena have roster spots locked up. Callaspo, Gathright, German, and Gload presumably do as well – but if you assume they’re all bench players, and toss in Olivo, that means the Royals’ bench is completely set. With a lineup that’s guaranteed to include Teahen, DeJesus, and Guillen in the outfield, Gordon, Pena, Grudzielanek on the infield, Buck behind the plate and Butler at DH, and assuming the Royals go with 11 pitchers, that leaves only one position unfilled: first base. (If Gload starts at first base, then a backup 1B/OF/DH type instead.)

And this is where Huber’s lack of options come into play. The Royals have mangled Huber’s career as badly as any prospect they’ve had this decade – he came over with a lot of pomp and ceremony, he won the Texas League MVP with a .343/.432/.570 performance as a 22-year-old, and the Royals have screwed with him ever since. It’s now or never for him, as there’s no chance he’s getting through waivers (Billy Beane is already salivating, I’m sure.) The saving grace is that Ryan Shealy does have an option available, and given that he needs to show the team that last year was an injury-marred fluke, there’s an obvious solution here. I just have this bad, bad feeling that the Royals won’t see it.

The other player on the bubble is Leo Nunez, who rescued himself from Huber-like purgatory with a fine performance for the Royals down the stretch. He’s still not guaranteed a roster spot. He should be; he’s a valuable swingman, and with his fastball and his command, deserves a much greater role on this team than the Royals are planning for him.

19 comments:

AJ (NJ) said...

After going over the Royals roster over the past few weeks and citing something I read on MVN, isn't trading Gload for a close to the majors prospect the best option if Butler proves he can play a passable 1B? Gload is a role player for a contending team in '08, not this team. Get something you can use '09 and beyond and buy some time for a player like Costa or Huber to work at the major league level.

Anonymous said...

So does this mean I shouldn't be rooting for Shealy to find his swing again in spring training?

Dallas Tucker said...

I am definitely rooting for Shealy. We don't need both Callaspo and German on the squad.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to disagree on German and Callaspo. We don't need Grudz or Gload on this team. There was no reason to resign either. "We appreciate your efforts the last year or two, but here's the door!" Anyway, German should backup Callaspo at 2B next year.

All of these pitchers being out of options is another reason to not put Hochevar in the 'pen. Why make a decision on one of those dudes if you don't have to yet? Would he get enought innings in the 'pen?

And I guess we're all assuming Hudson is going to be DFA'd? Tsao, Wright, etc... don't make the club? All reasonable, but so is at least one making the team.

Holden Cornfield said...

I still say Gathright is a redundancy we don't need. German is a better hitter, better basestealer, better baserunner, and more versatile. Both Callaspo and Teahen can play CF in a pinch. I would much rather see a Costa or Huber on the roster than Gator.

BTW, how has it come to be the defacto standard that teams carry a 12 man pitching staff? I've never understood the logic in this. If you're pen is tired or ineffective, call Omaha. The 12 man pitching staff has killed a lot of platoon opportunities and may lead this year to releasing a guy like Huber.

Brett said...

I can't believe that Huber has never been given a chance in the majors. He was a better prospect than Shealy and he's younger. I'd rather see him make the team than Shealy, but if they both look good, maybe we should look into moving Gathright, German, or Gload.

Benjamin said...

Sometimes the Royals anger me. I agree that Leo should hands down be on roster. He is young and I know has at least one plus pitch (I think it is an offspeed pitch but might be his fastball). He pitched well last year and has no business not being in the pen or us letting him go.

The Buckner-Callapso trade wasn't one of my favorite moves by Moore. However, it makes less since now that we have to keep him and German in the majors. Who needs two powerless IF utility players on your bench, especially if it costs Shealy, a right handed power bat, his roster spot. Or it will make us cut Huber? By the way, why haven't we given him a chance the last two years?? We need power/slg!! Am I the only one who sees bad logic in that move?

Nathan said...

AJ,

I don't see why keeping Huber is contingent on Butler playing 1B. Huber is a much better 1B than Butler, so if both are in the linup, Butler can still DH. I say give Huber the 1B job and see if he can play up to it, and if he can't then we still have Gload on the bench and Shealy in Omaha. But it's time to stop screwing around and find out whether Huber is worth keeping.

AJ (NJ) said...

