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
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.,
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.