The Royals are turning over a new leaf along with the calendar. Last night was the sort of game that makes you wonder why this team has won 70 games exactly once this century. I mean, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Zack Greinke throws 7 terrific innings, Ramon Ramirez and the Mexicutioner throw two scoreless. Bam Bam gets three hits, including a three-run bomb that essentially ices the game in the first inning, and finally gets his slugging average over .400. The Royals start someone other than Ross Gload at first base, and are rewarded for their ingenuity with a homer. Trey Hillman brings in two defensive subs in the late innings and manages to improve the defense at five separate positions: Pena at SS,
So as Dayton Moore prepares to blow up this roster in the off-season – and it’s about time he admits that it needs to be done – it’s worth noting that not every roster spot is a problem, and some are even solutions. Let’s not throw Jose Guillen’s babies out with the bathwater. (Throwing Jose Guillen out, on the other hand…)
With a month to go, let’s evaluate who needs to go and who needs to stay.
- Let’s start with the easy decisions, the guys that should be safe for next year. Alex Gordon will start somewhere. Mike Aviles will start somewhere. Billy Butler, who is hitting .329/.360/.526 since the All-Star Break, will start somewhere. It’s a testament to just how unsettled this roster is that of the three definite keepers for next year, none has a firm lock on a position. Third base is still the most likely destination for Gordon, but it’s set in a sandbox, not in stone.
Also sure to come back is Jose Guillen, unless there’s a GM out there dumb enough to trade for a guy making $12 million a year with bad defense, an abrasive personality, and a .284 OBP.
Kaaihue has to be added to the 40-man roster after the season, so there is no roster benefit to keeping him on the farm. Kaaihue only has a month of Triple-A experience, but nearly three seasons’ worth in Double-A, so it’s not like he’s being rushed to the majors. And he was simply so dominating in the minors all season that it would be stupid not to give him a look. He had a 1087 OPS in Double-A, and in Triple-A his OPS dropped all the way to 1079. The fact that he didn’t miss a beat after his promotion bodes very well for him. His strikeout-to-walk ratio declined, but on the other hand he hit for more power, and pounded southpaws for
Shealy started against the lefty and went deep, but hopefully they will platoon this month, giving Kaaihue the bulk of the at-bats. Shealy just doesn’t profile as an everyday first baseman in the majors anymore. He hit .283/.376/.503 for
It’s hard to stick in the majors as a right-handed first baseman with mid-range power – just ask Justin Huber. But left-handed first basemen with tremendous power backed up by great plate discipline? That describes some of the best first basemen of the last decade. Kaaihue may not have the power of a Ryan Howard or the patience of a Travis Hafner or the all-around excellence of a Carlos Delgado. But the mere fact that he’s in the discussion means that he deserves every opportunity for us to find out just how good he can be.
- Hey, remember when David DeJesus was having a career year? Yeah, not so much. He’s down to .288/.348/.426 on the year, which is actually a touch below his performance in 2005 (.293/.359/.445) and 2006 (.295/.364/.446). If you ignore 2007, when he lost 40 points of batting average for no reason, he’s been a remarkably consistent player, a guy who flirts with .300 every year with some walks and a little power. Consistency is nice, but consistently mediocre is not. DeJesus remains the same tweener he’s always been – his bat plays well in center but his glove is a little short out there; his range is well-suited for left but his bat is a little weak.
He’s not old (he’s four months younger than Shealy, for crying out loud), and he’s signed to a favorable contract, and he remains a tempting trade target for a team that’s in a win-now mode but has a hole to fill in its outfield. When Moore talks about blowing this roster up, I hope he means trading someone like DeJesus, who’s good enough to help a team in contention but not good enough to pull a team into contention. I suspect this is his final month in a Royals uniform. It’s been a good run, if not quite as good as we had all hoped.