Nathan, I only felt that Butler proving he can play the field a little gives you the comfort of dealing Gload for whatever you can get, knowing if Shealy or Huber can't hack it in the majors, the position is covered. I guess Lubanski comes into the discussion at that point and the flexibility of Teahen to play first and use any of these guys in LF, but knowing Butler can contribute anywhere in the field makes Gload tradeable.

Neuty said...

If I was to write a book about the 2000s Royals, "nathan," it would be called "But it's time to stop screwing around and find out whether Huber is worth keeping."

That made me laugh.

NYRoyal said...

The obvious solution for Huber is to trade him. Dump him for whatever we can get for him. This ho-hum prospect has been overhyped by commentators and Royals fans for years. He's been passed on and buried by three different GM's who didn't like the fact that he was awful in the field at any and every position that he's tried. They may also think that his minor league bat doesn't translate well to the majors (did everyone see how Shane Costa hit in the PCL last year?). The Huber hype is much ado about very little. Trade him, get him out of here and let him fail for some other major league team...if he even gets a shot.

Jeff said...

nyroyal, Costa has four times as many at bats the last 3 seasons than Huber, and thats with 1B/DH spots being open like crazy. At any point they could have ran him out there for 2 months and then maybe they'd know they didnt have something but if they lose him because they dont "think" he can hit MLB pitching without giving him a true spot then Hillman and Moore are just as retarded as as Bell & Baird IMO.

Brett said...

If Olivo is suspened for the first few games, we won't get an extra roster spot for him. So I'm guessing Huber starts out in the bigs so we have an emergency catcher behind Buck. We will get an extra roster spot while Guillen is out, so maybe that lets us have 2 weeks of Huber & Shealy.

Clinton said...

""and assuming the Royals go with 11 pitchers"

why would you ever assume they'd carry 11 pitchers, 99.99% of teams carry 12.

kcghost said...

Why on earth would you dump Nunez so Hochevar can wander around in the bullpen?? He has yet to earn his way onto the big club, and we aren't exactly overloaded with quality pitching.

As for Huber (as well as Costa) give him his release so he can resurrect the career we have all but destroyed.

And Shealy is clearly a "no-hope" kind of guy. The lack of bat speed totally dooms him.

Max said...

The bench is set, but what really confuses me are statements made this winter about carrying 12 pitchers. How the heck do they plan on doing that if they plan on carrying Gload, Shealy, Gathright, Callaspo and German?!? It doesn't make any sense.

I think trading German or Grudz makes a lot of sense. No sense in having three guys on the roster that can play second base (aka the Chicago Cubs strategy).

I'd also be for dumping Gload for pretty much anything you can get. He's a nice bench player, but he's a luxury on a team like this that needs to develop young players. He'd be a more valuable asset on an NL contender. We need to see what Shealy and/or Huber can do, or see if Butler can play 1B.

One thought that came up regarding Huber on another message board was having him on the roster to begin the season in Guillen's spot, while Guillen is suspended (Guillen won't be on the roster). He can serve as the emergency catcher during Olivo's suspension (Olivo WILL be on the roster).

I don't know what you do after those two weeks though, try to slip him through waivers I suppose, or ask Nick Swartz to do his magic and get a pitcher hurt.

NYRoyal said...

Huber is way over-hyped by the fans. Should he have gotten more of a shot by now? Yes. Is there a reason he hasn't gotten more of a shot by now? Yes. And it isn't just incompetence. First, he is horrible in the field at every position he's tried and he isn't getting better, by all accounts. Second, clearly they don't think his minor league success will translate to the majors. Many players are like that.

The reason that there is such a huge Huber fetish is because he's still the great unknown. He hasn't had a chance to fail yet. I wish he'd get his 100 at bats so that he can finally fail and Royals fans can give up on harping on and on about him. Of course they will blame his failure on the fact that he didn't get a shot earlier, but they'll only keep harping on that for a year or two.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that the Royals want to turn catchers into first basemen and outfielders?

Sweeney was far better defensively at catcher than at first base and Huber obviously hasn't made many strides at 1st or in the outfield.

Now Olivo looks ticketed for a platoon in the outfield.

Jesse said...

So is there any chance you'll bring Rob in for any guest appearances on this blog? I like your stuff, but I also liked the dialog that the two of you had. If not him, any chance you'll post anything similar sometimes?