- The whispers that the Royals will be looking at Rafael Furcal this winter won’t go away, and the whisperers have been pretty good at predicting the Royals’ intentions in the past. The risk with Furcal is more medical than anything else; he’s had an above-average OPS three of the last four years, and he’ll be 31 this winter, so as long as his back is healthy he should be an above-average shortstop for a few more years. But if the Royals don’t like his medical reports or his price tag, they could do worse than to give Alberto Callaspo the everyday role at second base.
A second baseman who can hit .300 with more walks than strikeouts is valuable even if he doesn’t hit for much power. The question is whether Callaspo can hit for any power, or if he really is a Gathright-class singles hitter. In 318 major-league at-bats, Callaspo has just 14 extra-base hits and has yet to hit a home run. He’s been good for about 5 homers and 40 extra-base hits a year in the minors, but he’s had the benefit of some good hitters’ parks. Given his plate discipline, his lack of power, and his propensity to hit into double plays (given his average speed and groundball tendencies), I think he’s currently the Royals’ best option in the leadoff role. After all, you can’t hit into a double play when you’re leading off an inning.
- At third base, we’ll know more if and when Gordon returns, which fortunately appears soon. Teahen has played competently enough that I think the Royals are confident he can play the position going forward, though not necessarily that he will. I know a lot of Royals fans’ ire has been directed towards Teahen as the symbol of the Royals: the personable, nice guy who can’t hit. I don’t disagree with any of that, but I do disagree with those people who think the Royals will or should release Teahen this winter.
He’s likely to get around $3 million in arbitration, which is a lot of money for a fourth outfielder, but not a lot of money for a guy who can play all four corners adequately. More precisely, it’s not a lot of money for a guy who can play all four corners adequately and still has some offensive upside. Teahen is on his way to becoming the left-handed Casey Blake; like DeJesus, he’s a valuable player for a contending team that needs some depth, but not nearly valuable enough to help a bad team rise from the ashes. The difference between the two is that I think there’s a much stronger market for DeJesus than for Teahen. If
- You know, just a month ago John Buck was having arguably his best season, with numbers of .247/.323/.407, and looked like he had finally graduated into being a league-average catcher, the sort of guy the Royals could live with for another two years. He’s 7-for-65 since, and now we’re resorting to hoping that Hillman and Miguel Olivo can kiss and make up. Don’t count on it. I expect Moore to be very active in looking for a long-term solution behind the plate this winter. Catchers are always a seller’s market; any catcher worth acquiring is going to be very expensive. (This problem could have been avoided if the Royals had drafted Matt Wieters instead of Moustakas last summer.) Dark-horse option: Brayan Pena hit .303/.376/.462 in Omaha this year, and will be just 27 next year. Frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t get a callup – he’s almost certain to be the backup catcher next year, and wouldn’t be completely stretched as the starter in a Johnny Estrada sort of way.
Many, many years ago, Joe Sheehan and I dubbed Gregg Zaun “The Practically Perfect Backup Catcher.” Zaun plays passable defense, draws walks, and hits from both sides of the plate – and eventually the Blue Jays realized that such a perfect backup catcher wouldn’t be an embarrassment as an everyday catcher. Pena is also a switch-hitter, he’s batted over
So looking to 2009, here’s how the offense lines up in a best-case scenario:
C: Buck/Pena or Imported C
2B: Callaspo or
3B: Gordon or Teahen
CF: Imported CF (or DeJesus)
RF: Gordon or Teahen or Imported RF
You know, all the talk about the Royals is that they should focus on bringing in a shortstop, but I think they need another outfielder more than anything else. There aren’t that many stud free agents in the outfield, but there are probably more options for the outfield than at shortstop.
But honestly: that’s a pretty sad state of affairs. If
LF L Dunn/Abreu
3B L Gordon
RF R Guillen
1B L Kaaihue
CF L Teahen
C ? TBA
Yeah, that’s a dumb idea – that might be the worst defense in major league history. But I’m hard-pressed to come up with any smart ideas that will significantly upgrade the lineup for 2009, and I imagine